European criminal gangs are now being
targeted by ISIS recruiters, according to a new research paper written by a
professor of international cooperation at Brandeis University.
The author, Jytte Klausen used the
term “gangster jihadism” to describe the new alliance between the criminal
underworld and radical Islamic groups.
ISIS has taken on a new path to which
they entice young adults to join Islamic extremists. Klausen noted that at least 22 percent of
jihadists who were killed or caught in Brussels between 2012 and 2017 were
found to have a criminal history.
“We have a growing gang problem in
Europe, and gangs have increasingly taken on a politicized nature,” Klausen
says. “We haven’t previously seen this overlap between street gangs and
For example, the ringleader of the
November 2015 terrorist attack in Paris, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was a gang member
who committed robbery and assault.
Abderozzak Benarabe, known as “Big
A,” who traveled to Syria to go up against President Bashar al-Assad, was a
convicted drug trafficker and gang leader of one of Denmark’s notorious
organized crime ring.
The gangs from which ISIS recruits
now include Muslims and non-Muslims that thrive in poor neighborhoods in
medium-sized European cities.
“You’re talking about street-side
thugs who start out joining the gangs and then segue into jihadism,” Klausen
This is a major shift in ISIS
recruitment. In the past, jihadists did not welcome such recruits because their
criminal history violates Islam tenets.
However, the crackdown on their
traditional recruitment procedures made them consider alternative sources.
After all, gang members are inclined towards violence plus their criminal
activities can help fund jihadists operations.
In her article, Klausen calls for new
measures to counter gangster jihadists.
“More needs to be done to
control jihadi gangs in prison and the networks linking radicalized members
inside and outside prisons,” she writes.
She urges law enforcement to
intervene by using a community policing model in particular locations.
“Investigating and highlighting such atrocious crimes may help turn young
people against the narrative of terrorist groups as defenders of Islam,” she