27. May 2017  |  Security and Defence, Central Europe
More than 18 months ago, a multinational terrorist cell attached to Islamic State (ISIS) staged a string of deadly terrorist attacks in Paris. As it turned out later, many of the cell’s operatives had prior criminal records. This Paris cell (or “Paris-Brussels” cell, since its remnants bombed targets in the latter city four months later) is seen as a perfect example of the crime-terror co-operation or, in fact, merger.

It is sometimes forgotten that terrorism simply is a criminal act. What is more, in countries with a high terrorism threat, “ordinary” criminal and terrorist activities often overlap as organisations in either of the two domains “converge” to effectively become a crime-terror hybrid. They also recruit from the same pool of individuals who, after joining one or the other, can move between the two worlds. Given those factors, it has become popular to talk about a crime-terror nexus—a series of connections and links between the underworld and terrorism, exemplified by the “formerly” criminal members of the ISIS cell that attacked Paris and Brussels. Seen through this prism, the ISIS terrorists’ successful attacks and the rising numbers of the group’s European foot soldiers, supporters or fans, is proportional to this organisation’s openness to recruit from the ranks of nihilist and rebellious delinquents or criminals who wish to redeem themselves via the path of jihad.

What if, however, we were to analyse the validity of the crime-terror nexus concept in countries where there has historically been very little terrorism? Perhaps the nexus concept, visible while studying many of ISIS’ European members, could also be applied to other actors? Why not establish whether other non-democratic entities also “converge” with criminal groups towards hybrids or if their members evolve towards criminality on an individual basis? Would the concept still hold, and are there other nexuses?

The GLOBSEC Policy Institute has sought answers to these questions. In summer 2017, it will publish a series of reports devoted to one such potential nexus—the crime-extremism nexus—in which GLOBSEC researchers attempt to discern if the concept applies to links between criminals or criminal groups and politically radical entities favouring anti-democratic, anti-systemic, exclusionary, racist and xenophobic positions (or a combination of them).

In producing the reports, GLOBSEC Policy Institute carefully studied the potential of such a nexus developing in Central European countries. It is meant to add new knowledge to a field dominated by research focusing on the crime-terror overlaps in Western Europe. It is the Institute’s intention to establish whether the nexus phenomenon is more widespread, one, geographically (beyond Western Europe) and, two, conceptually (not only terrorist or ISIS “wannabe” members).

The GLOBSEC Policy Institute’s reports will shed a surprising new light on the reality of political extremism in Central Europe and provide food for thought for academics, experts, and especially decision-makers intent on unmasking the scale of hybridization between criminality and politically radical actors, not only terrorist operatives.

The reports will:

1.     describe extremist entities as rigidly anti-criminal in their rhetoric, and intolerant of its members’ illegal activities.

2.     identify dominant criminal representatives of the wider extremist scenes in the Central European countries.

3.     measure the scale of individual (past) involvement in criminality on behalf of members of extremist organisations.

4.     establish if the region’s foreign fighters can be described as members of a crime-extremism nexus.

5.     assess if Central European extremists engage in international cooperation that is criminal in nature.

The reports will include recommendations on how the authorities in the region should address the threat from anti-systemic extremist organisations intent on destruction of the post-1989 socio-political order. These reports will be launched within the framework of the GLOBSEC Intelligence Reform Initiative (GIRI), a multi-pronged research and advocacy effort developed by the GLOBSEC Policy Institute and led by The Hon. Michael Chertoff. 

You can download this briefing note here