Nexus Between Terrorism and Organised Crime


By Colonel B. S. Nagial (Retd.)

The nexus between transnational organised crime and terrorism epitomises a worldwide threat. The convergence of criminals and terrorists, tactics and resources empower them to gain more substantial capacities to threaten world peace, security and economic development. UNSC resolution 2482 (2019) is a vital resolution passed under the Chapter VI of the UN Charter and articulated in depth the nexus between terrorists and organised crimes.1 Expressing its concerns that terrorists could benefit from domestic or international organised crimes as a source of financing and logistic support. Elaborating further, it emphasised that there is a need to coordinate efforts at local, regional, national and international levels to respond adequately to these challenges in accordance with the law of the land. But overplaying the connexion between organised crime and terrorism might lead to actions that endorse the risk management tools of the domestic criminal justice system.

Terrorists can benefit from organised crimes such as the trafficking of arms, drugs, artefacts, cultural property and trafficking in human beings, illicit trade etc. There is a general difference of opinion regarding understanding terms such as ‘terrorism’, ‘violent extremism’ or ‘organised crime.’ Different nations are dealing with these terms differently, thus leading to variance in protecting and promoting human rights.

Numerous UN agencies and related world enforcement bodies are the programme of action to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, the International Tracing Instrument, UNODC, the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, and the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, UNCTED. Other regulating agencies are the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and its Global Network of FATF-style regional bodies and the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), INTERPOL etc.

Organised crime could be designated as the actions of any group or a composite of groups operative as an organised grid, linking numerous players, organisations and activities at various echelons to bend, manipulate or violate the laws of the land, to create money and survive on fear and corruption. Organised crime systems can be as small as inside a locality indulging in extortion. They could become as large as involving transnational crime groups and carrying out numerous activities such as drug trafficking, arms smuggling, terrorism, money laundering etc. It employs illicit methods such as monopolisation, terror, violence, extortion and tax evasion to drive out or control lawful ownership and leadership and to extract illegal profits from the public. It also corrupts public officials to prevent the interference of the government and thus becomes all the time more erudite. In India, along with its original domains of actions like extortion, seeking protection money, contract killing, bootlegging, making a bet, prostitution and trafficking, now indulge in drug trafficking, illicit arms trading, money laundering, terror and acts of violence.

The linkage between terrorism and organised crime

Terrorism is a grave problem which India is facing. Theoretically, terrorism does not come in the category of organised crime, as the overriding motive for terrorism is political or ideological and not gaining of money-power. Nevertheless, the Indian experience exhibits a very minute variance between criminals and terrorists. There is an indication to show that, be the terrorists of J&K, insurgents of the North East States or, for that matter, the Left Wing Extremists, all of them indulge in the methods and tactics of organised crime to mobilise funds for their organisations. They have been indulging in activities like drug trafficking, gun running, extortion, kidnapping or, for that matter, even contract killing in some instances to raise money for their organisations and themselves. Further, in some instances, the existing criminal networks of organised crime are being utilised by the terrorist leaders to complete their operations, as was the case of the Dawood Ibrahim gang being used by the Jihadis to conduct a series of bomb blasts in Mumbai in 1993. Terrorist groups share relations with organised criminals at several levels, including conducting operations to raise money and seek assistance from organised crime networks. This is done to fulfil their requirements of money and ammunition and oblige the organised crime gangs to return to conduct their operations in the regions that these terrorists control.

Various aspects in which both terrorists and criminals are related include

  1. The terrorists themselves indulge in drug trafficking to support their movement. Sympathisers of terrorists living abroad indulge in drug trafficking and send part of their illegal profits to fund the terrorist movements.
  2. Terrorists join with drug lords to gain access to those in power in other countries and sympathise to their cause.
  3. Terrorists give protection and support to drug traffickers with firearms, and the drug traffickers, being acquainted with the routes, assist the terrorists in border crossings to bring arms, counterfeit currency and drugs in the target country. Organised crime gangs and terrorists directly utilise the proceeds from these operations and the counterfeit currency to fund their operations and allied activities in the region.
  4. The areas primarily affected by terrorism in India are the border states which also happen to be transit routes for narcotics to their destinations elsewhere in the world. It is not a coincidence that the growth of the terrorist movement in Punjab synchronised with the emergence of the Golden Crescent as a central drug-producing area in the early 1980s. The emergence of drug mafias in the Golden Crescent countries and their linkages with smugglers in the border States of India have given impetus to gun running.
  5. There is also evidence that the money generated abroad by the smugglers was used to purchase weapons smuggled into the country for terrorist activities. To illustrate, Dawood Ibrahim utilised the existing smuggling network in landing consignments of arms and explosives on the west coast in early 1993, used for causing serial blasts in Bombay.

Preventing the formation of the nexus between terrorism & crimes

In India, like many parts of the world, discontentment, alienation, and perceived victimhood among the populace could be exploited by terrorists and criminals to achieve their clandestine aims and objectives. There is a large influx of migrants from Bangladesh, Myanmar and Pakistan with the expectations of building a better future. Often such prospects are met with discontent and helplessness to integrate into local communities. At the same time, domestic expectations and the rise of fundamentalism have fueled an environment of intolerance.

The lack of government actions to address these issues may lead disgruntled and susceptible individuals to seek inclusion, status and capital through criminal and terrorist means. As criminals, these groups are already outlaws in society, making them easier to identify, radicalise, and recruit as terrorists. Furthermore, such individuals already have the means to fund terrorist activities by committing crimes.

To tackle this problem, policymakers must move beyond traditional law enforcement methods to adopt a more nuanced, phased, multi-sector approach. Firstly by scrutinising and countering the similarities and distinctions between factors which enable criminality and terrorism. Then by recognising, managing and mitigating the dynamics that make these vulnerabilities worse and create prevailing winds. Finally, recognising the types of catalytic triggers or conditions may prove the helping factor in an individual’s decision-making process and follow-on actions.

Addressing these challenges requires increased sophistication and a coordinated international response, with real-time intelligence sharing, capacity building and technology assistance. There also needs to be much greater rigour and transparency in implementing instruments already at the disposal of the UNO.


The twin nuisances of terror and organised crime cater to the same lifelines. Their relationship may differ, but they are sustained by the same malicious forces that seek to undermine governance, development and social cohesion through the illegitimate use of violence. The terror-crime connexion is a worldwide empirical threat, the outlines of which are changing daily.

The global community must keep ahead of the new trends and technologies to combat this threat. This can only be achieved if we work together with a zero-tolerance approach, without double standards.

The other challenge in the nexus between terror and organised crime is the role of new and emerging technologies, including virtual currencies, encrypted communications and artificial intelligence. Such technologies are making networks loosely associated on the ground, closely intertwined in cyber-space.

In modern time, managing a terrorist organisation require considerable funds to maintain its administrative and command network. Funding is the lifeline of terrorism. The nexus between terrorism and crime foster this funding. Therefore one of the most effective ways of dealing with terrorist organisations is to obstruct the flow of money to the organisation. At least some obstacles must be placed to stop this funding. But these activities require national as well as international levels specific legislation and cooperation. Recently, two important international conferences, i.e., UNCTED and No Money For Terror, were held in India. They stressed coping with emerging and new technology and funding terrorism as tools for countering terrorism worldwide.

  1. docx – ohchr ‘ files ‘ Issues ‘ Terrorism. Accessed on 11 Dec 2022.
  2. IBID
  3. Examining the Nexus between Organised Crime and ‘ 2017/04 ‘ OC-Terror-Nexus-Final Aceesed on 12 Dec, 2022.



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