Why Terrorist Organizations Use Human Trafficking

Why Terrorist Organizations Use Human Trafficking

Editor’s note: This article is the second part of a two-part series on human trafficking and terrorist organizations. The first part is available on ACAMSToday.org. Human trafficking (HT) is used by terrorist organizations to exploit individuals and to carry out or support terrorist activities. In fact, terrorist organizations using HT

Editor’s note: This article is the second part of a two-part series on human trafficking and terrorist organizations. The first part is available on ACAMSToday.org.1

H

uman trafficking (HT) is used by terrorist organizations to exploit individuals and to carry out or support terrorist activities. In fact, terrorist organizations using HT for financial gain appear to be rarer than the trafficking of human beings for other exploitative purposes that support the organizations’ activities. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) highlighted that the small amounts generated by the Islamic State [group] in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL [IS throughout the article], also known as Da’esh) indicate that HT is not a lucrative source of revenue for IS and concluded that HT is considered more as a means of meeting the demands of IS fighters.2 In this regard, the individuals who are held captive by terrorist organizations are mainly enslaved and forced into labor so fighters can devote their attention to their respective activities. The enslavement of individuals results in the free provision of services, which is not quantifiable in monetary terms but cuts operational costs and increases organizational efficiency.

Sexual Exploitation

In a study conducted by the Henry Jackson Society, Nikita Malik stated, “Terrorists use sexual violence, including rape, sexual slavery, and forced marriage, to bolster recruits, galvanize fighters, and, in the case of Islamist groups, punish a Kafir (Arabic for disbeliever).”3

Women may also be sexually exploited for the purpose of forced impregnation. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) reported a case involving 10 women between the ages of 19 and 38 from the South Caucasus region who were forcefully taken to Iraq by their husbands. When their husbands died, the women were forced to remarry, with nine of them delivering 45 children.4

Labor Exploitation

The Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) stated that “men and boys have been not only forcibly recruited and indoctrinated but also subjected to forced labour in agriculture (e.g., on sheep and poultry farms in Iraq) and on construction projects. One example of the latter is [IS’] use of trafficked people to build a tunnel system under the streets of Mosul. The tunnels were responsible for significant casualties and for extending the siege of the city.”5

Fighters can also benefit from individuals held in slavery in various ways, such as by “employing” them in their homes as domestic servants. For example, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) reported, “Yazidi women and girls are forced to cook for their respective fighter-owners and other [IS] fighters housed with or near him. One Yazidi girl, 13 years old, was held for 11 months in [IS-controlled] territory and sold multiple times. Sexually enslaved, she recounted also being forced to cook, clean and wash the clothes of her Syrian fighter-owner and his family at a house in Raqqah city.”6

HT as a Terrorist Tactic

HT, in the context of terrorism, can be used by terrorist organizations to achieve some of their strategic objectives. CTED identifies three purposes for the strategic use of HT by terrorist organizations: Namely, to intimidate populations and decimate communities, to institutionalize sexual violence and slavery, and to drive recruitment efforts.

To Intimidate Populations and Decimate Communities

One of the most notable examples of the use of HT to intimidate populations and decimate communities is the IS’s ethnic cleansing targeting minorities, especially the Yazidi community. Among these minorities, it is also worth mentioning the Shia Turkmen, Shia Shabak and Christian communities, which were considered “infidel unbelievers” and therefore persecuted. In addition to the severe violence perpetrated against these minorities, HT is used in its most horrendous form, where individuals are considered commodities. In this regard, IS engaged in the trade and purchase of unmarried women and girls in open slave markets, while boys were forcibly recruited and given new names, trained for combat in camps and used as human shields.7

To Institutionalize Sexual Violence and Slavery

The Report of the Secretary-General on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence published by the United Nations Security Council in 2018 stated that conflict-related sexual violence is a weapon of war and a source of profit for state actors and non-state armed groups. In addition, the report pointed out, “Wars are still being fought on and over the bodies of women, to control their production and reproduction by force. Across regions, sexual violence has been perpetrated in public or witnessed by loved ones, to terrorize communities and fracture families through the violation of taboos, signifying that nothing is sacred and no one is safe.”8 Acts of sexual violence, domestic servitude and other forms of sexual enslavement have been at the core of IS, Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab’s modus operandi. For example, in the territory occupied by IS in Iraq, Sunni women and girls endured forced marriages as well as rape as a way of punishment for disobeying IS rules. In Nigeria, women and girls endured the same forms of sexual violence by Boko Haram members and faced acute social stigmatization upon their return because they were seen as sympathizers. In Somalia, there were reports of women and girls being trafficked by Al-Shabaab by being held as sex slaves or forced to become the “wives” of insurgents. Many of these women and their children were deeply traumatized and reluctant to seek assistance for fear of persecution.

To Drive Recruitment Efforts

In addition to using HT to recruit individuals for various brutal purposes, such as sexual and labor exploitation, combat or service roles, terrorist organizations use these HT victims to attract new recruits. This strategy can be observed in IS propaganda campaigns, which aim to lure potential male fighters to join their cause. The sexual slavery propaganda serves as an incentive for new recruits and foreign fighters, with the promise of wives and sex slaves acting as a “pull factor.”9 The New York Times has also reported, “The trafficking of women has been used to reward fighters, and as a recruiting tool to lure men from deeply conservative Muslim societies, where casual sex is taboo and dating is forbidden.”10 In addition, children are often featured in IS propaganda through “[photographs] eulogizing them as martyrs and widely circulated videos of young boys executing (via shootings or beheadings) prisoners accused of being spies or captured Syrian regime troops.”11

HT and Terrorist Financing

As per the FATF, terrorist financing can be defined as the financing of terrorist acts, terrorists and terrorist organizations.12 As previously mentioned, terrorist organizations using HT for financial gain seems to be rarer than the trafficking of human beings for other exploitative purposes to support the organizations’ activities. This can be partly attributed to the fact that terrorist organizations operate primarily in conflict-stricken regions where access to formal financial services is limited (e.g., the Sahel region in sub-Saharan Africa). In addition, as the FATF indicates, “The purposes and processes of terrorist financing and related activities are fundamentally different from those of money laundering; and ‘money is only one of a number of essentially interchangeable instruments that can be exchanged for one another’ in order for terrorist groups to obtain the end-use goods and other resources they need.”13 These factors are based on the Terrorist Resourcing Model published by the Integrated Threat Assessment Centre (ITAC) in 2007, which stresses that terrorist entities do not depend only on money to power their operations. It is also worth highlighting that money laundering is based on greed, while terrorist financing/resourcing is primarily based on pushing a political or ideological agenda. In the context of terrorist financing/resourcing, money and other resources are the enablers of their activities.

Nevertheless, financial gain remains one of the reasons terrorist groups engage in the trafficking of human beings. The FATF stated that “terrorist organizations who have controlled, or partially controlled territory, have used human trafficking as a way to raise funds and support [for] their organizations and activities.”14 It is also worth pointing out that unlike drugs, oil or other single-use goods, enslaved individuals are considered as “reusable commodities” as they can be exploited many times and for several purposes.

Enslaving Women

In addition to gratifying their fighters, terrorist organizations enable individual fighters to generate revenue through the sale of women. FATF stated that “[IS] has provided internal guidance to its fighters regarding how many female slaves they are allowed to maintain; however, the prices [IS] fighters are paying for their slaves appear to be relatively low (approximately $13).”15 UNHRC reported that “Some Yazidi women and girls were present at their sale, and were aware of the amounts paid for them, which ranged between [$200 and $1,500], depending on marital status, age, number of children, and beauty.”16 It is important to point out that slave markets are intended to be internal only. As a result, it is arguable whether the IS slave trade constitutes terrorist financing. In addition, the sale and resale sale of Yazidi women and girls outside of IS is forbidden and punishable by death because slaves are considered the spoils of war, as well as to prevent them from being sold back to their families, given that fighters would earn significant amounts ranging from $10,000 to $40,000. However, as CTED states, such rules are frequently violated.17

Trafficking in Persons for Ransom

Trafficking in persons for ransom is part of a terrorist organization’s strategic objectives to fuel insecurity, and it also represents a highly profitable funding source. As a result, it is a common modus operandi for terrorist organizations. Unlike the sale of women, which is supposed to be internal only, the ransom payment constitutes terrorism financing since the payment is made by individuals outside the terrorist organization. While it is possible to argue whether ransom constitutes a form of exploitation,18 it is worth noting that individuals may be abducted for the purpose of ransom. In addition, in the context of terrorism, the ransom is the final element of the exploitation to which individuals are subjected. In this regard, terrorist organizations derive financial or other kinds of benefits from their exploitation, which amounts to HT.

CTED stated that “Many terrorist groups (notably [IS], Al-Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant (ANF), Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Boko Haram and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)) continue to profit from [kidnapping for ransom].”19 According to CTED, the financial gain terrorist organizations derive from ransom is significant, as families would “pay between $10,000 and $40,000 to secure the release of their family members.”20 In addition, the United Nations Security Council highlighted, “According to the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), [IS] received between $35 million to $45 million in 2014 from ransom payments made by the families of hostages. It is believed that $850,000 was paid in January 2015 for the release of 200 Iraqi Yazidi.”21 In addition, the BBC reported, “At least 1,409 students were kidnapped from their schools in northern Nigeria in the 19 months between March 2020 and September 2021, according to Nigerian intelligence platform SBM, and at least 220 million naira ($530,000; £410,000) paid out as ransoms [and that] the Nigerian government reportedly paid 3 million euro ($3.3 million; £2.4 million) to Boko Haram as ransom for the Chibok girls freed in negotiations.”22

HT for the Removal of Organs

Reuters reported that a document from IS retrieved by the U.S. Special Forces in the Syrian Arab Republic justified the harvesting and removal of organs of “infidels,” stating, “The apostate’s life and organs do not have to be respected and may be taken with impunity.”23 According to data disclosed by the Director General of the Syria Coroner’s Office in November 2016, “More than 25,000 surgical operations were performed in the refugee camps of neighboring countries and [IS-controlled] areas in Syria since 2011 to remove the organs of 15,000 Syrians and sell them on the black market, according to a news outlet.”24 It is worth highlighting that Interpol expressed concerns of trafficking for the removal of organs in North and West Africa, where impoverished communities and displaced populations (e.g., migrants, asylum seekers and refugees) are at greater risk of exploitation. Interpol also mentioned, “There is a wide spectrum of key actors involved in [trafficking in human beings for organ removal] in North and West Africa with connections to several countries on the continent and beyond, particularly in Asia and the Middle East.”25

Conclusion

Disrupting and dismantling the financial flows of HT and terrorist networks is essential in order to combat these threats. Without human and financial resources, the capability and activity of terrorist organizations are degraded. As CTED points out, “Following the money could help disrupt potential exploitation networks, strengthen the detection of victims, and help bring perpetrators to justice.”26 As a result, the financial sector and particularly financial intelligence units play a key role in the analysis of financial flows and transactions that may be linked to HT cases that support or finance terrorist organizations. Although it can constitute a significant challenge for financial institutions (FIs) to identify activity related to HT in the context of terrorist organizations, there are publications discussing and addressing these issues. Among the main resources available, FATF set out a list of recommendations as well as indicators and red flags pertaining to HT in general and OSCE synthesized financial indicators and red flags extracted from various resources.27 In the same regard, FATF and FINTRAC set out lists of recommendations or indicators and red flags pertaining specifically to terrorist financing.28 These risk indicators and red flags, as well as the cited resources in this article, can further strengthen FIs’ capacity to detect illicit flows deriving from HT and to prevent terrorist organizations from accomplishing their overall objectives and most importantly committing serious human right violations.

Jonathan Dupont, FIU Investigator and subject-matter expert on cryptocurrency, human trafficking and crimes against children, Lithuania, jonathandupont@protonmail.com

  1. “The Nexus Between Terrorism and Human Trafficking,” ACAMSToday.org, https://www.acamstoday.org/the-nexus-between-terrorism-and-human-trafficking/
  2. “Financing of the Terrorist Organization Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL),” Financial Action Task Force, 2015, https://www.fatf-gafi.org/publications/methodsandtrends/documents/financing-of-terrorist-organisation-isil.html
  3. Nikita Malik, “Trafficking Terror: How Modern Slavery and Sexual Violence Fund Terrorism,” Henry Jackson Society, 2017, https://henryjacksonsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/HJS-Trafficking-Terror-Report-web.pdf
  4. “Trafficking in Human Beings and Terrorism: Where and How They Intersect,” Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, July 8, 2021, https://www.osce.org/cthb/491983
  5. "Identifying and exploring the nexus between human trafficking, terrorism, and terrorism financing," United Nations Security Council - Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, 2019, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/ctc/sites/www.un.org.securitycouncil.ctc/files/files/documents/2021/Jan/ht-terrorism-nexus-cted-report.pdf
  6. “They came to destroy”: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis,” Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, June 15, 2016, https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/A_HRC_32_CRP.2_en.pdf
  7. “Identifying and exploring the nexus between human trafficking, terrorism, and terrorism financing,” United Nations Security Council - Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, 2019, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/ctc/sites/www.un.org.securitycouncil.ctc/files/files/documents/2021/Jan/ht-terrorism-nexus-cted-report.pdf
  8. “Report of the Secretary-General on conflict-related sexual violence,” United Nations Security Council, 2018, https://www.un.org/sexualviolenceinconflict/wp-content/uploads/report/s-2018-250/SG-REPORT-2017-CRSV-SPREAD.pdf
  9. Nikita Malik, “Trafficking Terror, How Modern Slavery and Sexual Violence Fund Terrorism,” The Henry Jackson Society, 2017,  https://henryjacksonsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/HJS-Trafficking-Terror-Report-web.pdf
  10. “The Islamic State Is Forcing Women to Be Sex Slaves,” The New York Times, August 21, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/21/world/middleeast/the-islamic-state-is-forcing-women-to-be-sex-slaves.html
  11.  J. G. Horgan et al., “From Cubs to Lions: A Six Stage Model of Child Socialization into the Islamic State,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 2016, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/305923601_From_Cubs_to_Lions_A_Six_Stage_Model_of_Child_Socialization_into_the_Islamic_State
  12. “International Standards on Combating Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism & Proliferation,” Financial Action Task Force, March 2012, https://www.fatf-gafi.org/publications/fatfrecommendations/documents/fatf-recommendations.html
  13. “Terrorist Financing in West Africa,” Financial Action Task Force, October 2013, https://www.fatf-gafi.org/en/publications/methodsandtrends/documents/tf-west-africa.html
  14. “Financial Flows from Human Trafficking,” Financial Action Task Force, July 2018, https://www.fatf-gafi.org/en/publications/methodsandtrends/documents/human-trafficking.html
  15. “Financing of the Terrorist Organization Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL),” Financial Action Task Force, 2015, https://www.fatf-gafi.org/publications/methodsandtrends/documents/financing-of-terrorist-organisation-isil.html
  16. “They came to destroy”: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis,” Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, June 15, 2016, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/A_HRC_32_CRP.2_en.pdf
  17. Ibid.
  18. Mogos O Brhane, “Trafficking in Persons for Ransom and the Need to Expand the Interpretation of Article 3 of the UN Trafficking Protocol,” Anti-Trafficking Review, issue 4, 2015, pp. 120-141, https://www.antitraffickingreview.org/index.php/atrjournal/article/view/93/113
  19. “Identifying and Exploring the Nexus Between Human Trafficking, Terrorism, and Terrorism Financing,” United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, 2019, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/ctc/sites/www.un.org.securitycouncil.ctc/files/files/documents/2021/Jan/ht-terrorism-nexus-cted-report.pdf
  20. Ibid.
  21. “Report of the Secretary-General on the threat posed by ISIL (Da’esh) to international peace and security and the range of United Nations efforts in support of Member States in countering the threat,” United Nations Security Council, January 29, 2016, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N22/231/80/PDF/N2223180.pdf?OpenElement
  22. “Nigeria's Chibok girls: Why was this former captive treated differently?” BBC News, April 17, 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-61092882
  23. “Exclusive: Islamic State sanctioned organ harvesting in document taken in U.S. raid,” Reuters, December 25, 2015  https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-islamic-state-documents-idUSKBN0U805R20151225
  24. “International Partnerships Among Health, Private Sector, and Law Enforcement Necessary to Mitigate ISIS’s Organ Harvesting for Terrorist Funding,” Joint Counterterrorism Assessment Team, May 11, 2017, https://www.dni.gov/files/NCTC/documents/jcat/firstresponderstoolbox/First-Responders-Toolbox---International-Partnerships-Among-Public-Health-Private-Sector-and-Law.pdf
  25. “North and West Africa: INTERPOL report highlights human trafficking for organ removal,” Interpol, September 30, 2021, https://www.interpol.int/en/News-and-Events/News/2021/North-and-West-Africa-INTERPOL-report-highlights-human-trafficking-for-organ-removal
  26. “Identifying and Exploring the Nexus Between Human Trafficking, Terrorism, and Terrorism Financing,” United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, 2019, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/ctc/sites/www.un.org.securitycouncil.ctc/files/files/documents/2021/Jan/ht-terrorism-nexus-cted-report.pdf
  27. “Following the Money: Compendium of Resources and Step-by-step Guide to Financial Investigations Into Trafficking in Human Beings,” Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, November 7, 2019, https://www.osce.org/cthb/438323; “Financial Flows from Human Trafficking,” Financial Action Task Force, July 2018, https://www.fatf-gafi.org/en/publications/methodsandtrends/documents/human-trafficking.html
  28. “Terrorist Financing in West Africa,” Financial Action Task Force, October 2013, https://www.fatf-gafi.org/en/publications/methodsandtrends/documents/tf-west-africa.html; For indicators specifically related to terrorist financing please visit: “Money laundering and terrorist financing indicators—Money services businesses,” FINTRAC, https://fintrac-canafe.canada.ca/guidance-directives/transaction-operation/indicators-indicateurs/msb_mltf-eng#s10

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