Scholarly articles on the fight against terrorism emphasize the economic aspect of the issue more and more. The financing of terrorism is indeed a critical subject and should be thoroughly discussed in the context of the fight against terrorism.
According to a news report I saw on Deutsche Welle's Turkish page last Sunday, all terrorist groups get financed through illegal ways, and they also benefit from the cooperation and complicity of many legal and legitimate players to increase or hide their financial gains.
According to researchers, al-Shabab in Somalia made a lot of money from ivory trafficking, the Taliban and al-Qaida sell opium, Daesh sells oil and Hezbollah is involved in arms trafficking across the Middle East. In fact, there is nothing new in this information, because it is not a secret for anybody, especially for people who live in the countries where these organizations are active, how these groups finance their terrorist activities. So, the info is not new, what is new is probably the fact to make it a headline story.
If you put all the blame on the terrorist organizations, you will only get half of the story. The tricky part is to determine which states or other legal players are also benefiting from these illegal financial circuits.
The international community had managed to fight against ivory trade efficiently and experts admit that this fight has made things very difficult for al-Shabab, financially speaking. However, the success is not the same about fighting drugs, oil, or weapons trafficking.
As long as civil wars, trade sanctions, or protectionism continues, it will not be possible to put an end to illegal trade and smuggling. Not only the terrorist groups, but also a number of states earn or save money thanks to these illegal financial activities. If there are terror groups who sell oil, weapons or drugs, there are, on the other end of the exchange, legal and legitimate players who buy and pay. These are sometimes independent traders, companies or brokers, but they could not act freely if states were not closing their eyes. In other words, this is not a simple problem of inefficiency, but one of complicity. In a trade exchange, there have to be sellers and buyers, so the fight against the illegal financing of terrorism should also focus on the buyers and those who protect them.
I wonder if any state will be able to say that they were never and in no way involved in all this. It is easy to blame Iran for Hezbollah, Afghanistan for al-Qaida and the Taliban, Syria and Iraq for Daesh and Somali for al-Shabab. What about the Western powers who have deployed troops in most of these countries; don't they have any responsibility at all? Can one claim that Western powers have never been involved in illegal financing of terrorist activities?
Any discussion on illegal financing of terrorism must include those states who were, in one way or another, involved in these activities. As we notice that Western countries are barely mentioned when this topic is debated, one wonders whether they have too much to hide.
It was interesting, for example, that the report in the DW did not include any mention of the PKK. The PKK is much older than any of the above mentioned terrorist groups, therefore it has a long experience on illegal financing. There are maybe people who imagine that Marxist-Leninist organizations would not be involved in any kind of illegal trafficking, but we know it is not true. All terror groups, and not only the radical religious ones, use similar financing methods. Perhaps the trade partners of the PKK and of these radical groups are different, which may explain the omission. The problem is complicated indeed, and closely related to the international power struggle.