18 May 2018 - The linkages between organized crime and terrorism were at the core of two days of discussions last month, bringing select international academics and experts together in Doha to explore and find ways to counter these connections. Organized jointly by the College of Law of the University of Qatar and UNODC's Education for Justice (E4J) initiative, the conference aimed at discussing new research and more currently relevant analyses on how terrorists and criminal organizations are increasingly working together.
Participants tackled a wide selection of topics, ranging from the interplay between international, regional and national legal frameworks regulating terrorism and organized crime, to various types of linkages between terrorism and organized crime in different regions, and the appropriate policy, legal and judicial responses.
In particular, discussions centred on the formulation of more effective crime prevention and criminal justice strategies, given both the evolving nature of crime and terror and the changing type of personal background of individuals slipping into terrorism. For instance, it was observed that the criminal records of many terrorists tend to be for low-level offences, a factor which makes them easier to recruit by terror groups - not only because they lack a general culture of lawfulness, but because they already possess useful underworld skills.
Within this framework, experts stressed the importance of targeted programmes to prevent the radicalization of prisoners, as well as those paying increased attention to petty criminals, and not just to known organized criminal groups. Such programmes would be conducted in parallel to strong and comprehensive crime prevention strategies involving families, schools and other civil society circles, within the larger goal of targeting the initial facilitating and conducive factors.
There was unanimity amongst all experts in that there are three levels of interplay between organized crime and terrorist groups: coexistence, cooperation and convergence. When criminal groups work together, cooperation can take various forms, from a purely financial or transactional nature to an operational and organizational arrangement. Moreover, these groups often cooperate for mutual assistance with Intangible Technology Transfers (ITT), defined as the export or transfer of technology from one entity to another entity via non-physical means (such as the Internet). In the case of organized crime and terrorism, this might include technical know-how, intellectual property, and manufacturing techniques for building anything from bombs to drones.
Whereas clear linkages have already been established in the context of firearms trafficking, participants stressed the need for more hard evidence and completed court cases in areas such as drug trafficking and smuggling of migrants, where cooperation remains mostly anecdotal or limited to the intelligence communities. In both these fields, extortion and illicit taxation are used to finance operations; at the same time, organized criminal groups work on maintaining their reputations, both to instil fear in the general public and to attract new recruits. This renders cyberspace all the more relevant for criminal groups, as a conduit for recruitment and propaganda, in addition to crimes such as money-laundering. Cyberspace, however, is also simultaneously a formidable tool for law enforcement agencies and researchers, for the collection of information, and the investigation and monitoring of criminal activities in a wide range of fields.
Because of the multidimensional aspect of interplay between organized crime and terrorism, experts stressed the need for improved knowledge sharing and cooperation on all levels, especially internationally. Following the money trail and countering financing remain a focus, through targeted strategies to prevent and control money-laundering, extortion and kidnapping for ransom, amongst others.
Referring to the loopholes in existing legal documents, experts explained the urgent need for comprehensive regulations, particularly in light of the new challenges posed by the cyber dimension of international organized crime and terrorism. Effective law enforcement and responses that are compliant with the rule of law were deemed to be of utmost importance.
The valuable research, analyses and good practices shared during the conference are being integrated into UNODC's educational materials on the linkages between organized crime and terrorism, and will be disseminated in meetings of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, the Security Council, and the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.