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  • Paras Sharma

The Nefarious Mesh of Terrorism and Organized Crime: An Unresolved Gordian's Knot

Written by: Sanighdha, Student, UILS, Panjab University, Chandigarh


“Environmental degradation, overpopulation, refugees, narcotics, terrorism, world crime movements, and organized crime are worldwide problems that don’t stop at a nation’s borders.” – Warren Christopher


Article 2(a) of The United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) defines an “organized criminal group” as “a group of persons not randomly formed but existing for a period of time and acting in a concerted manner in order to commit an offence to gain monetary or other material benefits.”[1] However, the Convention does not explain what exactly organized crime connotes; rather provides a general meaning for the same, as something that encompasses all profit-motivated serious criminal activities with international implications. In common parlance, it is understood as a criminal activity carried out by an organised enterprise.[2] It includes heinous offences such as-drug abuse and drug trafficking, smuggling, money laundering, Hawala activities, contract killings, narco-terrorism, kidnapping for extracting ransom and prostitution.

Characterised by a group of organised criminals carrying out violent activities to gain illegal benefit, organised crimes have gained prominence in the Indian mainland lately. Conjoined with heightened terrorist activities, organised crime has an assassinating effect on the internal security of a nation. On the other hand, terrorism is defined as “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.”[3] To effectively tackle with this twin menace, a targeted policy action aimed at cutting out all its roots is needed-and that too before it ruthlessly massacres the societal tranquillity and national integrity.

Organised Crime and Terrorism

According to Bruce Hoffman, “terrorism is the deliberate creation and exploitation of fear through violence or the threat of violence in the pursuit of political change.”[4] Terrorism is generally fuelled by perceptible ideologies, which are detached from the mainstream societal ideals. In India, terrorism is either carried out by external State actors (terrorism by ISI in Kashmir) or by the non-State actors (LTTE, IM, LeT). The history of organised crime can be traced back to Italy in the 19th century, when the criminal groups became more organised and powerful than the government of the nation.[5] While terrorism and organised crimes do not have any interconnection prima facie, a deeper analysis of the problem does reveal a veiled linkage. Organised criminal activities are generally targeted towards financial gaining, while terrorist activities tend to garner political advantages. But, successive UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes) Reports have put their intrinsic inter-linkage in a much perspicuous perspective. The UNODC Report of the year 2017[6] pegs the annual illicit drug trade at $426-652 billion, with almost 1/5 of the proceeds going straightaway to the terrorist funding activities, along with supporting additional criminal undertakings. The 2018 UNODC Report[7] estimates 86% of world opium cultivation taking place in Afghanistan, under the aegis of proactive Talibani leaders. It highlighted the whopping gains stockpiled by the Taliban groups via this trade in the period from 2000-2015. The financial gains procured form selling opium in the international market were responsible for 73% of all terrorism related deaths in Afghanistan, while bearing accountability for 13% of such deaths committed worldwide.[8] Similar is the case in Europe, where the annual drug trade market is valued at 24.3 billion Sterling Pounds with 2/3 of the same being controlled by the terrorist kingpins. The UNODC 2020 Report [9]on Drug Trade has estimated a surge in illegal drug production, Procuration and consumption due to the continuous lockdowns being ordered in different parts of the globe; thus increasing terrorist participation vide cyber mechanisms in the already blooming business.

With growing lone wolf attacks and use of technologically advanced automated artillery, terrorists are undoubtedly engaging in conventional warfare but with a distinct modus operandi. This amalgamation of ancient and modern skills juxtaposed with scientifically nurtured weapons, has resulted in ineffable gains to terrorist organisations. The Tunisian seizure of arms and ammunition caches commercially smuggled from Libya and financially supported by the Al-Qaeda terrorists[10] is, but a mere exemplar of the convoluted nexus between the terrorists and the organised criminals. The use of Kalashnikovs in the Paris Attack of 2015[11] is another instance of the same. While arms’ trafficking is one area, smuggling of antiquities is another sphere where the illegal entanglement of terrorists and criminals can be noticed.[12] Antiquities are not only a reliable source of revenue, but destroying monuments and national heritage symbol signifies arbitrary control of a nation, alongwith reducing the national morale. It is a process of slowly decaying the cultural values of a country and its people. Human Trafficking in areas controlled by terrorist organisations is common knowledge and is largely witnessed in Iraq and Syria (ISIL) as well as in Nigeria (Boko Haram). The UNSC CTED Report 2019 [13] even states the money attributed to girls and women of different ages. This clearly points out how serious the problem is and the grave myriad consequences of taking it lightly than the others. Organised prostitution rackets and human trafficking form a quintessential integrant of the illegitimate nexus between terrorism and organised crime. The Global Terrorism Database (2018)[14] states that kidnapping for ransom formed 6.9% of all terrorist attacks and Al-Qaeda earned $125 million from the same. Here it must be noticed that the former part of kidnapping is carried out by the organised criminal group and the latter terrorist attacks are carried out by international or State-specific terrorist groups, while projecting the kidnapped person as bait.

The deleterious symbiotic connection between terrorists and organised criminal groups works as a wretched leech for the internal security of any nation. The similarity of tactics and constant sharing of information between the two is what drives them towards realising their pernicious goals. Both of them act in a very discrete and secret manner, so much so that even international law enforcement agencies cannot keep a track of them. Transacting in billions and acting through a million hands of varied recruited personnel, both of them use shell companies as their legitimate front and thus, trick away the civilians, victims and State agencies. But it must be noted that carrying out such activities is not possible until and unless, insider help is available. Therefore, apart from trying to curb illegal activities of both the aforementioned entities, focus must also be laid upon regulating one’s own civilian and security forces as well.

The Internal Security Threat to India

As a country positioned in a favourable geographical and topographical territory, India has been globally recognised as the middle point[15] of two major drug trade routes i.e. Iran-Pakistan-Afghanistan and the Golden Triangle in the South East Asia. Internal threats to the Indian mainland are presented by ISI-sponsored militants in Kashmir coupled with the active participation of LeT recruiters[16]; insurgency groups in the North-East conjoined with illicit drug and human trade from South East Asia especially Myanmar[17]; the Khalistan demand in Punjab by SFJ coupled with drug trade from over Iran-Pakistan and Afghanistan[18]; and the crime syndicates operating in metropolitan cities[19] in the country. Naxalism[20] is another issue that has now taken the shape of organised crime in the country. To tackle these issues internally, India has incorporated laws like National Investigation agency Act (2008), the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (2012) and institutional mechanisms like the setting up of NATGRID[21] and special courts for trying terrorist-related offences. While tackling unlawful activities through these laws is still possible, the incoming of such lawlessness from external factors can only be curbed by strengthening international legal instruments.


The continuous labelling of Pakistan in the Grey List by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)[22] has still not yielded the desired results. The 1999 International Convention for Suppression of Financing of Terrorism[23] has not bought the change that was expected. Political consensus on international as well as national levels is required for tackling this problem. Good governance principles and stepping up the technological advancements to counter terrorist activities and organised crimes must be adopted. An international forum for trying criminals and terrorists must be set up that disposes off cases in time bound manner. Societal help to such unlawful elements must be eliminated by spreading awareness about the ill-effects of the same. Citizens, media personnel and civil society members can play an effective role in destroying and recognising such mindset in the initial stages itself. While inclusive development and curbing social divide are other effective methods, an alert citizenry is what can topple the whole illegal set-up. Resolving discord amongst citizens and foreigners is another way forward for tackling this menace. Strict enforcement of money laundering laws and severance of diplomatic ties with the States, who promote such activities, will surely go a long way in curbing organised crimes and terrorist activities. Conclusively, a collaborative effort on the part of citizens, State and International actors is the only effective solution to the problem at hand. Collaboration and Cooperation have always resulted in a more inclusive, crime-free and a united international community with no discriminatory divides.

References [1] Transnational Organised Crime, United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime, UNODC, [2] Organized Crime,,Definition%20of%20organized%20crime,has%20links%20to%20organized%20crime.. [3] Terrorism, [4] Inside Terrorism, Bruce Hoffman, [5] Organized Crime, [6] Terrorism and Drug Trafficking, UNODC, [7] Afghanistan Opium Survey 2018 Cultivation and Production, UNODC (2018), [8] Id. [9] World Drug Report 2020, United Nations, [10] Tunis Mongi Saidani, Tunisia: Interior Ministry seizes Turkish weapons Smuggled from Libya, Asharaq Al-Awsat (Jan. 9, 2020, 11:30), [11] Speculation about origin of AKs used in Paris Attacks, DW,, [12] Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Goods, including Antiquities and Work of Arts, [13] Identifying and Exploring Nexus between Human Trafficking, Terrorism and Terrorism Financing, United Nations, [14].Global Terrorism Database, START, [15] India, UNODC, [16] Lashkar-e-Toiba, South Asia Terrorism Portal, [17]Indian Army, Golden Triangle: Challenges to India’s National security, [18] Rahul Tripathi, Centre confers powers on 8 states to act against SFJ, The Economic Times (Jul. 26, 2019, 8:09 AM IST), [19] Sumita Sarkar & Arvin Tiwari, Combating Organised Crime, [20] Historical Introduction to Naxalism in India , European Foundation for South Asian Studies, [21] NATGRID, Should Parliament have a Role, (Jun. 20, 2011), [22] Pakistan may remain on FATF Grey List beyond 2020: Report, Times of India(Nov. 8,2019 16:54 IST) [23] International Convention for Suppression of Financing of Terrorism (1999),


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