My first conversations with Louise Shelley, a professor at the School of Public Policy at George Mason University and the founder and director of George Mason's Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC), occurred several years ago around the dynamics of nuclear smuggling. It’s wrong to view nuclear smuggling as an exotic exception within the realm of organized crime, she said: The fuels of Armaggedon, rather, travel the most banal channels. “Whatever is a viable smuggling route remains a viable smuggling route, whether you’re selling drugs, arms, people, or other contraband. Nuclear materials move right along with everything else – that’s the genius of it.” She described a new breed of loosely-organized, spontaneous, informal criminal networks that thrive on the desperation and poverty of these war-torn regions and are extremely difficult to track, and left a lasting impression.
Shelley’s is a perspective that tends to favor “greed over grievance” in analyzing the dynamics by which terrorist groups thrive, survive and, often, become infected and consumed by their own corruption. It is with this in mind that she dispenses with the mythical exceptionalism attributed to the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) by an "ISIS"-obsessed mainstream media; the beheadings and other barbarities may be more prudently seen as window dressing for a group that exists on a continuum.
“ISIS is like the Harvard business model of case studies,” she said, referring to the complex smuggling networks for oil and other commodities by which ISIL brings in as much as several million dollars a day. “They have a diversified business mode that gives revenues not only for military operations, but for community benefits, and that is deeply appreciated by the communities where they now are. They are not sui generis; they have learned from other terrorist groups. There is continuity.”
It is this critical sense of continuity and evolution that emerges in Shelley’s important new book, Dirty Entanglements; Corruption, Crime, and Terrorism, from Cambridge University Press. Her lively case studies range from drugs to diamonds and oil; from the IRA to the FARC, Hamas, Hezbollah and the Taliban; from the Balkans to North Africa, Iraq and the Israel-Palestine conflict. Hers is an integral, illuminating lens into the globalized, technologically advanced, inequity-ridden world in which today’s conflicts thrive.
- Michael Bronner
In mid-January 2013, a coalition of diverse Jihadi groups seized control of the In Amenas gas field in Eastern Algeria, close to the Libyan border. The field provides five percent of the gas produced in Algeria. The attack, blessed by Al Qaeda in the Mahgreb (AQIM), a powerful Al Qaeda affiliate, revealed the power of the radical Islamists to take control of a large and economically important site with over 800 employees. The attack is believed to have been planned by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who started a splinter group from AQIM not long before the attack.
Operating under a policy that prohibited negotiation with terrorists, the Algerian state launched a military siege against the gas facility that resulted in high numbers of casualties. There were more than 30 attackers dead and at least three-dozen hostages from eight countries also perished. The well-armed assailants had terrorized the hostages before their rescue or death.
These are the simple facts of the case. Yet this single act of terrorism epitomizes the main principles of this book, that the interaction of crime, corruption and terrorism are having a tremendous impact both on security and the global economy. This attack––designed to commanded international attention––was characteristic of contemporary security threats, where the challenge comes from non-state actors rather than governments. This attack was a strike at the core of the Algerian economy, yet caused numerous foreign casualties. It reveals the consequences of globalization, where foreign investment and workers are placed in ever more remote locales and unstable regions, especially as the world seeks to tap ever more distant sources of oil and gas. Moreover, such an attack is different from those of the past in Algeria, as it affects the citizens of so many diverse countries. Carried out in a lightly guarded desert locale, it reveals the strategic thinking of the terrorists. They were willing to carry out what was almost certainly a suicide mission to advance their goals. Yet they did this with advanced weaponry that they had acquired and knew how to deploy.
The January attack of 2013 is reflective of a “new terrorism,” discussed more in chapter three, that is more spectacular in its operation and its victimization, but also in its global economic effects. The hostages killed came from at least three continents—North America, Europe, and Asia. American, British, French, Japanese, Norwegian, Filipino and Romanian victims were identified. The attackers reportedly came from at least seven countries including Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Canada. They entered from Libya, which presently lacks adequate border controls. The presence of two Canadians reveals the capacity of Islamic militant organizations to recruit not only regionally, but also globally. The target was even more global than was revealed by the nationalities of the terrorists and their victims. The In Amenas Gas field was operated by companies based on four continents, including: BP, Statoil of Norway and Sonatrach (the Algerian national oil company), and serviced by many international firms. The Japanese engineering firm JGC Corp helped service the field. This helps explain why the Japanese, despite being far from their home country, suffered the largest number of fatalities.
Globalization has created a world where international businesses from diverse countries, employing citizens from around the globe, can combine in such a remote locale as In Amenas. But globalization has also created a world in which money, arms, and people move readily across borders, making such sites vulnerable. This operation required extensive advanced planning and logistics, needed to move significant numbers of people and arms long distances across borders to this desert site.
Recent decades have seen a decline of borders, as there have been greater efforts to promote trade and move massive amounts of goods. The decline of the border in the Al Amenas case was a consequence of the absence of state function in Libya after the Arab Spring, and the ousting of Qaddafi. In many other cases, the decline of borders is a result of the retreat of the state, in which less control has been exercised over national territory. In the developing world, these borders are often artifacts of colonial rule and other historical legacies, rather than defensible geographic divisions of people and cultures. Post-colonial Africa epitomizes this problem, as many of the borders of African states are artificial constructs of the colonial era. With little national desire to police these boundaries, and few financial incentives for law enforcement to perform their jobs effectively, significant corruption prevails at the frontiers. Consequently, without law enforcement capacity to police movements of people, the radical Islamists were able to enter into Algeria, allegedly from Libya, without problems. Many of the arms used came from the Qaddafi-era Libya, but they could be moved to diverse locales in Africa, largely unimpeded, because of the absence of effective controls in the chaos that followed the so-called “Arab Spring.”
Assisting in the movement of people and the smuggling of goods are the Tuaregs, a tribal people, that have traditionally moved cargo across the desert. Having fought for Gaddafi, many escaped from Libya. With their displacement after the Arab Spring, they forged an alliance with AQIM that exploited their talents to transport and smuggle goods, arms, and people across the desert and avoid border controls. They have helped AQIM take control of northern Mali.
The Tuaregs are just one element of the extensive network that facilitated this attack. Although Belkmotar claimed credit for the assault on In Amenas, in reality the group that assaulted the gas field united a heterogeneous group behind a shared objective. Those who participated and facilitated the assault included jihadists, ethnic rebels, and diverse criminal groups. This network construction is representative of the new face of terrorism that combines criminal and terrorist elements with unclear and often hybrid identities in spaces where they can operate together.
The Al Amenas attack was justified as a reprisal against the French attacks on AQIM in Mali, but the advanced planning needed for the gas field attack negates this claim. But the corruption in Mali has been of concern for years, as its leaders have cut secret deals with AQIM. The significant financial resources of AQIM, derived from its extensive and diversified criminal activity have allowed it, through corruption and force, to create a safe haven for itself in a large part of Mali.
The presence of crime-terror groups in the Sahel is not just a problem of safe havens in weak and loosely governed states. It also reveals the interaction of crime and terrorism with the legitimate economy, and the complicity of the corporate world in the financing of terrorism. AQIM, as will be discussed in reference to the business of terrorism, has profited enormously from kidnapping. The kidnapping of Canadians and Europeans in north and west Africa by insurgent groups, including AQIM, have provided massive funds for these groups, as the payments have totaled approximately $130 million dollars in the last decade, paid by Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain, France, Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands. This money has been paid both by governments in Continental Europe and also by corporations. The money has often come from companies whose workers have been kidnapped, however insurance firms ultimately are the stakeholders who pay out large ransoms after western corporations have bought expensive anti-kidnapping policies. The ransom profits have provided the insurgent and jihadi groups enormous capacity in an environment in which labor and trafficked arms from Libya are cheap.
As will be discussed subsequently, some analysts of the crime-terror problem seek to define this problem as one linked to weak and fragile states. But as this Algerian and AQIM example illustrates, without the financial support and complicity of financial institutions in the developed world, insurgent groups would not have the capability to carry out such expensive attacks. Therefore, companies are not only the victims of terrorist attacks, such as in Al Amenas, but are also facilitators of this insurgent activity through their large payments to these insurgent groups. This illustrates that crime and terrorism intersect with the legitimate economy in diverse ways.
Kidnapping is not the only activity that has supported AQIM, although it may be its largest revenue source. Belmoktar, the strategist behind the Al Amenas attack, has been identified as a “jihadi gangster,” a special distinct type associated with AQIM that combines terrorist objectives with significant illicit activity. He has also been referred to as “Mr. Marlboro” for his large role in the lucrative illicit cigarette trade in North Africa, that will be discussed more in chapter seven. But kidnapping and cigarettes are just part of this criminal panoply that also includes extortion, arms and drugs smuggling that will also be analyzed in chapter six. The diversity of criminal activity that supports this jihadi activity in Africa reveals that drugs are not the central funding source for terrorism, although they receive a disproportionate amount of attention in strategies that seek to address terrorist financing.
All of this illicit cross-border trade can only function because of large and pervasive corruption. Examining the world map of corruption released by Transparency International for 2012, reveals that the Sahel-Sahara region, as well as the adjoining regions of north, west, and central Africa, all experience high levels of perceived corruption. Libya, the source of the smuggled arms, is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. With this low level of state capacity, the political will is not present to control either the crime, terrorism, or the increasingly complex structures built of these ingredients.
The force of the Algerian assault against the militants is a consequence both of its past history of conflict with terrorists, the training of its military leadership by the Soviet armed forces, and the strategic importance of the gas fields to Algeria’s economy. Its policy of non-negotiation is a legacy of its conflict with Islamic insurgents in the 1990s, that is estimated to have claimed anywhere from 30 to 150,000 lives. The huge oil and gas industries are pillars of the Algerian economy. They represent 98 per cent of its export revenue and 70 per cent of its national budget. Therefore, this attack on the energy production of Algeria undermines the economic and political viability of the state. As a major supplier of gas to Europe, the assault on this gas field challenges the security and dependability of gas needed by the European community for its daily life. Therefore, the jihadis are striking not just at individual hostages, as in the past, but are undermining the economic security of Algeria and Europe. The political and economic significance of this attack far surpasses that of previous terrorist acts in Algeria.
This excerpt from Dirty Entanglements: Corruption, Crime, and Terrorism by Louise I. Shelley (© 2014 Louise I. Shelley) is reprinted with the permission of Cambridge University Press.