A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

Exploring the Crime-Terror Nexus in the United States: A Social Network Analysis of a Hezbollah Network Involved in Trade Diversion


This exploratory study examined the nexus between crime and terrorism through a social network analysis of an American based Hezbollah network involved in trade diversion of cigarettes for self-financing purposes. Our study had three goals: (1) to explore the structural characteristics of an Islamic extremist network involved in trade diversion; (2) to identify key actors in the network and their links to other network participants; and (3) to compare these findings with the depiction of the network and its structure provided by U.S. public authorities. We used court documents and open source information to identify network participants and coded all the links existing among them. We used the software package “Pajek” and also provided visual representations of the networks through sociograms. Our findings revealed important features of a so-called “dark network” and provided practical implications for policy-makers involved in counter-strategies, improving their understanding of the relational aspects and dynamics among network participants that can sometimes be overlooked. First, only six out of 34 participants in the conspiracy were identified as supporters of Hezbollah, thus supporting the so-called “crime-terror nexus” theory. Second, while previous research has tended to neglect the existence of lower-level interactions occurring outside static and predetermined organizational settings, we found evidence that links between extremists and non-extremists occurred within fluid and dynamic structures that form part of broader social networks. This key point questions the validity of simplistic labels such as “terrorist cell” or “criminal organization” when used with reference to entities that involve both extremists and non-extremists. This finding has policy implications, given that this type of “hybrid” networks may require a different investigative and prosecutorial approach combining strategies and tools from both organized crime and terrorism investigations. Finally, our actor-centered analysis showed interesting similarities as well as differences between our findings and the way prosecutors classified suspects based on their role in the conspiracy.

Publication Information

Full Citation:

Belli, Roberta, Joshua D. Freilich, Steven M. Chermak and Katharine A. Boyd. 2015. "Exploring the Crime-Terror Nexus in the United States: A Social Network Analysis of a Hezbollah Network Involved in Trade Diversion." Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict: Pathways Toward Terrorism and Genocide 8 (October): 232-250. https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/18368