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Research Digest

Issue 2


The Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) launched its Global Counter-Terrorism Research Network (GRN) in February 2015. The GRN - which now brings together over 100 leading research institutions from across the globe - helps CTED keep abreast of emerging terrorism trends, and to identify and share good practices in the implementation of the relevant Security Council resolutions by Member States.
The aim of the CTED Research Digest is to highlight evidence-based research conducted by GRN members and other relevant researchers on trends and thematic issues of relevance to the counter-terrorism policymaking community. Each issue of the Digest provides an analytical overview of several pieces of research on a specific trend or theme, as well as a “reading list” of recent counter-terrorism research.

Crime-terror nexus

This issue of the Research Digest focuses on the evolving nexus between organized crime and terrorism. This complex and often contested topic covers a broad range of activities – most notably the use of criminal activity for fundraising - and various types of relationship between terrorist actors and criminal networks.
Because of the transnational nature of both organized crime and terrorism, the nexus between them remains a significant focus for the Security Council. Earlier this month, the Council issued a presidential statement, which expresses concern at the connection between terrorism and transnational organized crime and encourages CTED to leverage the GRN to continue to conduct research to better understand the nature and scope of those links.

Historical perspectives

In Historical Perspectives on Organised Crime and Terrorism (edited by Windle, Morrison, Winter & Silke - March 2018), multiple researchers explore the complexities of organized crime and terrorism, as well as their linkages, similarities and complementarities. Key takeaways include:
  • The value of historical context: Several contributors stress the value of studying links between terrorism and organized crime before 2001, arguing that doing so can provide critical lessons in understanding and responding to contemporary and evolving threats. In The Klan is history: a historical perspective on the revival of the far-right in “post-racial” America, Aaron Winter argues that understanding the inception of groups such as the Ku Klux Klan allows researchers to identify the current conditions aiding the revival of the far right.

  • The lines between criminality and terrorism are often blurred: In Somali maritime predation: traditional piracy or a new form of terrorism? Anamika Twyman-Ghoshal argues that the motivation of Somali pirates shifted from challenging inequality to generating profit, but that they often retained a “terrorist” label. A second piece, by Andrew Silke, explores the blurred lines between organized crime and terrorism in Trinidad and Tobago and offers insights into the fluidity with which individuals have switched between the two activities.

  • Unintended consequences if the terrorism label is used inappropriately: Twyman-Ghoshal suggests that labelling Somali pirates as terrorists resulted in an excessive militarization of the issue, and that a focus on short-term deterrence came “at the expense of longer-term policies designed to tackle the root causes of piracy.”

Regional perspectives

Given the cross-border nature of terrorism and organized crime, research into trends and challenges across regions is vital to broaden the evidence base underpinning the response to the crime-terror nexus.


One such study is The Crime Terror Nexus project, an 18-month study into links between crime and terrorism across all European Union member States. The study focuses on three types of nexus - institutional, organizational, and social (the convergence of the social networks and environments of criminals and terrorists).

In The Crime-Terror Nexus in France, researchers highlight examples of each type of nexus, citing operational cooperation between Corsican criminal groups and violent separatist groups as evidence of an institutional nexus.

Focusing on the social nexus, the researchers cite statistics which indicate that almost 50 per cent of French terrorists between 1994 and 2016 had criminal pasts. As a result, French terrorists have been able to draw upon the skills, networks and opportunities provided by their criminality, including by securing weaponry from longstanding friends or acquaintances from the same social circles.

The study makes several recommendations for policymakers with relevance beyond the French context, including:
  • Systematic efforts to make prisons safer from crime, terrorism, and any links between them
  • Better information-sharing across departments and disciplines, including the creation of new partnerships with local authorities, civil society and the private sector
  • Renewed efforts to address the conditions in which extremist narratives and ideologies resonate.

The Sahel

In Links Between Terrorism, Organised Crime and Crime: The Case of the Sahel Region, Erik Alda and Joseph Sala outline three categories of intersectionality between criminal and terrorist networks - coexistence, cooperation and convergence – before examining the available data in the Sahel region.

Focusing on Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the study outlines the history of Al-Qaida-linked groups in the region, which have funded terrorist activities using criminal tactics, most notably kidnapping for ransom and cigarette smuggling. Alda and Sala stress, however, that the extent of AQIM’s involvement in these activities is often unclear, and suggest that criminal networks may have carried out kidnappings before selling the hostages to AQIM for profit. They conclude that:
  • Criminal and terrorist networks in the Sahel tolerate each other’s activities and cooperate when it serves their organizational needs 
  • There is, however, limited evidence of organizational convergence, with criminal and terrorist networks remaining separate institutions with separate goals 
  • More empirical evidence is required to determine whether examples of coexistence, cooperation or convergence are indicative of a wider trend or widespread problem.

Reading List

Short reads


Long reads

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If you have any questions about the research included in this Digest or about the Global Research Network, please contact
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