Paying for Terror
How jihadist groups are using organized-crime tactics--and profits--to finance attacks on targets around the globe
Getting a handle on terrorism's growing criminal rackets will not prove easy, however. "Draining the swamp," as counterterrorism officials vow to do, may require more than even a seamless approach by intelligence and law enforcement can offer. Many of the worst groups owe their success to a pervasive criminality overseas, to failed states and no man's lands from Central Asia to North Africa to South America, where the rule of law remains an abstract concept. In other places, it is the governments themselves that are the criminal enterprises, so mired in corruption that entire countries could be indicted under U.S. antiracketeering laws. Together, they help make up a criminal economy that, like a parallel universe, runs beneath the legitimate world of commerce. This global shadow economy--of dirty money, criminal enterprises, and black markets--has annual revenues of up to $2 trillion, according to U.N. estimates, larger than the gross domestic product of all but a handful of countries. Without its underground bankers, smuggling routes, and fraudulent documents, al Qaeda and its violent brethren simply could not exist. But taking on a worldwide plague of crime and corruption might be more than the public bargained for. "Ultimately, cracking down means trying to impose order where there's instability, good governance where there's corruption and crime, and economic growth where there's poverty," says the University of Pittsburgh's Phil Williams, a consultant to the United Nations on crime and terrorism finance. "As long as the only routes of escape are violence and the black market, then organized crime and terrorism will endure as global problems."
THE RACKETS OF TERROR
Squeezed by a worldwide crackdown on terrorist fundraising, extremist groups are turning to organized crime for cash. Among their most lucrative rackets: drug trafficking and illegal alien smuggling. Unraveling these criminal networks may prove the key to dismantling many groups.
Islamist terrorist groups
Other terrorist groups
TO THE U.S.
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) (Colombia) Marxist insurgent force, big profits from narcotics, kidnapping, and extortion.
National Liberation Army (ELN) (Colombia) Marxist guerrillas behind hundreds of kidnappings, extortion, drug trafficking.
United Self-Defense Forces (AUC) (Colombia) Right-wing paramilitary force heavily involved in drug trafficking and gasoline smuggling.
Abu Sayyaf (Philippines) Onetime al Qaeda ally has degenerated into a crime syndicate, profiting from kidnapping, extortion, drugs, cigarette smuggling.
Jemaah Islamiyah (Southeast Asia) The region's top al Qaeda affiliate, based in Indonesia, does armed robbery and credit card fraud.
_ IRA (Northern Ireland) Crime is top income source: bank robbery, fraud, extortion, counterfeiting, cargo theft, cigarette and gasoline smuggling.
Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) (Turkey, Europe) Marxist group of largely Turkish Kurds, tied to heroin trafficking, kidnapping, extortion.
Hezbollah (Lebanon) Iranian-backed militia engaged in heroin and hashish trade, cigarette smuggling, counterfeiting, extortion, fraud.
Chechen rebels (Russia) Guerrillas fighting for Islamic state raise funds through smuggling and trafficking in drugs, arms, and counterfeit currency.
Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) (Central Asia) The region's top terrorist threat, but much of it has degenerated into a drug mafia.