The links between terrorism and transnational organized crime are an emerging challenge to international peace and security. While these links may take different forms, several broad patterns are clearly evident. The disruption of global networks of terrorist financing has led a number of well-known terrorist organizations to turn to illegal means for financing their operations, such as illicit trafficking of counterfeit items, weapons, natural resources, cultural property, and people. Drug trade, in particular, has provided funding for insurgency and terrorist attacks in various regions throughout the world, and has risen to the top of the list of illegal money raising activities. At the same time, transnational criminal groups have increasingly engaged in violent tactics or supported their terrorist counterparts with funds. Many transnational criminal organizations have also become involved in human trafficking. Rising competition and risk in the global drug trade has pushed traffickers to diversify their revenue streams by resorting to the lucrative, low risk crime of human trade. Terrorist organizations have also been implicated in human trafficking, relying on extortion and kidnappings for ransom to generate funds.

The Program on the Trafficking/Terrorism Nexus is the data and analysis project dedicated to the exploration and examination of the interface of drug trafficking, human trafficking and terrorism in Eurasia based on the geo-referenced data that may be amenable to predictive modeling. Further, the Program assesses national and international capacities to respond to the trafficking/terrorism nexus and identifies the obstacles that inhibit governments and international agencies from addressing the nexus.

Eurasia exemplifies many aspects of the trafficking/terrorism nexus. Struggling economies, unresolved conflicts, porous borders, corruption, and weak law-enforcement characterizing these territories have allowed organized crime and terrorism to flourish in the region. Central Asia is one of the major drug trafficking hotspots in the world that support insurgent movements and terrorism. It serves as a major transit point, enabling a steady supply of narcotics from growers in Afghanistan to buyers in Russia and Europe. Illicit arm sales abound throughout the area, and locals – targeted for forced or cheap labor and sexual exploitation – are frequently drawn into human trafficking rings. The countries of the South Caucasus have become a center of cross-border smuggling, involving the illicit transport of arms (including nuclear materials), people and other commodities fueling criminal networks. Russia – though capable of asserting itself as a regional power abroad – is nonetheless grappling with multiple security threats that are exacerbated by border problems, large in-migration issues, an extensive drug trade, deep-seated organized crime, and terrorism.

The region is also home to a number of native and foreign terrorist groups, some with a proven record of violence and operations inside and outside Eurasia. Drug trafficking has not only become a source of funding for terrorist organizations, but it is also a source of intra-state conflict, such as the 2010 ethnic clashes in Southern Kyrgyzstan.

The gaps in our knowledge of the precise conditions precipitating the formation of the trafficking/terrorism nexus call for the development of testable hypotheses and analytical models of the interface of trafficking and terrorism. A thorough understanding of the complex and interdependent relationship between terrorism and various types of trafficking is needed in order to develop effective strategies to prevent and disrupt these crimes at the national, regional, and global levels.

Research Team

Photo of Mariya Y. OmelichevaDr. Mariya Y. Omelicheva is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Kansas. She is the author of Counterterrorism Policies in Central Asia (Routledge, 2011) and Democracy in Central Asia: Competing Perspectives and Alternate Strategies (University Press of Kentucky, 2015), and editor of Nationalism and Identity In Central Asia: Dimensions, Dynamics, and Directions (Lexington Press, 2014). She is a recognized author in the fields of Eurasian security and counterterrorism with multiple scholarly articles and extensive experiences of field research in Central Asia, South Caucasus, and Russia.
Photo of Lawrence P. MarkowitzDr. Lawrence P. Markowitz is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of Hollybush Institute at Rowan University. He is author of State Erosion: Unlootable Resources and Unruly Elites in Central Asia (Cornell University Press, 2013), which received Honorable Mention for the 2014 Ed A Hewitt Book Award for the best book on the political economy of Eurasia published in the last two years. He has also published in journals such as Foreign Affairs, Comparative Political Studies, and Ethnic and Racial Studies.
Photo of Stephen L. EgbertDr. Stephen L. Egbert is a Professor of Geography and Director of the Kansas Applied Remote Sensing Program at the University of Kansas. He has directed over 30 grant-funded research projects employing GIS, remote sensing, and other geospatial technologies. He has trained many graduate students in geocoding, GIS mapping, and spatial statistical analysis. Dr. Egbert and his graduate students have published in a wide range of internationally recognized journals, including Remote Sensing of Environment and the International Journal of Remote Sensing, and he has conducted international fieldwork, including in Central Asia (Kazakhstan).

Advisory Board