Human Trafficking and Terrorism? Sure it fits.
by Amanda Kloer
Terrorism is an expensive business, what with the cost of bomb-making supplies, training videos, and the constant recruitment of new suicide bombers. And Islamist terror-funders have the same recession issues as the rest of us. So to fill some financial gaps, Al-Qaeda has embraced a new business model which generates income from trafficking drugs and human beings. Law enforcement agencies have long agreed that one of the best strategies to fight Al-Qaeda is to cut off their cash and starve them out. And now, that strategy includes fighting human trafficking.
Human and drug trafficking has occasionally been suspected as a funding mechanism for terror, but has thus far been addressed primarily on a case-by-case basis. But more concrete confirmation of Al-Qaeda using trafficking funds came from Harouna Touré, who led an Al-Qaeda-affiliated criminal group in North Africa. Among other income-generating activities, they transported hashish to Tunisia; trafficked people from Bangladesh, Pakistan and India into Spain; and recently kidnapped Belgian citizens for ransom.
The increased use of human trafficking to fund terror is something I’ve seen coming for awhile. The notorious U.S. and Mexico-based MS-13 gang has been reported to have engaged in talks with Al-Qaeda, and they have used trafficking as a funding source for some time. So Al-Qaeda has a mentor in the industry. Also, since the U.S. declared a war on terror almost a decade ago, officials have identified and disabled a number of funding mechanisms for terror. Better technology has made it easier to track money online, and thus harder to move money from legal accounts into the hands of terrorists without raising flags. So it’s natural that terror organizations would turn to organized crime activities as a means of financing their operations — and trafficking in drugs and people are the most profitable organized criminal activities.
I hope this connection becomes clearer to law enforcement over the next year, and they begin to identify combating human trafficking as a serious national security issue deeply connected with the war on terror. Human trafficking allows terrorist organizations to finance their operations, including recruitment and bombings. And the conditions in which human trafficking thrive — poverty, political instability and extremism, and lack of political freedom — also provide fertile ground for terrorism to thrive in. This is especially true of places in the Middle East like Pakistan and Lebanon which have significant trafficking problems and the potential for more serious terrorism as well. Only once we accept that ending human trafficking is important to national security will we be able to cut the flow of cash from modern-day slave labor to terrorist organizations.
Photo credit: The Chorizo Warrior