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An Unholy Alliance: Links Between Extremism and Illicit Trade in East Africa

Terror groups such as al-Shabaab and ISIS-linked affiliates in Somalia and Mozambique, as well as Central African militias, urban gangs, and international crime groups, are increasingly targeting East Africa as a destination market for illicit trade, as well as a transport hub for the mass import and export of illegal goods. Terrorist groups continue to cash in on the illegal ivory trade to pay their soldiers and fund their campaigns of terror, while Somali warlords profit from the thousands of bags of cheap, illicit sugar that are smuggled into Kenya every day. Meanwhile, the multi-million-dollar illegal tobacco industry funds corruption, insurgency, and the illegal arms trade across the region. Many terrorist and extremist groups operating in and around East Africa, including al-Shabaab, ISIS, and the Lord’s Resistance Army, are supported and sustained by the illicit trade, as they continue to benefit from ill-gotten gains. Asian crime syndicates, Latin American narco-traffickers, and other international crime groups have also earmarked the region as a key location for smuggling narcotics, wildlife, precious stones, and counterfeit goods.