Beware smuggling of terrorists

As international attention zeroes in on weapons of mass destruction, a new security matter is brewing out of the limelight: terrorist smuggling.

Already, German authorities have issued a Europe-wide alert suggesting that at least 30 "important people" from Afghanistan's deposed Taliban regime and Al Qaeda who may have been smuggled into Europe, are said to be regrouping in Britain.

Following limited military success by the United States and its allies in capturing Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan, it seems utterly plausible that efforts to reestablish the dented organization are already under way. Certainly, this is made easier by the widespread human smuggling industry, which can deliver even Al Qaeda members from war-torn Afghanistan into the heart of Europe.

The human smuggling industry has existed for decades, though states on the whole remain complacent and ignorant to the dangers associated with it. As is the case with many antiterrorist initiatives, a necessary sense of urgency is missing. Smuggling of humans is still thought of as an immigration problem.

This view is shortsighted. In addition to being global and vertical in nature, the industry is run by transnational criminal groups that present a direct challenge to state and regional stability. They undermine the relationship between the state and civil society and are both a function and cause of political paralysis. This is increasingly the case in many transition states in Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Asia.

Human smuggling's increased dependency on transnational criminal networks has made it, along with drug and weapons smuggling, a major contributor to regional instability. Furthermore, human smuggling has become a political liability for mainstream political parties in Europe and America. This problem must be dealt with effectively if states are to prevent political extremists from scoring points on the immigration issue. The recent allegations of Al Qaeda's association with the smuggling industry only heighten this urgency.

However, human smuggling can no longer be addressed from the viewpoint of immigration politics or from a purely criminal platform. Rather, it must be addressed from an international security prism, where states are engaged on a regional and global level in coordinating intelligence information, arrest warrants, security warnings, extraditions, and technology exchanges.

Without these efforts, any attempts at disrupting the functioning of international terrorism – Al Qaeda in particular – and curbing the impact of organized smuggling gangs on states' political stability will prove futile.

• Borut Grgic is a researcher in the East Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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