The Guardia di Finanza — the Italian financial police — confiscated 14 metric tons of amphetamines on July 1. This has raised again the issue of jihadist groups and their collaboration with criminal syndicates, particularly on the drugs trade, which we have covered a lot at European Eye on Radicalization.
According to Guardia di Finanza statement released on Wednesday, July 1, officers tracked three containers to the port of Salerno, southwest Italy, and found 84 million pills with an estimated market value of 1 billion euros.
Investigators explain that this is the largest drug haul worldwide in terms of both value and quantity and that the drugs were well hidden and the scanners at the port did not detect them.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte praised Guardia di Finanza for the successful operation, which strongly hit international terrorism and demonstrated that Italy keeps the guard up, also thanks to the tireless and extensive work of the Intelligence Services.
Brigadier General Gabriele Failla, head of the Guardia di Finanza in Naples, told CNN that he believes a number of criminal groups may have banded together to buy the huge shipment because, intuitively, traffickers don’t normally send so many drugs at once, which is extremely risky, and no single group could deal with that amount of pills at once.
Originally, it was reported that the Islamic State (ISIS or Daesh) was among the groups responsible for this, but it appears, according to detailed reporting by Der Spiegel, that it was the Assad regime in Syria that was primarily behind this shipment.
Whatever the specifics of this case, when studying terrorism and radicalization, the so-called crime-terror nexus has become increasingly crucial to understand the ever-changing dynamics of terror financing, logistics, and network structuring.
Ruslan Trad warns that European institutions have periodically reported on possible contacts between terrorist groups and European mafia groups since the 1990s. After 2004, when the Madrid bombing took place, it was clear that it was precisely thanks to an alliance of this kind, between the Mafia and terrorist cells, nearly 50,000 euros had been channeled to the organizers of the attack.
Thanks to these alliances, organized crime contributes to finding weapons, providing logistics and travel opportunities. In this way, terrorist groups rely on local criminal structures in Europe to operate freely on the continent. Counterfeit documents, weapons, and logistics were also provided by these criminals to the Daesh cells responsible for attacks in Paris and Brussels in 2015 and 2016.
In this case, the shipment was most likely being sent first to Camorra – the main mafia set of families of Campania – and its networks and later to different channels of distribution all over Europe.
The pills carried the Captagon logo, which is often used by jihadists—though in this case might well have been part of the Assad regime’s effort to cover its tracks. Captagon was originally the brand name for a medical product, which is now no longer produced, but drugs carrying the Captagon name are regularly seized in the Middle East, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).
And it remains a fact that Daesh finances its activities in large part with the trafficking of synthetic drugs produced mainly in Syria. Drugs are so lucrative that trafficking in jewels and arms pales in comparison, particularly as far as cocaine is concerned. Experts estimate that money laundering and drug trafficking make more than half-a-trillion dollars in profit across the globe.
Taking Advantage of Kuffar Weaknesses
With remarkable realpolitik and sense of business, terrorist organizations have always counted on drugs and crime to finance their activities.
Jihadist movements are no exception, as they systematically lean on what they see as kuffar (unbeliever, infidel) weaknesses — debauchery and lack of self-control, to kill two birds with one stone: creating a profitable system of financing and further weakening Western societies from within.
The literature examining the jihadi vision of substance addiction in Islam is quite scarce. On paper, jihadists conform to Qur’an prescriptions on intoxicants (khamr). Alcohol is prohibited in the Qur’an for recreational reasons; the Qur’an calls alcohol the “Handiwork of Satan” (Sura al-Ma’ida 5:90) and, in alcohol consumption, “The sin is greater than the benefit” (Sura al-Baqara 2:219).
In practice, tangible needs of money and funding clearly prevail.
As far as Captagon is concerned, Italian sources explain that it is distributed all over the Middle East and used by both fighters — since it inhibits fear and pain — and civilians.
In 2017, Rajan Basra and Peter Neumann noted that even Rumiyah, one of Daesh’s main magazine, had exalted criminals-turned-jihadis and encouraged the use of crime for jihad.
The obituary of Macrème Abrougui, aka Abu Mujahid al-Faransi, published in Issue 11, describes Abrogui transformation from “fierce gangster” to true Muslim.
Interestingly, Daesh also acknowledges the use of criminal networks and the eulogy explicitly states that Abrougui would secure forged passports for would-be jihadis who were prohibited from traveling and notes that he himself used a forged passport to travel to Syria.
With the fast-rising threat of terrorism worldwide, policymakers, researchers, and experts are increasingly exploring the dimensions of the crime-terror nexus. However, it is still in the early stages and undeniably requires further work. Moreover, they are doing so almost exclusively from the lens of terror: how organized crime supports terrorism. Few have explored the other side of the nexus, which is still largely unknown.
Jihadists will continue to exploit the alleged moral decadence they claim to fight, and governments need to continue assessing the multiple crime-terror nexus developments.