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The routes of jihad. What links between terrorism and crime?

On Tuesday 17 April 2018, IRIS, in partnership with the GLOBSEC Institute, organized a debate conference. It was to identify the « types of crime » that act as so many antechambers of terrorism. It was also an opportunity to present the first hypotheses of a large-scale European research project, led by the GLOBSEC Institute in partnership with IRIS, whose aim is to strengthen knowledge of the links between criminal networks. and terrorism in Europe and to improve national and societal capacities to fight against criminal networks.

The original version of this report has been written in French and published on EU-Logos website.

The resurgence of terrorism in Europe, and in particular Islamic terrorism, is undoubtedly one of the most important political phenomena of recent years. Because it questions the way in which European countries conceived their security and defense policy, this phenomenon pushes researchers and practitioners to reflect on the political responses that must be made. In France, the CNRS launched a call for proposals on the issue of « Attacks » which led to the birth of 66 research initiatives. At the European level, projects are not lacking either and one of them was on Tuesday in the spotlight, making a full house in the Parisian amphitheater of the Institute of International and Strategic Relations, the « From Criminals to Terrorists and Back? Project « of the European think tank GLOBSEC.

This initiative brings together 11 different European countries, chosen according to their scientific interest in the study (the project director joked about it, noting that they had to refuse to study the Swedish case because they did not stop enough jihadists …). For his presentation, three speakers were gathered: the divisional commissioner Jean François Gayraud, author of Théories des hybrides : terrorisme et crime organisé (Theories of the hybrids: terrorism and organized crime), the Polish researcher Kacper Rekawek, director of the Defense and Security program of GLOBSEC and Damien Saverot, a researcher attached to the chair Middle East Mediterranean of the ENS. We will try here to restore the heart of their presentation.

So why study the link between terrorism and crime? First, this is because 9 out of 10 ISIS perpetrators of attacks in France have a history of small or medium-sized crime. It is quite astonishing because it contrasts with the usual profile. Previously, terrorist violence emerged from other social spaces, such as political or religious activism (ETA, IRA …). In his Theory of Hybrids, Gayraud describes a different and unique phenomenon, which he calls hybridization. There is, of course, the Corsican exception, but the phenomenon of hybridization that Jean François Gayraud begins to describe does not take the same form. In Corsica, terrorism has a state purpose, and the hybridization is not between terrorism and crime, but between crime and politics. Islamist terrorism is born of the meeting between two spheres, that of terrorism with a religious focus and that of small and medium-sized crime.

To explain this phenomenon, it would be necessary to use a method often neglected in the field of terrorism, that of the criminological theory. Let us summarize in a few words: the post-Cold War political and geopolitical context is conducive to the hybridization of violence, in all its forms, between violence for political ends and violence in economic goal. The typical example is that of the Colombian FARC, whose activity of cocaine trafficking which originally served as a source of funding would, according to Gayraud, finally become the “raison d’être” of the group. This more geopolitical phenomenon follows the evolution described above: more and more jihadists, radicalized individuals or perpetrators of attacks have a delinquent past. It would not be a simple statement, but a central piece of the terrorist problem in Europe. Moreover, it would be a predictive element of the acting out.

This element is not a way to evacuate the debate, probably very French-French, on the Islamization of radicalism or the radicalization of Islam that pits Gilles Kepel and Olivier Roy. In fact, such a vision makes it possible to relativize the ideological element by considering it as a tool allowing a transition between two spheres of violence. Because the delinquent individual would already have a « deviant habitus », he proves to be an ideal candidate for political violence, and all the more so since the IS has long understood the need to target these profiles by promising a form of redemption. Such a state of mind is indeed blatant among the repentant jihadists, or not, met by the journalist David Thomson(Les français jihadistes (The French jihadists), Les revenants (The revenants)). Thus, individuals do not need to change their behavior or habit, but simply to adapt their motivations. Moreover, says Gayraud, the motivations of offenders are often more complex than the simple search for profit, and it is not uncommon to see some suicidal tendencies, joining the debate opened by Olivier Roy on Le jihad et la mort (Jihad and Death). This evolution resonates, therefore, with the evolutions of the crime since the end of the cold war. While the partisan figure was once the archetype of the violent political actor, the fall of the Wall has melted the existing barriers between political and economic crime. A triple phenomenon of cooperation, convergence, and mutation of these two spheres would be at work today and of which the EI would be one of the expressions.

Damien Saverot, who has studied in more detail the incarnation of this hybridization in the ranks of the IS, agrees with these results. For him, despite the use of a rhetoric of purity, Daesh is much closer to a cartel, taking again the title of the work of Benoit Faucon and Clément Fayol, Un cartel nommé Daech (A cartel named Daech). Such a hybridization would, in fact, have existed since the very origin of the IS since al-Zarqawi, an active al-Qaeda operative in Iraq, was also a former mobster, attracted by late Salafist-jihadist ideology, through his mentor al-Mukharaja. The contrast is indeed striking with the figures of Bin Laden, Abdallah ‘Azzam or Abu Musa’ab al-Suri. Similarly, in France, the gang of Roubaix arrested in 1996 brought together the facets of jihadism and banditry, this second activity used to finance the first. The recent IFRI study, 137 nuances of terrorism, notes that among the 137 jihadists in their sample, 40% had a delinquent past. There are, however, geographical variations. For example, in Molenbeek, 100% of jihadists have a delinquent past, while more rural territories produce « atypical » jihadists like Thomas Barnouin, an Albigensian jihadist, who illustrates an original profile of jihadist of the middle class, even petit-bourgeois. The results, still provisional, of the project, seem to confirm these results, with a very large number of jihadists from 11 European countries having been involved in delinquency cases before being radicalized. Interestingly, their work shows only 5 out of 122 « solitary wolf » cases. Among the profiles considered, wrongly, as atypical, we also find women-jihadists, long considered by the police as unimportant, until the failed attempt at Notre-Dame, led by an exclusively female commando. Kacper Rekawek reminds us that many women were involved in Irish terrorism. Damien Saverot also notes that the choice by the Roanid jihadist Rachid Kassim of an essentially feminine commando is undoubtedly one of the reasons why he will lose all sense of sanctity to the IS, who will send him to the front where he will be droned by the US military.

The link between delinquency and terrorism can also be elucidated by the study of relationships within prisons where offenders come to serve their sentences. Again, the prison fails to play its role of reintegration and is more of a place of education for the jihadists. The latter have proved capable of acting from prison, by extending their networks, or even within the prison, by recruitment or even violence. In France, and this is not the case throughout Europe, this process is facilitated by the ideological unity within the jihad since all the actors claim Salafism-jihadist. We must also highlight the group logics in radicalization and the passage of the act: siblings are important, but also secondary socialization groups, such as cellmates. In France, the long history of jihadist networks, which have been working for a long time in the territory, facilitates these recruitment logics. In this regard, Jean François Gayraud evokes the hypothesis of « territories of hybridity », territories where the relations between delinquency, organized crime and terrorist movements would be facilitated: the prison, for example, but also certain neighborhoods like Molenbeek, even broader areas like Iraq after 2003, where the Sahel currently.

The project is still in progress, but it seems that it has already highlighted several elements that make it possible to think of preventive policies on a European scale, by accentuating cooperation in the field of repression of delinquent networks, drug trafficking, but also by targeting primarily radicalized actors with a delinquent past. A new challenge is already emerging, that of the future of arrested jihadists. Damien Saverot notes that many of them will come out of prison in a very short time, often the same year, and wonders what form their conversion will take: that of reintegration, considered improbable as the prison is fertile ground for radicalization, that of armed jihadism, made difficult by the return to the clandestinity of the IS, that of pure and simple delinquency, or finally, that of this hybridization that the three researchers have endeavored to describe?

Thomas Fraise, EU-Logos correspondent in Paris



English translation by Jean-Hugues Migeon

Adeline Silva Pereira

Après avoir effectué la deuxième année du master Sécurité Globale analyste politique trilingue à l'Université de Bordeaux, j'effectue un stage au sein d'EU Logos afin de pouvoir mettre en pratique mes compétences d'analyste concernant l'actualité européenne sur la défense, la sécurité et plus largement la coopération judiciaire et policière.

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