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Home » Focus, Hungarian EU Presidency

The malignant links between terrorism and organised crime

Submitted by on 30 Nov 2010 – 12:40

By Agnes Hankiss MEP

The time when we could define terrorism as a partial and eventual social phenomenon, that could be left to the security services and police force to fight, against have long since gone. Terrorism differentiates itself from any other criminal act in terms of ideological or political motivation. Terrorism expands beyond national borders and continents; so counter-terrorism cannot be too limited with regards to the collection of information and the scope and depth of analysis. So the removal of duplicated organisational responsibilities is key for effective counter-terrorism from an operational perspective.

Posterior analysis of the most tragic terrorist acts of the last decades have concluded that most crimes could have been thwarted if information and data analysis by intelligence services and police forces had been channelized in a centre rather than conducting it in a decentralised and duplicated way as it actually happened. As a matter of fact, it is high time for establishing a fusion mechanism and duly corresponding fusion which centres not just on EU-level, but also on national counter-terrorism as it is often urged by Gilles de Kerchove, the EU Counter-terrorism Coordinator. The mission of such fusion centres is to make information sharing possible is a structured way. A European network of fusion centres would contribute to a more efficient continent-wide fight which would be endorsed by an updated EU Counter-terrorism strategy.

While certain countries are faced with the challenge of terrorist groups providing financial background for themselves, other countries are used for illegal arms trafficking, transiting dual-use goods and technologies and other controlled items. Maintaining terrorist groups costs a lot of money so one of the most efficient ways to combat terrorism is to stem its financing. The way international terrorist groups finance themselves is getting more and more sophisticated day by day. One of the areas where more focus is needed is the use of non-governmental organisations for the purpose of money laundering or even financing of terrorist groups. There are known NGOs that deal with collection and delivery of humanitarian aid with a history of involvement in terrorist acts. Much more transparency is required regarding the financing of such organisations. Today, terrorist groups are “smart” enough to find the loopholes in the local as well as international legal systems for easily covering their real operations.

The way terrorist groups, especially Al Qaeda, operate has changed over the time. They have grown from a largely centralised group to an international network of local/regional “franchise” groups that operate all across the world. These local groups are embedded in the local societies and are very often maintainers of educational and welfare systems. These countries are usually very poor with hardly any public services. They are the weakest links of the world: failing or failed states and this is what terrorist organisations leverage. The EU, as the world’s largest development aid contributor, must play a key role in helping these countries. We should better utilise the EU’s development capabilities for the sake of the security of our continent and the world. The era of strict distinction between development money and funds labelled for security and foreign policy should come to an end and also in this field, the EU should unite its forces primarily for the interest of its citizens. It would make sense to earmark development aids for increasing our security. The practical dimension on the field would be the active involvement of the European External Action Service in the affected regions.

There are a number of reasons why the continuous evolution of terrorist methods must be followed by proportional evolution of counter-terrorism strategies in terms of both willingness and capabilities. Continuous mapping is a must, because forms and structures of terrorism keep changing. Besides the example above, we could name the recruitment and training of lone-wolves via the internet from youngsters without a prior terrorism-related, let alone criminal record. Another example of exponential threat is the fact that it has become a priority for terrorists to develop CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) capabilities. Terrorists’ strive for getting CBRN-capacities would most probably lead to a real gain of capabilities through channels of international organised crime networks. From South-American cocain routes to the arms trafficking in the Balkans as well as the Russian and Russian-speaking organised crime groups – all pose a serious threat both directly and indirectly.

It is rather paradox that the most ideological form of crime cooperates with the least ideological and most “utilitarian” one. In the future we will need an answer to the question as to exactly how and at which channels organised crime and terrorism are interconnected. Europol, with its new mandate, could play a key role in this regard.