Criminal syndicates often already possess the operational expertise needed to engage in terrorist acts. They may already employ terrorist specialists to transfer money, purchase weapons, build bombs, and eliminate rivals. The D-Company seems transformation from a profit-motivated criminal syndicate to a fusion crime-terror organization proves this point.
The US has at last recognised the ‘criminal terrorism fusion model’ 17 years after Dawood Ibrahim planned and executed the Mumbai bombings in which at least 258 people were killed. A US Congressional Research Service report, International Terrorism and Transnational Crime: Security Threats, US Policy, and Considerations for Congress, provides a fascinating overview of the criminal-terrorist nexus. The following are excerpts from the report pertaining to the chief of the infamous D-Company:
Over time, a purely criminal group may transform, adopting political goals and new operational objectives. These organisations can form alliances with existing terrorist organisations or foreign Governments to help achieve their strategic aspirations. Or they can initiate, direct, and perpetrate terrorist attacks without external assistance, resulting in the group becoming labelled a terrorist organisation.
Criminal syndicates often already possess the operational expertise needed to engage in terrorist acts. They may already employ terrorist specialists to conduct surveillance, transfer money, purchase weapons, build bombs, and eliminate rivals.
A criminal organisation can easily transfer this apparatus toward politically motivated ends. The result is either a truly evolved criminal-turned-terrorist group or a ‘fused’ criminal-terrorist organisation that seeks to develop ties with like-minded ideological movements. The use of criminal skills for terrorist ends raises the concern among some experts that terrorists may seek out criminals for recruitment or radicalisation, believing them to be a higher skilled partner than non-criminals. A criminal’s participation in terrorist activity, however, brings greater scrutiny from law enforcement agencies and politicians. Furthermore, a concentration on terrorist attacks could divert resources away from criminal endeavours, producing disillusionment and desertion among members who joined strictly for monetary reasons.
Dawood Ibrahim’s D-Company, a 5,000-member criminal syndicate operating mostly in Pakistan, India, and the United Arab Emirates, provides an example of the criminal-terrorism ‘fusion’ model. The US Department of Treasury designated Ibrahim as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order 13224 in October 2003. In June 2006, President George W Bush designated him, as well as his D-Company organisation, as a Significant Foreign Narcotics Trafficker under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (hereafter ‘Kingpin Act’). D-Company is reportedly involved in several criminal activities, including extortion, smuggling, narcotics trafficking, and contract killing. The organisation has also reportedly infiltrated the Indian filmmaking industry, extorting producers, assassinating directors, distributing movies, and pirating films.
Ibrahim began as a criminal specialist in Bombay, India, first as a low-level smuggler in the 1970s and later as the leader of a poly-crime syndicate. He formed a thriving criminal enterprise throughout the 1980s and became radicalised in the 1990s, forging relationships with Islamists, including Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and Al Qaeda. D-Company’s evolution into a true criminal-terrorist group began in response to the destruction of the Babri mosque in Uttar Pradesh, India, in December 1992, and the subsequent riots that killed hundreds of Muslims. Outraged by the attacks on fellow Muslims and believing the Indian Government acted indifferently to their plight, Ibrahim decided to retaliate. A heretofore secular organisation with a sizable Hindu membership now assumed the objective of protecting India’s Muslim minority. Reportedly with assistance from the Pakistan Government’s intelligence branch, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, D-Company launched a series of bombing attacks on March 12, 1993, killing 257 people.
Following the attacks, Ibrahim moved his organisation’s headquarters to Karachi, Pakistan. There, D-Company is believed to have both deepened its strategic alliance with the ISI and developed links to Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, which was designated by the United States as a foreign terrorist organisation in 2001. During this time period, some say D-Company began to finance LeT’s activities, use its companies to lure recruits to LeT training camps, and give LeT operatives use of its smuggling routes and contacts. Press accounts have reported that Ibrahim’s network might have provided a boat to the 10 terrorists who killed 173 people in Mumbai in November 2008. The US Government contends that D-Company has found common cause with Al Qaeda and shares its smuggling routes with that terrorist group. The United Nations has added Ibrahim to its list of individuals associated with Al Qaeda.
D-Company’s seeming transformation from a profit-motivated criminal syndicate to a fusion crime-terror organisation also altered its composition. Many of the Hindu members left the group after the 1993 bombings, with some forming a competing gang. While the organisation reportedly collaborates with LeT and Al Qaeda, the more secular orientation of D-Company’s leadership makes it unlikely that it will formally merge with those terrorist groups, analysts believe. Regardless, D-Company’s own terrorist endeavours, its deep pockets, and its reported cooperation with LeT and Al Qaeda, present a credible a threat to US interests in South Asia, security experts assess. Lending his criminal expertise and networks to such terrorist groups, he is capable of smuggling terrorists across national borders, trafficking in weapons and drugs, controlling extortion and protection rackets, and laundering ill-gotten proceeds, including through the abuse of traditional value transfer methods, like hawala. By providing those organisations with funding, contacts, and logistical support, it amplifies their capabilities and durability.