living islam _ islamic tradition
Below quotes from their research paper. (PDF - link)
Criminal and terrorist groups have come to recruit from the same pool of people, creating (often unintended) synergies and overlaps that have consequences for how individuals radicalise and operate. This is what we call the new crime-terror nexus.
The profiles and pathways in our database suggest that the jihadist narrative – as articulated by the Islamic State – is surprisingly well-aligned with the personal needs and desires of criminals, and that it can be used to curtail as well as license the continued involvement in crime.
For up to ten of the individuals in our database, we found evidence for what we termed the ‘redemption narrative’: jihadism offered redemption for crime while satisfying the same personal needs and desires that led them to become involved in it, making the ‘jump’ from criminality to terrorism smaller than is commonly perceived.
Fifty-seven per cent of the individuals in our database (45 out of 79 pro les) had been incarcerated prior to their radicalisation, with sentences ranging from one month to over ten years, for various offences from petty to violent crime. More significantly, at least 27 per cent of those who spent time in prison (12 out of 45 pro les) radicalised there, although the process often continued and intensified after their release.
• Jihadists not only condone the use of ‘ordinary’ criminality to raise funds, they have argued that doing so is the ideologically correct way of waging ‘jihad’ in the ‘lands of war’. Combined with large numbers of former criminals in their ranks, this will make financing attacks through crime not only possible and legitimate but, increasingly, their first choice.
• Already, up to 40 per cent of terrorist plots in Europe are at least part-financed through ‘petty crime’, especially drug-dealing, theft, robberies, the sale of counterfeit goods, loan fraud, and burglaries. Based on our database, jihadists tend to continue doing what they are familiar with, which means that terrorist financing by criminal means will become more important as the number of former criminals is increasing.
The merging of terrorism and crime is not without precedent, therefore. Nor can we offer reliable statistics by how much the share of ‘gangsters’ may have risen. Yet it seems clear that their role has become more pronounced, more visible, and more relevant to the ways in which groups like Islamic State operate and frame their message. Furthermore, we believe that the crime-terror nexus – whether entirely new or not – has been under-researched, and that its political and practical implications have not been understood.
Rather than in universities or among religious students, Islamic State and/or its successors increasingly nd recruits in European ‘ghettos’, in prisons, as well as among the European ‘underclasses’ and those who have previously engaged in violence and illegal acts. Those who are thus becoming part of the jihadist counter-culture can use their criminal skills for terrorist purposes.
What we have observed in the case of jihadist recruits in Europe is not the convergence of criminals and terrorists as organisations but of their social networks, environments, or milieus. In other words: rather than being one or the other, criminal and terrorist groups have come to recruit from the same pool of people, creating (often unintended) synergies and overlaps that have consequences for how individuals radicalise and operate. This is what we call the new crime-terror nexus.
None of these accounts reflect how terrorist structures, radicalisation and recruitment have changed. Jihadist groups such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State operate not wholly as top-down organisations but also in the form of dispersed, autonomous cells who pursue strategies and tactics that are not always – or necessarily – aligned with those of their leadership. The traditional literature has failed to recognise this, and – consequently – tells us little about the merging of criminal and terrorist milieus in places like the suburbs of Paris or Brussels.
Another misconception, which has limited avenues of research, is the ‘profit vs. ideology’ dichotomy: while criminal organisations aim to profit, terrorist groups pursue ideological objectives.20 For a long time, this dichotomy fomented conclusions that Islamist or jihadist groups would not engage in criminal activity as it is contrary to their ideological aims.21 As Daniella Bove-LaMonica stated, ‘Research shows that the international community is historically reluctant to do anything more than speculate on Al-Qaeda’s involvement in organised crime’.22 . - ..
researchers have historically shown little interest in the convergence of criminal and terrorist milieus.
The consequence of these various ‘failures of imagination’ has been that the convergence of criminals and jihadists in Europe has gone largely unnoticed
That they sought redemption in jihadism instead of other, more mainstream forms of religion or spirituality, may be explained with the strong alignment of needs and narratives. In other words: involvement in jihadism offered redemption from crime while satisfying the personal needs and desires that led them to become involved in it. Just like the criminal gangs of which they used to be members, jihadist groups offered power, violence, adventure and adrenaline, a strong identity, and – not least – a sense of rebellion and being anti-establishment. This made the ‘jump’ from criminality to terrorism smaller than is commonly perceived – especially when considering that, unlike al-Qaeda, Islamic State required practically no religious knowledge or learning, and cared little about the complexities of theological discourse. For criminals with a guilty conscience, the jihadism of the Islamic State could seem like a perfect t.
‘Look, dad’, he reportedly told his father, ‘I am going to the mosque. I am finally [doing something good]. I am finally on the right path’.
Our database contains many cases in which this type of justification may have played a role, and we believe that it has the potential to become even more significant in future, because it offers criminals an opportunity for ‘redemption’ without requiring any change of behaviour.
He encouraged them to commit thefts and robberies,47 which he justified on religious grounds. As a witness in his trial testified, Zerkani told his recruits that ‘to steal from the in dels is permitted by Allah’.48
Does this mean that criminals are deliberately targeted and recruited by extremists?
The group also used the slogan ‘sometimes people with the worst pasts create the best futures’, alongside text explaining that ‘jihad is a purification no matter who you are or what sins you have, no good deeds are needed to come before it’.52 It remains unknown, however, how effective Rayat’s this type of online recruitment was, given that all the supporters we have information on were recruited not through internet propaganda but friendship networks.53
Jihadist recruiters view prisons as places of opportunity. Not only are inmates vulnerable and experience cognitive openings, making them receptive to jihadist ideas, they also tend to be part of the demographic that jihadist groups are keen to attract: young men, from Muslim backgrounds, who are unfamiliar with their own religion yet impulsive, confident, willing to take risks, and have been in conflict with the state and established authorities.59 Far from being an obstacle, their criminal pasts have de-sensitised them to law-breaking and violence, and may in fact have provided them with skills that can be used in terrorism. In short, from the jihadists' perspective, prisons are the perfect ‘breeding ground'. + The problem has long been recognised, though little seems to have been done to rectify it (see Case Study 2). One of the principal difficulties for prison authorities is to distinguish between religious conversion and radicalisation. Cognitive openings lead many inmates to seek out spiritual answers, and a significant number subsequently convert to Islam, which has become the fastest growing religion behind prison walls. In many places, prison staff find it difficult to ‘spot the signs' and distinguish between (legitimate) religious conversion and (potentially problematic) radicalisation, especially since the outward signs can be similar or – indeed – the same. Furthermore, many prison systems still have not managed to resolve the dilemma between separating convicted terrorists (which risks creating or re-creating terrorist command-and-control structures) or integrating them with ‘ordinary' criminals (which offers extremists opportunities for approaching potential recruits).60
Unless extremists are entirely separated from the rest of the prison population, which – as mentioned above – is not always be possible or advisable, prison environments have the potential to institutionalise a nexus between terrorists and criminals, enabling the flow of information, people, and skills. This is of greater benefit to the extremists than the criminals: not only...- - -
Over the course of his imprisonment, he was reported three times, but none of these alerts were ever investigated.80
When el-Hussein was released, he had no access to probation services because he was technically on parole. Homeless and jobless, he appeared at the local job centre, asking for a place to stay and something to do.81 The job centre could not accommodate his request, and scheduled a new meeting. But instead of showing up, he carried out his attack – just two weeks after he had been released.
El-Hussein's rapid mobilisation demonstrates how potentially ‘explosive' the convergence between criminal backgrounds and jihadist motivations can become. Prisons are the place where the two milieus are at their closest, and all the phenomena and social dynamics that are referenced in this report are most likely to manifest themselves. With increasing numbers of terrorists receiving sentences and becoming incarcerated, these problems are likely to become more pronounced.
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One of the most disturbing aspects of the new crime-terror nexus is the potential for criminal ‘skills' to be transferred to terrorists. The academic literature on the crime-terror nexus has largely neglected this phenomenon.
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These practical and logistical skills are supplemented by a more intangible ‘skill': that of familiarity with violence.
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having engaged in violence repeatedly and routinely as a criminal can lower the (psychological) threshold for becoming involved in violence as a terrorist.
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Second, jihadists not only condone the use of ‘ordinary' criminality to raise funds, they have repeatedly stated that doing so is the ideologically correct way of waging ‘jihad' in the ‘lands of war'. Combined with the large numbers of current jihadists with criminal pasts, this will make financing attacks through crime not only possible and legitimate but, increasingly, their first choice.
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This relates to an ideological doctrine which states that stealing from ‘unbelievers' is not only permissible but worthy of commendation. Theft – or any form of crime – is equated with ghanimah, which translates as ‘the spoils of war'. As mentioned in Chapter 4, al-Awlaki justified this notion in his ‘Ruling on Dispossessing the Disbelievers', which sanctioned the use of crime for the sake of ‘jihad' – ‘whether by means of force or by means of theft or deception'.113
He went as far as saying that living off ghanimah was preferable to seeking a regular salary, which would involve paying taxes to the ‘disbelievers' and thereby funding their wars and oppression of the Muslim world.114
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The merging of criminal and terrorist milieus, together with the self-financing of attacks, makes it hard to maintain traditional notions of terrorist financing: rather than tying particular transactions and streams of income to terrorism, it might be more fruitful to concentrate on individuals, their backgrounds and financial histories.
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As this report has shown, many of today's jihadists are no longer middle-class intellectuals but petty criminals and former gang members who have spent time in prison and carry convictions for violent crime. All over Europe, criminal and terrorist milieus have merged, producing a crime-terror nexus whose different facets and implications this report has sought to describe.
The existence of this nexus and its associated dynamics should compel researchers, analysts, and policymakers to re-think long-held ideas about how terror, crime, and radicalisation have to be countered. In the following, we are offering a series of recommendations that may be useful in addressing the consequences.
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Many assumptions about radicalisation need to be reconsidered. This concerns not only the type of people who may be susceptible to jihadism and the places where they can be found, but also their behaviour. The individuals in our database often contradicted the notion that involvement in extremism correlates with religious behaviour. Some of them smoked cigarettes, drank alcohol, or took drugs. Others, in turn, observed religious rules but continued engaging in crime. Simply put: being ’pious’ is no guarantee that criminal behaviour has stopped [citation marks added on pious by editor], while acting like a ‘gangster' does not preclude [i.e. prevent] involvement in terrorism.
Similarly, the time it takes for extremists to mobilise into action seems to have shortened. Many of the individuals in our database no longer needed to become familiar with violence because they had violent pasts. The prospect of committing acts of violence was not only no barrier to their involvement, but something they positively embraced. Rather than years, it took them months, sometimes weeks, to become foreign fighters or prepare for domestic attacks....
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• Making available mainstream prison imams, so that extremists have no opportunity to fill the ‘spiritual vacuum' and exploit cognitive openings;
• Providing probation services with adequate resources to understand, and deal with, the challenge of re-integrating potentially radicalised criminals.
Criminal Pasts, Terrorist Futures: European Jihadists and the New Crime-Terror Nexus, by Rajan Basra, Peter R. Neumann, and Claudia Brunner.
ICSR King's College London Strand London WC2R 2LS United Kingdom
Like all other ICSR publications, this report can be downloaded free of charge from the ICSR website at www.icsr.info.
Comment on the report:
It’s no secret that drug abuse is especially rife in economically marginalised communities, the very kind that have been described by terrorism academics as “hotbeds of extremism”, the very kind that produces the lion's share of European foreign terrorist fighters. Therefore, the fact that nearly all of those who have carried out IS-inspired or directed attacks in the West during the past couple of years had a documented history of drug abuse – like Salah Abdeslam, Cherif Kouachi, and Amedy Coulibaly - should surprise few.
What might surprise you, however, is the fact more and more terrorist groups, including those who use the guise of Islam to justify their violent fantasies, are not only fueling their activities with revenues from the drug trade, but are also providing their foot soldiers, in some instances, with the intoxicating high that comes from dangerous narcotics.
I use the word “intoxicating” for intentional purposes because the Quran is extremely explicit in its condemnation of any substance that intoxicates. See Quran verse 5:91 for further details. But al-Qaeda, IS, Hezbollah, Hamas and the Taliban, among others, are moving both closer and deeper into the drug trade…
That so-called Islamic terrorist groups are morphing into transnational drug cartels should serve yet another reminder that leadership within these groups use pious religious slogans only as a front to conceal their criminal enterprises, thus explaining why converts or second-generation Muslims with little or no familiarity with Islam but plenty of familiarity with the criminal world are drawn to what some have called “gangster jihadism”. Put another way, Olivier Roy describes this phenomena as the “Islamisation of radicalism, not the radicalisation of Islam”.