The dark side of globalized Islamism.
The role of terrorist, and armed groups in bolstering abusive regimes, weakening global supply chains, fuelling corruption, and undermining good governance through illegal trafficking is well established.
Transnational criminal elements have access to large-scale resources, which are made possible by the incredible amount of money that transnational crime generates. Through resource development and reorganization, they now rival the capabilities of many states and overwhelm the capabilities of others. In this respect, terrorist organizations are running global money-laundering and drug trafficking rings as business partners of criminal syndicates.
These criminal networks have taken advantage of modern advances in communications and transportation to globalize. Using secure platforms which are constantly changed when taken down by police, such as EncroChat and Sky ECC, and more recently ANOM, narcotraffickers, illegal arms merchants have expanded their operations around the world, and human smugglers have moved their slaves from underdeveloped countries to sex operations throughout the developed world. And, of course, we have all seen the global reach of modern transnational terrorism.
According to latest Global Initiative’s report, “a symbiotic relationship exists between the elites who champion the existing systems [of opaque global banking system that developed at the start of the new millennium] and the criminal groups who add financial weight to the banking system while enjoying its lack of transparency.” Therefore, illicit trade is deeply embedded in the private sector, in politics, and in governments and sometimes can become a political force as coca growers in Bolivia, where their man has been elected president.
In such a Hobbesian world, not only law and order, but democracy is breaking down in many countries prophesying a generational conflict with violent Islamist extremism.
In this respect, Sub-Saharan states have been taken over by nefarious and armed factions such as Islamic groups (al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Jamaat al-Nasr al-Islam, Ansar al-Dine and Katiba Masine) and armed militias being allied with illegal networks and controlling geographical bottlenecks. These Trans-Saharan Criminal Economies are well detailed by a Global Initiative report.
Where governments have failed, criminal networks provided alternative governance. Where the police and judiciary were affected, criminals preyed on the population and do not pay for their misdeeds.
Globalization has brought undeniable benefits, including the reduction of poverty in several countries. But the compression of time and space, made possible by modern technology, has also unleashed negative forces. This “deviant globalization” manifests itself through transnational flows of terrorism, drug and human trafficking, organized crime, and money laundering expressing a cyber-physical convergence of operational means and modi operandi.
In West Africa, there is strong evidence that many criminal networks engage in the poly-criminal activity, adding simply migrant smuggling or trafficking in human beings to their ‘services portfolio’. March 2017 report from Global Financial Integrity, “Transnational Crime and the Developing World,” finds that globally the business of transnational crime is valued at an average of $1.6 trillion to $2.2 trillion annually, , and drug trafficking ($426 billion to $652 billion) has the second-highest value.
According to the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, for a good part of the decade, it was the Central Mediterranean where criminal groups were seeing massive earnings. Smuggling networks have progressively shifted their area of operations to the Western Mediterranean route which has now experienced a surge in profits. (see fig. below)
This is also due to a surge in the activity of the police and criminal justice in Italy in 2017-2018. Namely and according to the EU Commission, the five Member States with the highest number of reported persons suspected, arrested or cautioned for trafficking in human beings were Italy (4 104), France (2 786), Germany (1 359), Romania (850) and Spain (573).
Sub-Saharan migrants, started travelling to Algeria and Morocco, via Mali and Mauritania, and then further to Spain by boat. More specifically, migrants leave the continent through Moroccan, Tunisian and Lybian ports rather than Algerian (mainly Beni Saf); they cross respectively the North-Western border at Maghnia, to reach Morocco or the Eastern and South-eastern border check point at Deb Deb and Djanet, to reach Tunisia or Libya. But Mauritanian port city of Nouadhibou, located 800 km southeast of Spain’s Canary Islands, has become key departure hub.
Once they leave Sahelian Africa, migrants move through transit spaces produced by other actors. Gendarmes, police, the military and migrants transport services agents profiting from their distress. From this point of view, the list of taxes to which migrants are subject between Niger, Algeria and Libya is incredibly long, as Julien Brachet notes; arising from both local finances and corruption, these financial drain exhausts the savings migrants’ savings, in desperate need, at each stop, of new ways to finance the continuation of their journey.
The growth in illicit economies along these migration routes has also created a larger pool of service providers operating within and across markets, having a stake in their continuation. Transnational organized crime will continue to develop a system of criminal networks across the Sahara consolidating its violent footprint and seeking increasing political power.
Libya is still the biggest gateway to Europe for those fleeing war or poverty in Africa and a hinge region linking the Sahel with the Mediterranean but is increasingly be regarded as an important system for feeding the European cocaine pipeline, thanks also to large Nigerian populations in Latin America (most notably Brazil), and Europe (southern Italy in particular).
The Sahel, is now a region of extraordinary interest and relevance for the future of Europe. Origin of irregular migration and centre of action of the various mafias that smuggle people, weapons, food, drugs and fuel financing a jihadist threat. In this connection, the establishment of the G5 Sahel, one year after the January 2013 terror attack at the gas facility located in the south of Algeria near In Amenas, is a clear illustration of the consolidation of military-security alliances between North African, Sahelian and Western leaders. The force of the “coalition for the Sahel” conducts cross-border joint military counter-terror operations in the Sahel. Importantly, the Force “will enable in particular the countering of multiple drugs and human trafficking that finance terrorist groups in the Sahel-Saharan strip”.
However, it continues to remain peripheral to other strategic issue-areas including cooperation between intelligence agencies on the fight against international terrorism, energy security and the reinforced control of the EU external borders.
Among many others, worldwide economic and cultural integration are critical priorities on which globalized violent forms of militancy and politics generated by Islamism has managed to capitalise, to varying degrees.
All views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not represent the opinions of any entity whatsoever with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated