Intersections of Crime and Terror

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Four days later, Islamic State suicide attackers struck again, this time at the Brussels airport and subway. In all, that sprawling network of IS fighters killed people in the two European capitals. Most of the extremists were French speakers, raised in one of the cities they struck.

The plot's execution depended upon Islamic State's success in wedding crime and religion. Abdeslam, who along with his brother was suspected of dealing drugs from the bar they ran, is the starkest example of that convergence. But in Paris, the trial of three men accused of giving safe haven to the attackers also provides a revealing look at the intersection that made possible the deadliest terror attacks in Europe since World War II.

The operational commander of the cell was Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a petty criminal who used his home neighborhood of Molenbeek in Brussels as a fertile recruiting ground for IS.

Intersections of Crime and Terror by James J. F. Forest | | Booktopia

Abaaoud even recruited his younger brother, then But many of the young men who followed him into IS were small-time criminals themselves, part of the extremist organization's deliberate attempt to make use of "skills" that include accessing black market weapons, forging documents and handling covert logistics. When the night of carnage in Paris — Nov.

Abdeslam called friends in Brussels to drive through the night and pick him up. Abaaoud also called his cousin, Hasna Ait Belkacem, who lived in a suburb of Paris and vacillated between hard-line Islam and even harder drug use. She was happy to help.


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She called her dealer. But the lines between terrorists and criminals are less clear now than ever , said Peter Neumann, director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.

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The attacks often are interwoven as well. On Friday, a Belgian career criminal was transferred into French custody over allegations that he housed the jihadi who attacked the Thalys high-speed train between Brussels and Paris in August The suspect, Youssef Siraj, is also believed to have put up some of the Brussels attackers, according to the Belgian news site DH. The same group allegedly is linked to a raid in the Belgian town of Verviers, where authorities say a jihadi cell was on the verge of a coordinated attack against police.

All were bound by ties of crime and extremism. The jihadi who wired the money to pay Bendaoud and Soumah was himself a petty criminal in Sweden before joining the Islamic State group, a thief who picked up firearms skills during his time in Syria named Mohamed Belkaid. It was also Belkaid who opened fire on Belgian police as they raided Abdeslam's Brussels hideout. He was shot dead in the March 15, , raid. He was traced to a cousin's apartment on March 18, , near his Molenbeek home. Still more members of the cross-border Islamic State cell struck Brussels on March 22, , including the bomb-maker for both attacks.

Event Information

Thirty-two people were killed in Brussels, along with three suicide attackers. Abdeslam has been imprisoned ever since. His trial will be the first time he is seen in public since his capture. According to the French network France Inter, Abdeslam stored a message in his computer similar to the farewells written by other jihadis before suicide attacks.

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Governments may simply turn a blind eye to criminal activity, or governmental institutions may simply be too weak to be able to successfully confront the criminal networks or terrorist organizations. Often those institutions are themselves coopted by criminal networks, thereby benefitting both the criminal organizations as well as the terrorist groups.

The situation in Guinea-Bissau lends credence to these words of warning. As the National Intelligence Council asserted, from Several countries could even be taken over and run by criminal networks National Intelligence Council Criminalized governance benefits both criminal networks and terrorist groups and fosters an environment that is conducive to both.

Cooperation between terrorists and criminal networks takes place when each group determines that their inherent fear of contact outweigh the risks.

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Criminal networks are likely to risk disrupting their illicit relationships with governmental institutions only for short-periods of time and only for lucrative financial returns. Terrorist organizations, on the other hand, are likely to see such contact as merely the means to an end, their self-declared ideological ends.

It is, however, an open question as to whether these short-term partnerships can mature into long-term relationships.


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The international community has already touted FARC as an example of such an organization and, most recently, the Mexican drug cartels. Such a phenomenon can be seen as a transition along a crime-terrorism continuum. All of these currents have emerged in an area of little strategic importance to the outside world. However, the Sahel has long been a sanctuary for outlaws smuggling persons, automobiles, gasoline and cigarettes.

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The Sahel has also seen this residual banditry merge and become intertwined with international drug smugglers using the same routes. This should, however, not be unexpected. While much of the region is uninhabited desert, all human activity — legitimate and illicit — relies on these same routes, converging on water and fuel stops.

James J.

Intersections of Crime and Terror

Forest, Ph. Joint Special Operations University which keeps his security clearances active. He is also is co-editor of the internationally distributed journal Perspectives on Terrorism. He has taught courses and seminars on terrorism, counterterrorism, and security studies for a broad range of civilian, law enforcement and military audiences for nearly two decades.


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Forest previously served on the faculty of the United States Military Academy , six of those years as director of terrorism studies and three as assistant dean for academic assessment, and he also directed research initiatives for the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.