Terrorism Expert: ‘Radicalized Criminals’ Pose New Terror Threat to Europe, US

By Barbara Hollingsworth | May 12, 2016 | 4:55pm EDT
Mohamed Abrini, 31, a Belgian of Moroccan descent and a key suspect in the Brussels terrorist attack, was previously jailed for armed robbery. (Belgian Federal Police/AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) –  The recent terror attacks in France and Belgium were committed by “radicalized criminals” and “heavily home-funded through crime,” the director of George Mason University’s Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center testified Thursday on Capitol Hill.

But many European officials still fail to recognize the threat posed by that connection.

“Despite the fact that... these terrorist attacks have been funded by petty crime, there is a failure to appreciate the importance of this,” Dr. Louise Shelley told members of the House Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee during a hearing entitled “Following the Money: Examining Current Terrorist Financing Trends and the Threat to the Homeland”.

“And what we are finding is that it is the same network that has been involved in all of these terrorist attacks that is dispersed among France, Belgium, the U.K., and Germany and maybe elsewhere. And they’re heavily funded by crime, and these acts are committed primarily by radicalized criminals. And yet there is not a strategy in Europe to deal with this problem.

“This is not just a problem for the Europeans, it is a problem for us, because we have Americans traveling in Europe, we have businesses operating internationally in Europe, we have military operations overseas, and yet we are having our allies failing to see this problem with the severity that it is and the consequences that it has, and the types of policing and intelligence responses that one needs to this new hybrid threat."

Those who have been previously incarcerated are more likely to become part of a terrorist cell, she noted.

“Prisons and relationships established in prison are key to recruitment and network enhancement. This was first evident in the investigations that followed the Madrid subway bombing in 2004, and has remained true with the most recent terrorist attacks in France and Belgium where bonds among criminals were made in prison and individuals once incarcerated together have gone on to commit terrorist attacks with their former fellow inmates,” Shelley noted in a written statement to the subcommittee.

“Law enforcement and security bodies are not organized to reflect this new reality nor are there plans to reorient their focus to address this threat,” she continued. “This nearly assures that there will be future terrorist attacks in Western Europe.”

“The exception may be the Italians who have observed these links between crime and terrorism for over three decades as publicly expressed by Italy’s current anti-mafia prosecutor and a predecessor who is now President of the Italian Senate,” she said.

“But for many other countries in Continental Europe, there is not a recognition of the problem that terrorists increasingly use crime to support their activities, and that ISIS, in particular, focuses on recruiting low-level criminals into its ranks.”

Radicalized criminals in Europe also pose a new threat to the U.S. because many of them have European passports, she pointed out. “Therefore, the new hybrid terrorists can enter our country more easily as they have more mobility than other potential terrorists who need visas to enter the U.S.”

 “We may see patterns identified in Europe manifesting themselves in the United States. Therefore, we need to focus more on prisons and their role in terrorist recruitment and financing,” she stated.

Money laundering from illicit trade, which makes up an estimated 8 to 15 percent of the global economy and “is growing in almost all identified categories” despite a contraction in legitimate trade activity, is funding terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere, Shelley testified.

In addition to low-level narcotics trafficking, radicalized criminals are engaging in small-scale bank fraud and selling stolen antiquities, illegal pesticides, illicitly mined gold, and even kidneys harvested in Egypt from Middle Eastern migrants who sell their organs to smugglers, she said.

“But this illicit trade does not exist in a vacuum,” Shelley continued. “It is supported by banks, it is supported by law firms, it is supported by professional services that write contracts, that develop contracts, and help mask the illicit trade.”

She cited Germany’s Deutsche Bank - which is reportedly under review by the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority for “serious AML (anti-money laundering), terrorist financing and sanctions failings” – and HSBC – which in 2012 paid $1.9 billion in a deferred prosecution settlement with the U.S. Justice Department over allegations it laundered large amounts of cash for the Mexican drug cartels.

“We must continue to address the money-laundering contributing to illicit trade,” Shelley testified.

She also recommended that the Dept. of Homeland Security, which has jurisdictional authority over goods entering and exiting the U.S., “pay more attention” to this “under-policed area of criminal activity.”

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