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 politicized violence.”
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 says.
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 explains.