Islamic terrorism and organized crime threaten Balkans

The cooperation of Islamic terrorists and organized crime could develop in to a significant threat for the security of the region of South East Europe due to some new weaker state institutions, corruption and the deteriorating economy.

The surge of Islamic fundamentalist ideology exploited the global war against terrorism and the ethnic tolerance of the Western Balkans. The transnational organized crime groups also found the preconditions to become a regional threat. The organized crime’s activities destabilize countries, increase corruption, extortion, racketeering, violence and sophisticated crimes at the local and international levels. [1]

The connection between terrorism and organized crime was facilitated by globalization, communication and the end of the “Cold War”. In this context, organized crime offers to terrorists the much needed channels, such as crime routes and access to weapons, thus enabling them to challenge public security as well as armed forces[2].

The links between Islamic terrorist cells and organized crime groups raise serious concerns for the European law enforcement authorities. Although they are different types of criminal activities and their actions are driven by different incentives, terrorism and organized crime cannot be examined as isolated and unrelated entities. The organized crime and terrorism operate on a global level and don’t recognize nationality and borders. The groups are only motivated by the rule of supply and demand which involves the strategies and tactics of an effective marketing.

The “Balkan route” serves the illegal activities of the aforementioned two groups. It is also well known that organized crime and terrorism usually develop links and interdependencies that increase the level of asymmetric threat. The interests of the organized crime may be connected with the aims of terrorists

Several spots in Balkans are operationally used as important shipment point for illicit trafficking due to the high flows of regional road traffic which favor illegal shipment to move undetected from the authorities of law enforcement. These activities are facilitated by the increased illegal migration flows[3]. The Western Balkans are not only deemed as a transit region but also as a significant source of firearms trade on the international weapons market, drug precursors (ephedrine) as well as ready synthetic drugs. Moreover, the weapons’ trade continues to supply international criminal markets. The Western Balkans are expected to remain a key source of heavy firearms trade into the EU, due to the large illicit stockpiles of the countries of the region[4] . The Western Balkans region is considered as “safe haven” for a bundle of war profiteers, career criminals and Islamic fundamentalists due to the weak governmental structures and deteriorating economies[5].

The transport networks in Balkans are used also by militant Islamic groups for logistical support. The Islamist militants can enter the Schengen area through Croatia or Serbia which are open to the European Union’s member – states. For instance, it is reported that the Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb uses the heroin trade via West Africa en route to Europe. Moreover, the militant Islamic groups participate in the criminal actions in order to gain financial and logistical support. They are encouraged by the need for self-finance and the requirement to independently organize their terrorist operations. The defining characteristics of the alliance between terrorism and organized crime consist of, but not limited to: (a) access to specialized knowledge (e.g. money laundering), (b) access to specialized services (e.g. counterfeiting), (c) operational support and (d) financial support [6].

The level of cooperation between terrorists and organized crime is determined in many cases from the nature of geographic region. According to Study of the European Parliament “in transitional states, the nexus includes the operational and conceptual plane, with evidence of convergent motivations dominating groups operating in regions such as the Balkans. Historically, poor border security, weak law enforcement, corrupt public officials and established smuggling networks have facilitated the emergence of hybrid groups that simultaneously sought political aims and profit maximization.

The fighting of the Islamic terrorism and organized crime require from EU and also NATO the adoption of an effective strategy that would combine counter – terrorism and anti – crime strategies.

The EU Counter-Terrorism Strategy (2005) proposed four pillars to combat radicalization and recruitment of terrorists: (a) PREVENT people from turning to terrorism and stop future generations of terrorists from emerging, (b) PROTECT citizens and critical infrastructure by reducing vulnerabilities against attacks, (c) PURSUE and investigate terrorists, impede planning, travel and communications, cut off access to funding and materials and bring terrorists to justice and (d) RESPOND in a coordinated way by preparing for the management and minimisation of the consequences of a terrorist attack, improving capacities to deal with the aftermath and taking into account the needs of victims. Moreover, the ΕU has outlined an Internal Security Strategy (ISS) 2010 to counter the organized crime based on three concrete actions: (a) identifying and dismantling such networks, (b) protecting the economy against criminal infiltration, and (c) confiscating criminal assets.




[1] See more Georgios X. Protopapas “The Combined Threat of Terrorism and Organized Crime for and in South East Europe” in Comprehensive Approach as “Sine Qua Non” for Critical Infrastructure Protection Ed: Denis Čaleta, Vesela Radović, pages 215 – 231, NATO Science for Peace and Security Series – D: Information and Communication Security, Vol. 39, 2015

[2] Schori Liang C. (2011), Shadow Networks: The Growing Nexus of Terrorism and Organized Crime, Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) Policy Paper N° 20.

[3] European Parliament Study (2012) Europe’s Crime-Terror Nexus: Links between terrorist and organized crime groups in the European Union, Directorate General for Internal Policies of European Parliament.

[4] OCTA – Europol (2011), EU Organized Crime Threat Assessment.

[5] Arsovska Jana and Basha Dimal (2012), Globalizing the Western Balkans: Transnational Crime, Fundamental Islam and Unholy Alliances, Etudes Caribeennes.

[6] European Parliament Study (2012), op.cit.