Terrorism and Human Trafficking by Moses Atogo Unongu

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We encourage RTC alumni to submit content to our newsletter on any relevant law enforcement topic. This helps us be abreast with law enforcement news in your countries and may include criminal trends, tools, resources or just an article written for pleasure or for publication.  This month, I’d like to introduce you to Mr. Moses Unogo from our International Organization for Migration (IOM) Trafficking in Persons (TIP) course. Mr. Unongo is a very vibrant and informed alumnus, with a passion for trafficking in persons issues in Nigeria and across the world. We hope you enjoy this read and please write back to share your views and questions with us. We are happy to pass along any feedback or questions directly to Mr. Unongo as well.



Written by Moses Atogo Unongu
RTC Alumnus - Abuja, Nigeria

Transnational organized crime poses a significant and growing threat to national and international security, with dire implications for public safety, public health, democratic institutions, and economic stability across the globe. Not only are criminal networks expanding, but they also are diversifying their activities, resulting in the convergence of threats that were once distinct and today have explosive and destabilizing effects. Trafficking in persons is identified as one of the most heinous organised crimes that pose serious consequences to man and state. 

Trafficking in Persons, or, human trafficking, refers to activities involved when one person obtains or holds another person in compelled service, such as involuntary servitude, slavery, debt, bondage, and forced labor. Human trafficking specifically targets the trafficked person as an object of criminal exploitation – often for labor exploitation or sexual exploitation purposes – and trafficking victims are frequently physically and emotionally abused. Although TIP is generally thought of as an international crime that involves the crossing of borders, TIP victims can also be trafficked within their own countries. Traffickers can move victims between locations within the same country and often sell them to other trafficking organizations.

Terrorism, according to Prof. Bruce Hoffman of the Centre for Security Studies at the Georgetown University, Washington DC, is the deliberate creation and exploitation of fear through violence or, the threat of violence, in pursuit of political change. It is a serious problem that poses as threat to national and international security, with attendant loss of lives and destruction of critical and personal infrastructure. The threat of modern terrorism became commonplace after the World Trade Centre attacks in the United States in 2001, which was blamed on Al Qaeda militants. Since then, a series of terrorist attacks have been carried out either by Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups in different regions and continents of the world, including Nigeria.

It is a well-known fact that terrorists and insurgents sustain their activities by gaining financial support from state sponsors and sympathizers, as well as engaging in other crimes to boost their financial capacity. The nexus of drugs and terrorism has long been established. Now, the recent actions of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or, Islamic State in the Levant (ISIS/ISIL) and Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati Wal-Jihad (Boko Haram) in Nigeria are drawing attention to the role of human trafficking. Human trafficking and terrorism are two huge social and political issues which plague our society. Though the relationship between human trafficking and terrorism is not entirely new, the nefarious activities of ISIS and Boko Haram in the parts of the Middle East and Nigeria respectively brings to the fore monstrous acts of human trafficking perpetrated by these groups.

The list of atrocities committed by ISIS continues to grow, with the more recent being the execution of about thirty Ethiopian Christians in Libya as well as the execution of female captives for refusing to satisfy the sexual requirements of the terrorists. The burning alive of a Jordanian Pilot in Syria, execution of a dozen Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya, and beheading of a number of journalists in defiance of the restraining order of the international community reveals just how dastardly ISIS have acted and are still willing to act. It is worthy of note that, towards the last quarter of 2014, a chilling pamphlet was made available to the public by ISIS detailing the organization’s policy on treating the women they kidnap (used as sex slaves).

ISIS is not the only terrorist group that engages in kidnapping and trafficking in recent times. The Nigerian terrorist group, Boko Haram, have engaged in a number of kidnappings involving well over two thousand people, as Amnesty International and the timeline of Global Terrorism Database indicates. In February 2015, Boko Haram was reported to have kidnapped over 200 villagers and killed dozens more in a raid in North-eastern Nigeria. Though there is no concrete evidence on the trafficking of these kidnapped women and children, recent bombing strategy of using young girls as suicide bombers gives credence to the possibility of the act of human trafficking being perpetrated.   More so, in a 57-minutes long video released on the 5th of May, 2014, Abubakar Sheka’u, the Boko Haram Commander while claiming responsibility for the abduction of about 276 female students from their school in Chibok town, North-Eastern Nigeria, vowed to ‘sell them in the slave market’. Indeed, human trafficking plays a growing role in the operation of 21st-century terrorist organizations.

It is often difficult to distinguish between terrorist groups, insurgents and organized crime groups since these categories often overlap.  Their methods and sources of financing are often similar if not the same. According to Christine Dolan, panellist at the recent “Terrorism Nexus” seminar hosted by the World Affairs Council of Washington D.C., “human trafficking is not only one of the first financial steps into the transnational and trans criminal mobsters’ financial network but that it is the bedrock of these criminal syndicates. It is far more profitable than trafficking drugs or weapons.” More evidence that terrorists are engaging in human trafficking emerged on December 16, 2009, when Harouna Toure, whom headed a criminal group that works with Al-Qaeda affiliates in North Africa, was apprehended in Ghana by (the U.S.) Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The DEA accused Toure of transporting cocaine through North Africa for $2,000 a kilogram, a fee that was to be partially turned over to Al-Qaeda in return for protection along the route. Toure told a DEA informant that Al-Qaeda could protect cocaine shipments and assist in potential kidnappings to raise money.

Human trafficking now serves three main purposes for terrorist groups: generating revenue, providing fighting power, and vanquishing the enemy. For terrorists, human trafficking is a dual-use crime like drug trafficking and kidnapping. It not only generates revenue, but it decimates communities. As we see in Nigeria and parts of the Middle East today, trafficking intimidates populations and reduces resistance just as enslavement and rape of women were used as tools of war in the past. Trafficking and smuggling are part of the business of terrorism, and constitute one activity in the product mix of terrorist groups. Terrorists smuggle drugs, arms, and people. Like guns and drugs, women and children are traded as commodities in the global black market. Human trafficking allows terrorist and criminal organizations to finance their own operations. Human traffickers offer consumers several “products”- child soldier, suicide bomber, domestic servant, exotic dancer, manual laborers, human organs, and more.

It is worthy of note that, those not in the direct sight of terrorist groups may also become victims of human trafficking, even as they flee to safety. People displaced by terrorists (internally displaced persons - IDPs) are vulnerable to trafficking – both sexual and labor. For instance, young girls fleeing with their families from the Syrian conflict today have been trafficked by ISIS and other neighbouring states, just as occurred with earlier waves of refugees from Iraq. In Turkey, crime groups in border areas are exploiting the labor of Syrian male refugees who cannot find legitimate employment. Many more illegal migrants face labor trafficking in Europe as they flee the conflict regions of North Africa and the Middle East. In Nigeria, the displaced persons as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast are highly vulnerable to human traffickers. In fact, the media have already reported suspected cases of human trafficking at the IDP camps, leading to the Anti-Human Trafficking Law Enforcement Agency of the Federal Government of Nigeria (NAPTIP) beaming its searchlight towards the media concerns with a view to avoiding and/or mitigating such suspected human trafficking situations.

In conclusion, terrorism and human trafficking are global problems and require efforts from all strata of the global society to tackle them. Technical cooperation among law enforcement agencies is essential for investigating and prosecuting human traffickers. There is the need for a coordinated local, regional and international response that balance progressive and proactive law enforcement with actions that combat the market forces driving human trafficking in many destination countries. Human trafficking is often treated as a social issue rather a matter of national security. Links between terrorists and criminals, which capitalize upon gaps in law enforcement and flawed security structures, are increasingly becoming the norm. Any successful approach in countering terror and crime will have to address human trafficking. Both terrorist networks and organized criminal groups take advantage of the gray areas in the law. Particularly, the Nigerian Government needs to acknowledge the network structure of terrorists and criminal groups with human trafficking and fight the networks cooperatively. A future in-depth anti-trafficking strategy should include a more in-depth study and analysis of the operations of different trafficking organizations; a more in-depth study and analysis of the links between transnational crime and terrorism; and, the operational and financial sides of the business.


Moses Atogo Unongu is a Human Trafficking Investigator and Trainer with the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) in Nigeria. He holds a Post Graduate degree in Criminology & Security Studies, as well as a Certificate in Terrorism & Counterterrorism from National Open University of Nigeria and Georgetown University Washington DC, USA respectively. 



[Post by: Sarah Dadson. Sarah is the Delegate & Alumni Coordinator for the West Africa Regional Training Center. Email her at info@westafricartc.org]