Now that terrorism is recognized by the international community as the number one threat to the world, one wonders: how is it that with the enormous efforts made to combat this global evil, the results remain so disappointing? Naturally, there are a number of factors contributing to the growth of the terrorist threat, but one should be highlighted because, without it, terrorist activity could be deterred or disrupted much more easily. That factor is corruption.

To paraphrase Bruno Jasieński’s famous quotation: “Don’t fear bombers. The worst they can do is kill you. Don’t fear terrorist groups. At worst, they can plot an attack. Fear corrupt officials; they neither kill nor plot, but terror and murder exist because of their silent consent.” All the more strange that the media and public are paying insufficient attention to this issue. It is an established fact that the Mumbai attackers were able to smuggle explosive devices solely due to the corruption of customs officers.

Terrorists may resort to the services of corrupt officials in almost every area of their activity, but more often it relates to logistics support as well as such profitable illegal criminal activities as trafficking in drugs, weapons and human beings. Bribery helps them to get fake passports through shady intermediaries. To survive, terrorist groups rely both on the shadow economy to raise funds and corruption to create an umbrella for their illegal businesses. Corruption facilitates not only terrorist attacks per se, but terrorism financing as well.

To survive, terrorist groups rely both on the shadow economy to raise funds and corruption to create an umbrella for their illegal businesses

For example, there are African terrorist groups involved in wildlife trafficking; in particular, al-Shabaab, which is an al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia. It raises up to 40% of its funds from the illegal ivory trade. This activity is facilitated by corrupt officials, from park rangers to members of the military and local authorities helping to smuggle wildlife products out of Africa. Contraband goods are delivered with false shipping documents obscuring the African origin and the true contents of containers. In this case, the perpetrators benefit from corruption, because bribing officials is a safe way to avoid customs inspection and the detection of illicit cargoes.

Security breaches can also be the result of corruption. To cite an illustrative example, in February 2017, a suicide bomber blew himself up inside the Shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan, Pakistan, with 90 people killed and hundreds wounded. As it was revealed later, there were security lapses, namely, some of the CCTV cameras in the shrine were out of order. This is a crucial point because video surveillance plays an important role in tracing perpetrators and conducting an investigation. At the same time, as Mazhar Abbas stated in his article How corruption helps terrorism, published by The News, before the attack, the Sindh government had concluded a contract worth Rs140 million (US$2.2 million) for the repair of CCTV cameras. Since some of the cameras in one of the most important shrines in Pakistan were faulty, one should raise the question of whether there were financial irregularities in the contract performance.

Particularly tangible effects of corruption might be observed in the army, as the defense sector is traditionally vulnerable to corruption. Lucrative contracts combined with increased levels of secrecy, as well as the focus on a single supplier and the lack of competition, provide opportunities for financial misconduct.

It’s illustrative that John Sopko, the head of SIGAR, an agency established to oversee the Afghanistan Reconstruction funds, named corruption the main threat to the success of the war. As an example, the funds allocated to a contract for the protection of Afghanistan’s roads from terrorist bombs were stolen. The work wasn’t executed properly, which eventually resulted in the deaths of soldiers. Shortages of weapons, ammunition, food, medicine and gasoline in the Afghan army are also often due to embezzlement. So is it any wonder that the Afghan army fails to defeat the Taliban?

Corruption can also be exploited by radicals in their propaganda. According to a report released by Transparency International in February 2017, corruption among officials lends credibility to the arguments of Islamic State members demonizing the existing social order and presenting themselves as an alternative model of governance.This narrative helps terrorists to radicalize and recruit supporters, especially among the populations of corruption-weary regions.

For these reasons, it is crucial that media worldwide work to shed light on the corruption-terrorism nexus.