Interplay Between Drug Trafficking and Terrorism


Ever since the end of the Cold War and the consequent decline of state sponsorship for terrorism, organized criminal activities have been the main source of revenue for terrorist groups all over the world. In particular, the 1990s saw a complete turnaround in the way that terror gangs operated. While drug trafficking and terrorism were two different entities, this period saw a situation where the two groups were interlinked. A close analysis shows that criminal and terrorist groups appear to be taking lessons from each other, and being acquainted to each other’s successes and failures. This means that it is important to comprehend and recognize the crime-terror interplay to put together effective state responses to these developing, and sporadically congregating threats. (Shelley, 1999, p. 2)

Main body

Ever since the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks on American soil, there has been an unprecedented scholarly, administration and corporate interest in uncovering the dynamics of international terrorism. Because of this, a superfluity of post 9/11 literature has emerged, with the intention of giving answers to various questions related to terrorism. On top of specific accounts of terror groups, the role of philosophy, conscription, state religions, group organization, and intended selection have also elicited a close analysis from all stakeholders. However, one topic that has received relatively low analysis has been the issue of how terror groups are financed. (Shelley, 2011, p. 5)

After the end of the Cold War, there was a significant decline of state sponsorship for terrorism something that forced terror groups to turn to criminal activities for funding. Throughout the world, terror groups seem to have developed the precedent set by narco-terrorism that was prevalent in Latin America in the 1980s. The last decade of the 20th century, was a turning point since it witnessed a consolidation of the crime-terror nexus. This nexus involved a case where terrorists got involved in straightforward criminal activities such as being involved in the drug trade. Additionally, this nexus has led to the formation of alliances between drug dealers and terror groups. By closely analyzing the nexus, it becomes evident that drug trafficking and terrorism exist on the same plane and therefore are hypothetically capable of congregating at a central point. (Shelley, 1999, p. 8)

The first form of relationship that exists between criminal activities and terror groups is the alliance aspect. These alliances are witnessed at every end of the nexus. I.e. criminals forming alliances with terrorists, and terrorists forming alliances with criminals. This form of alliances varies on case-to-case basis and can be a long-term affair or a short-term engagement depending on the assignment. Ideally, the alliances between terror groups and criminal activities are analogous with the liaisons that develop within genuine business settings. Unlike in the past when terrorist organizations used the relationship for their own benefit, the situation has changed and today the relationship is symbiotic. (Shelley, 1999, p. 11)

Although there are many examples that point to the link between drug traffickers and insurgent terrorists, the best example so far is between the FARC and drug traffickers in Colombia. The first reports of a link between terrorists and drug traffickers first appeared in the international press twenty years ago when the Colombian government claimed that drug cartels had contracted the ELN to detonate bombs since the cartels lacked the capacity to do so. Additionally, FARC has entered in to partnership with criminal groups outside Colombian borders, which include Mexican drug trafficking factions. Despite the fact that FARC has denied this form of a relationship, officials from the United States government have accounted that FARC helps drug traffickers to supply cocaine to Mexico in exchange for arms consignments. (Pachico, 2011)

The fact that FARC has been engaged in drug dealing is evident from WikiLeaks cables released recently. The cables showed that there has been simmering distrust between President Rafael Correa and the U.S government because of FARC links to political groupings in Ecuador. In the highly publicized cables, which led to the expulsion of the U.S ambassador to Colombia, it is alleged that FARC provided campaign money for President Rafael Correa in exchange for protection. Over the years, FARC, which is an established terrorist group, has been known to be involved in drug smuggling in the region. The faction uses Ecuador as its logistics base and there have even been reports alleging that FARC contracts young people from Ecuador to carry out the drug trade. A commission known as the Angostura Commission has also identified that there are strong links between the Sinaloa Drug Cartel and FARC. The cartels use FARC for protection while FARC relies on the drug cartels for funding. (Pachico, 2011)


The interplay between drug trafficking and insurgent terrorists has been a subject of discussion for a long time now. A deep analysis of the matter reveals that there is a strong relationship between terror gangs and drug traffickers. Unlike in the past when terrorists used drug traffickers to enrich themselves, the situation has changed and today the relationship is symbiotic. It is important for governments not only to acknowledge this interplay but also to understand how it works in order to be able to counter terrorism and streamline their anti-crime policies.

Reference List

Pachico, E. (2011) Cable Invokes Fear of FARC Links with Ecuador. Insight-Organized Crime in the Americas. Web.

Shelley, L. (1999) Identifying, Counting and Categorizing Transnational Organized Crime. Transnational Organized Crime, 5(1), 1-20.

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