Terrorism and Organized Crime

Discover what are the differences and similarities between organized crime and terrorism.

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Organized crime and terrorism present some similarities. However, we talk about different phenomena. On the one hand, organized crime is understood as a way of committing crimes. These crimes require a certain level of planning and the joint and coordinated participation of several individuals.

For its part, terrorism is a form of violent struggle. The violence that terrorism uses is used against civilians and seeks political ends. Thus, terrorism seeks to confuse, frighten or irritate a population or its rulers; capture the attention of international public opinion; sow doubts about the legitimacy of a political regime; provoke internal conflicts in threatened societies; mobilize the sympathizers of the cause defended by the terrorists, etc.

“This is not a game, horrible man,” said Mr. Poe. Domino is a game. Water polo is a game. Murder is a crime and you are going to pay for it in prison.”

-“The room of the reptiles” (1999), Daniel Handler-


The main objective of organized crime is profit. Criminal organizations seek to get money, the more the better. Terrorism, on the other hand, seeks political ends, such as changing a system, achieving independence or some kind of political or religious advantage.

However, there are also similarities, terrorist organizations need money to finance the armed struggle. For example, buy weapons, recruitment and propaganda, preparation and execution of attacks, etc. And organized crime can condition politics and the functioning of public institutions.

On the other hand, the influence in the political sphere is different. Organized crime seeks to take advantage, but not change the established order. Terrorism, on the other hand, have been aimed at transforming or destabilizing existing institutions or at forcing their representatives to adopt decisions and measures contrary to their principles and interests.

“I had the dark feeling that he had not yet finished everything and that he would soon commit some frightful crime again, which would erase with his magnitude the memory of his previous crime.”

– “Frankenstein” (1818), Mary Shelley-

Frequency of criminal activity

In short, both terrorism and organized crime seek to profit economically and influence political activities. The big difference is that, while organized crime is the ultimate goal, for terrorism the ultimate goal is political. Even so, both are engaged in criminal activities.

On the other hand, organized crime acts more frequently than terrorism. That is, there are more criminal organizations than terrorist groups committing crimes. This is because organized crime is more willing to sacrifice its security in order to get more funding. On the contrary, the realization of terrorist attacks does not usually provide financing, but rather the opposite, it needs high sums of money. Therefore, terrorist groups often prefer security to act.

Effects of terrorism

Use of violence

A final difference between organized crime and terrorism is in the way they use violence. The effectiveness of a terrorist attack depends on its impact reaching a large audience. A few people are attacked to intimidate many. Therefore, the more spectacular an attack is, the more people will arrive, given that it needs to receive maximum attention and publicity. However, if the attack takes a lot of lives can be counterproductive, because instead of gaining followers, get rejection.

For its part, organized crime seeks anonymity. The criminals aspire to carry out their crimes without being identified so as not to endanger their criminal careers. For this reason, the violence usually practiced by organized crime groups tends to avoid publicity. At least, they do not look for it deliberately.

In sum, although terrorism and organized crime share certain features, they also present decisive differences. In particular, although they share some objectives, the final objective they seek is different. Organized crime seeks to profit economically and terrorism a change at the political level. In addition, the activity of organized crime is more frequent and violence is usually anonymous, while terrorism seeks to make visible violence.

“I do not accept, however, in the name of anything, terrorist actions, since they result in the death of innocents and the insecurity of human beings. Terrorism denies what I have been calling the universal ethic of the human being.”

– “Pedagogy of Autonomy” (1996), Paulo Freire-