It is now more than two decades since al-Qaeda launched its attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. These decades have seen a drastic growth in organizations that have sworn allegiance to al-Qaeda, and subsequently the Islamic State, contributing to an explosion of research exploring these organizations. Researchers within area studies, political science, criminology, sociology, history, and other fields have engaged themselves in understanding these organizations, their dramatic growth, and their internal and external dynamics. A variety of approaches to understanding the jihadist phenomenon, including essentialists seeing jihadism as caused by a specific strand of Islam (either due to global trends including globalization and Saudi missionary work or through Arab resentment) and being ideologically driven. Some analyses has seen the phenomenon as the “Islamification of radicalism,” basically the recruiting of demographics already vulnerable to extremism because of grievances, alienation, and poverty into jihadist organizations (in this article defined as militant groups justifying their violence based on their perception of Islam). Such an approach can include work focusing on local, and in some cases global, grievances as causes of radicalization. Social movement theory, more traditional criminological network model-based approaches, and insurgency studies-based approaches (for example exploring rebel governance) also became common approaches to study the spread and internal dynamics of jihadist groups. Additionally, researchers have studied these relatively new organizations by focusing on their economic dynamics. This article studies a subset of such of such economic approaches, focusing on a “crime-terrorist nexus” critically and providing examples of how such articles and analysis have in many cases been inaccurate, leading to misunderstandings and policy errors.
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