Terrorism and drugs in Europe


Despite much speculation and conjecture over potential crossovers between terrorists and the drug trade in Europe, no study has examined the issue. This paper fills this gap by empirically examining such crossovers in the European Union between 2012 and 2017. Based on a unique open- source database, two main themes emerge. Firstly, the only area with deep and sustained crossovers is Northern Ireland, where Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries have sought to influence or control the drug trade. The consequences are threefold: conflict with “regular” criminals; internal divisions within paramilitaries; and the potential alienation of the very communities they claim to represent. Secondly, many European jihadists have backgrounds in consuming or dealing drugs, and their radicalisation does not always change this behaviour. Indeed, of the 69 jihadists who carried out an attack in Europe between 2012 and 2017, there is evidence that at least 5 individuals (7% of the total) consumed illicit drugs in the days or hours prior to their attack. This suggests that extremists do not automatically break from familiar, habitual, and possibly addictive patterns, and that radicalisation is no guarantee of an absolute, abrupt, and permanent change in lifestyle.

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Additional information

This paper was commissioned by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) to provide background material to inform and contribute to the drafting of the EU Drug Markets Report (EDMR) 2019.

This background paper was produced under contract no CT.18.SAS.0018.1.0 and we are grateful for the valuable contribution of the authors. The paper has been cited within the EDMR 2019 and is also being made available online for those who would like further information on the topic. However, the views, interpretations and conclusions set out in this publication are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the EMCDDA or its partners, any EU Member State or any agency or institution of the European Union.