Many terrorist organizations are conceptually similar to other organized criminal groups - both in structure and even in their use of violence depending on their desired goals. The types of criminal activity that we see commonly associated with criminal gangs is the same as those that we see being committed by terrorist groups or extremist individuals who support terrorist groups and their operations. Identity theft, money laundering, trafficking of drugs and the crimes associated with it, weapons offenses, and human trafficking and smuggling are just some of the crimes that both international and local criminal and terrorist organizations profit from.
While it is evident that terrorist groups have adopted traditional criminal methods to finance their operations; it has also become evident that criminal groups, such as drug trafficking organizations, have adopted terrorist tactics to further their operations as well. Kidnapping and murder of government officials, law enforcement officers, and rivals serve as an effective intimidation tactic. Drug cartels have repeatedly posted online video footage of gristly decapitations and have even left the skinned corpses of those that opposed them in public view as a warning to others. We can surmise that these groups did not think of these methods by themselves, but instead took a page from jihadists overseas who have committed the same types of atrocities and posted the videos online for the world to see.
In addition to the use of similar tactics, methods, and practices; we are beginning to see the exchange of ideologies and, in some instances, even personnel. For decades there have been criminal street gangs that supported the domestic extremist belief of racial superiority; now in more recent years, there have been reports of what could be considered ‘traditional’ street gangs espousing Sovereign Citizen rhetoric. Whether this rhetoric is mere camouflage used in an effort to avoid arrest or something that they actually adhere to is the question; but the fact remains, they are embracing an extremist ideology. Then there are the individuals who have outright joined terrorist groups and have taken part in terrorist attacks.
Since 2007, more than a dozen American citizens of Somali descent have joined Al-Shabab, a terrorist group with ties to Al-Qaeda. Several of those individuals were positively identified gang members before they left. In earlier 2014, a video of alleged Los Angeles gang members surfaced online, reportedly showing them fighting for Syrian forces and for Hezbollah – another designated terrorist group. Unfortunately, this is not the only tie between a criminal gang and this particular terrorist organization. In late 2007, a seemingly small time drug ring in Southern California was raided by federal law enforcement officials and was found to be financially supporting Hezbollah.
The connection between organized crime and terrorism is often much closer than we believe. Learning about and identifying the cooperative activities between the two is vital to disrupting both groups. If we ignore or underestimate their ties we only set ourselves up for failure.