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Human traffickingTerrorists use human trafficking to generate revenue, demoralize adversaries, fill the ranks

Published 31 December 2014

Counterterrorism initiatives tend to target drug trafficking rings operated by militant groups as a way to cut the funding of terror operations. Terror groups, however, including the Islamic State (ISIS) and Boko Haram, have always diversified their revenue stream by relying on the sale of women and children from captured villages to fund their operations. Analysts say that counterterrorism officials must begin to pay attention to human trafficking schemes, because in addition to generating revenue, human trafficking helps terror groups demoralize their enemies and supply fighting power.

Counterterrorism initiatives tend to target drug trafficking rings operated by militant groups as a way to cut the funding of terror operations. Terror groups, however, including the Islamic State (ISIS) and Boko Haram, have always diversified their revenue stream by relying on the sale of women and children from captured villages to fund their operations.

According to theDaily Beast, for as little as $25, a young girl from the minority Yazidi region of Iraq can be purchased. In his 9 May video, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau threatened to sell the roughly 276 girls kidnapped from a boarding school in Chibok, Borno state. “There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women,” Shekau said.

According to UNICEF, more than 1.2 million children become human trafficking victims every year. Organize crime groups make up a significant percent of traffickers, but terrorist groups are making their mark.

Analysts say that counterterrorism officials must begin to pay attention to human trafficking schemes, because in addition to generating revenue, human trafficking helps terror groups demoralize their enemies and supply fighting power. Local officials in northern Nigeria, for example, claim that Boko Haram is using some of the girls kidnapped earlier this year for suicide bombings. In Nepal, Marxist guerrillas traffic girls to India to fund their operations.

For the United States, human trafficking operations can also become a threat to national security. In Operation White Lace in Los Angeles, women from the former USSR were trafficked into high-end prostitution. Many arrived in the United States as part of sports and religious delegations, but soon obtained visas to remain in the country by posing as students at a language school. In the book, Dirty Entanglements: Corruption, Crime and Terrorism, Louise I. Shelley, a professor at George Mason University and director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime, and Corruption Center, reported that the same language school, which was in actuality a visa mill, also provided student visas to some of the 9/11 hijackers. Shelley concluded that the language school was a point of intersection of crime and terrorism.

A larger focus on combating human trafficking could not only diminish revenues for terror groups and crime syndicates, but it could help keep terrorists from arriving on U.S. shores. At a 2012 meeting of the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, then Deputy National Security Adviser and now President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, told the administration’s cabinet members in attendance that “human trafficking is at the nexus of organized crime, is a source for funding for international terrorist groups, (and) is a source for funding for transnational terrorist groups. It fundamentally endangers international security.”