Over the years, terrorist organizations have majored in drug manufacturing, trafficking, and counterfeit products smuggling. The illicit trade in cigarettes is significant, both in profits and in the involvement of illegal actors. In 2000, the United Nations (UN) estimated the global cigarette market was $USD 16 billion, and approximately 25%, or $4 billion, of this trade was illicit (Shelley & Melzer, 2008). The essay below brings to light how this happens among terrorist groups.
The most commonly trafficked drug is tobacco. For decades, the trade has benefited terrorist groups and corrupt officials. A good example is the Italian mafias, who have been involved in this trade since the early- or mid-twentieth century. More so, the smuggling activities have increased in the turn of the last century. It is a low-risk, highly rewarding criminal activity; traffickers can make billions, with little detection risk. Cigarettes are a highly taxed commodity; therefore, they are also one of the world’s most commonly smuggled goods (Shelley & Melzer, 2008).There are five main forms of smuggled tobacco;
Tobacco smuggling can be attributed to several interdependent factors. Cigarette smuggling indicates that the causes of smuggling may vary. Until recently, many cigarette companies’ willingness to collude in or to overlook the smuggling of their commodities (Shelley, 2014).A good example is the R.J. Reynolds Company. This American-based cigarette company helped launder the proceeds of narcotics trafficking and other crimes into cigarettes purchase. It sold its cigarettes to known organized crime groups and known smugglers because they failed to perform due diligence on their clients (Shelley & Melzer, 2008).One of the groups involved in these activities is the Al Qaeda. The group is not based in a fixed identifiable territory, but its terror attacks have been witnessed worldwide. Since the U.S declared war on the group in 2001 following the September 11 attack, the group has found it hard to survive the difficulties facing it.
Like any other terrorist group, Al Qaeda has an overall leader (Amir), who plays an important role in disseminating ideologies and goals and planning and overseeing the group’s activities among the Al Qaeda; the leader has the following roles;
The leadership of an organization is important as it is responsible for taking necessary measures to keep the group intact and functional (Gunaratna & Oreg, 2010).Thus, leadership plays a crucial role in maintaining organizational integrity.
However, one question remains, why did Al Qaeda resort to terrorism? The group is Islamic in ideology and seeks a return to a purer, stricter, and more fundamentalist implementation of the Quran and hadith. Being a Jihadist movement, they believe that the current context calls for violence and revolution-global jihad. The ideology results in terrorism when coupled with grievances over illegitimate, authoritarian regimes. A more legitimate regime is based on Sharia rather than corruption (Shelley, 2014). They believe that there is a growing threat to Islam posed by Christianity.
Al Qaeda, however, has not been functioning alone. There have been various direct links drawn between the Al Qaeda and several other groups, such as the Abu Sayaf Group (ASG) of the Philippines, the Jama’ah Islamiyah of Southeast Asia (JI), and the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) (Gunaratna & Oreg, 2010). In the 1990s, Al Qaeda mainly provided training to these organizations, thereby supporting their struggle to bring down the local regimes in their own countries. All known attacks are carried out by the special operations unit, a sub-section of the Military Committee. As for funding, the group has various ways of earning money to finance its terror attacks ranging from donations, drug trafficking, smuggling, and petty crimes.
Take, for instance, tobacco smuggling. The drugs as moved in all ways possible. Trucks with false walls and floors have been uncovered to contain smuggled tobacco. Smuggling of cargo via water is no exception. In September 2013, the Irish police seized a shipment containing an estimated one million cigarette packs. This illicit shipment, estimated to be worth $55,370,000, was uncovered when al Qaeda operatives launched two rockets at the vessel as it sailed along Egypt’s Suez Canal. The rockets caused a fire, which required authorities to board the vessel and inspect damaged containers. Upon detection, the ship’s owners notified INTERPOL (Thachuk, & Lal, 2018).There are also reports of the Al Qaeda leading a military group in the Tri-Border Area (TBA) of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. Mosques were set up as a disguise, which enabled the group to perform its criminal activities behind religious entities. The group has become difficult to smoke out due to multiple false identities and bank accounts.
Tobacco smuggling can be attributed to several interdependent factors. Tobacco manufacturing companies have helped terrorist groups raise money for their activities. A direct link has been drawn between organized crime and terrorism. The nexus between the two is also demonstrated when terrorists use organized crime activities to support their missions (Shelley & Melzer, 2008).As is the case with the R.J. Reynolds company. The R.J. Reynolds case originated from a corporation’s desire to enhance profits and increase sales by circumventing an embargo on the sale of their commodity in Iraq (Shelley & Melzer, 2008). The British American Tobacco in Africa used a Liechtenstein-based company, Sorepex, as a key distributor. BAT documents reveal that the company saw Sorepex as a “gravy train” and a way of providing “cover, albeit increasingly flimsy, for BAT in some fairly shady business” (Doward, 2013).But why would a company smuggle its product? The tobacco companies are paid when their goods reach the consumer, irrespective of whether the product is smuggled or not.
What is more, smuggling is a market entry strategy where tobacco is illegal, or taxes are high. More to the factors discussed above are the high taxes levied on tobacco products and the difference between duty-free and legal retail prices. The fore-mentioned is a strategy by governments to compensate themselves for health-related liabilities resulting from cigarette consumption.
Until recently, the combating of tobacco smuggling has become a priority to many governments. Tobacco smuggling poses a significant threat to national and international security as funds generated from the illicit trade have been diverted to finance terrorist activities. Estimates for the annual State and local U.S. tax loss caused by the illicit trade in tobacco products range from $2.95 to $6.92 billion (Thacjuk & Lal, 2018). Many law enforcement agencies have overlooked the impacts of the illicit tobacco trade. No one thinks that cigarette smuggling is too serious, so law enforcement agencies do not spend resources to go after it and address the links between organized crime and terrorism (Shelley, 2014).Combating the trade, however, requires joint efforts of all governments. The already existing foreign treaties and agreements in combating the illicit tobacco trade should be enforced. For example, The United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime. In addition, occasional operational combined forces operations appear to cause a temporary inconvenience for organized crime. If these operations could become more frequent, it would provide a permanent, long-lasting solution to the smuggling.
Another method is following up on tobacco companies’ businesses and making sure they do not collude with their products smuggling. A great hindrance to government efforts to combat illicit tobacco smuggling has been governments’ failure to punish misconducts in the cigarette industry. Recent studies have shown that tobacco companies are intentionally overproducing cigarettes. While the current market is satisfied, the rest goes directly to the black market. Heavy penalties should be imposed on any company involved in any malicious activity ranging from collusion within corporations, price-fixing, and deliberate secrecy to mask criminal behavior.
Besides, curbing corruption among customs officials and police would significantly help in the fight. Corruption among border and customs officials and the long-term involvement of organized crime groups in the cigarette trade (Shelley & Melzer, 2008).The border police are poorly paid. There has not been any major illegal business with police participation in the last decade, from prostitution to gambling, robbery, or kidnapping. Also, taxes levied on imported tobacco products should be reasonable. Some tobacco consumers have hailed smugglers claiming that their prices are reasonable and justifiable. Cigarettes are a highly taxed commodity; therefore, they are also one of the world’s most commonly smuggled goods (Shelley & Melzer, 2008). Each State that raises its cigarette taxes is a new prospect for illicit profits gained by trafficking in cigarettes. Moreover, there should be mutual legal assistance among different police departments and the community members at large. The existing police departments should be equipped with facilities and the necessary requisite resources.
Governments should create policies that limit the amount of tobacco produced by cigarette companies. By doing this, the drugs that were being shipped to the black market will no longer be available. Illicit tobacco smuggling is a global problem that needs immediate attention, or else their terrorist organizations will continue being virulent since they have the resources at hand.
Boeke, S. (2016). Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb: Terrorism, insurgency, or organized crime? Small wars & insurgencies, 27(5), 914-936.
Doward, J. (2013). How cigarette smuggling fuels Africa’s Islamist Violence. Guardian. Accessed at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jan/27/cigarette-smuggling-mokhtar-belmokhtar-terrorism
Gunaratna, R. & Oreg, A. (2010) Al Qaeda’s Organizational Structure and its Evolution; Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 33:12, 1043-1078, DOI: 10.1080/1057610X.2010.523860
Shelley, L. (2014). Dirty Entanglements: Corruption, Crime, and Terrorism. Cambridge University Press.
Shelley, L. & Melzer, S. _2008_. The Nexus of Organized Crime and Terrorism Two Case Studies in Cigarette Smuggling. International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice. Vol. 32 _1_, pp. 43-63.pdf
Thachuk, K. & Lal, R. (2018). Terrorist Criminal Enterprises: Financing Terrorism through Organized Crime. Prager.
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