I n the United States, terrorism and organized crime have until recently been considered separate problems to be dealt with separately. Unlike criminals, terrorists were thought to care little for profit. Yet consider the 1993 case of Dawood Ibrahim, the Sunni Muslim boss of a South Asia criminal syndicate with a vast logistical network, who sought to bolster his support in the Muslim community by avenging aggression against Muslims. He recruited street criminals and trained them in terrorist camps outside the country in preparation for simultaneous attacks on the Mumbai Stock Exchange and various other well-populated landmarks in Bombay, using trusted individuals to bring tons of plastic explosives and weaponry in through the ports. The March 12 attacks caused destruction and chaos throughout the city and foreshadowed the massive terrorist attacks of the next decade.
These and other more recent attacks in South Asia, a region that encompasses a variety of criminal and terrorist organizations that have been known to collaborate in international operations, should cause us to rethink the conventional wisdom that terrorists and criminals fall into different categories. They suggest that criminal networks and terrorist groups may be deeply intertwined in ways that go well beyond fleeting, tactical alliances of convenience.