This paper queries the nature and extent of crime-enabled terrorist financing (CETF) in Europe, including the importance of this financing stream in relation to others. In doing so, the paper also evaluates the present policy and law enforcement response to CETF, and endeavours to assess whether it is properly calibrated to the degree and character of the threat.
Concern about the so-called ‘crime–terror nexus’, a centrepiece of discussion, debate and research in the counterterrorism field, has yielded a vast body of academic and policy literature regarding the nature of symbiotic relationships between organised criminal formations and terrorist organisations. Recognising a spectrum of possible synergies – including direct interactions between criminals and terrorists, the adoption of criminal tactics by terrorists, and even the merging of these artificial categories altogether in certain cases – regard for the ‘crime–terror nexus’ has largely ignored the question of whether and how relationships between crime and terrorism may yield opportunities for terrorist financing, particularly in the European context.
Such uncertainty risks giving way to speculation about the true extent of what might be called ‘crime-enabled terrorist financing’ (CETF), speculation driven in part by contemporary examples of petty criminality having played a significant role in the financing of violent terrorist attacks in Europe in the recent past. Should distinct linkages between crime and terrorist financing be identified, entry points for disruption by law enforcement may arise, and it is for this purpose that the research for this paper was conducted. The paper queries the nature and extent of CETF in Europe, including the importance of this financing stream in relation to others. In doing so, the paper also evaluates the present policy and law enforcement response to CETF, and endeavours to assess whether it is properly calibrated to the degree and character of the threat.
The paper finds that terrorists and their financiers do indeed exploit European criminal markets for acquiring important materiel and raising funds, but that CETF is not a dominant form of terrorist financing for most actors, though not all. Specific foreign-based terrorist organisations that use Europe as an economic staging ground to finance violence committed overseas were revealed as the most likely to engage in CETF in Europe, and the most competent at doing so. That these groups typically do not (and are unlikely to) launch violent attacks within Europe means a prime motivator for countering their CETF activity is lacking, which along with other conditions poses a challenge to law enforcement agencies.
Overall, Europe’s CETF problem is not its dominant terrorist-financing threat, though a proportionate reconfiguration of its counterterrorist financing response is needed to preclude terrorist organisations from abusing Europe’s economy to finance destabilising operational activity in its near neighbourhood.