"I became interested in studying terrorist groups because one of my childhood friends became the leader of the Red Brigades and she was arrested in 1978. So that shocked me."
Loretta Napoleoni is an Italian journalist and political analyst. She is an expert on the financing of terrorism and money laundering. Napoleoni’s book Merchants of Men: How Jihadists and ISIS Turned Kidnapping and Refugee Trafficking into a Multi-Billion Dollar Business has been published in August 2016. I have interviewed Napoleoni to discover where her interest in terrorism came from and what she would like to accomplish with her new book.
Napoleoni was born in Rome. She was a student at Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. where she studies international relations. Next to this, she was also a rotary scholar at the London School of Economics. She has a PhD in economics and a Masters in international relations from SAIS and a master in Terrorism Studies from the University of East London. After her studies Napoleoni has worked for several banks and international organizations in Europe and the United States. Also she lectured on the financing of terrorism at Cambridge Judge Business School and advises several governments on counter-terrorism.
Her book Merchants of Men describes a new breed of criminals that has risen out of the political chaos of post-9/11 Western foreign policy. More recently, the destabilization of Syria and Iraq coupled with the rise of ISIS offered new business opportunities in the Middle East, from selling Western hostages to jihadist groups to smuggling refugees numbering in the millions. Napoleoni explains how these groups of terrorists have turned kidnapping and smuggling of refugees into a million dollar business.
Before Merchants of Men, Napoleoni has written several books about terrorism. Her best-selling book Terror Incorporated was translated into 12 languages. But where does her interest in terrorism come from? Loretta explains: ‘’I became interested in studying terrorist groups because one of my childhood friends became the leader of the Red Brigades and she was arrested in 1978. So that shocked me.’’ The Red Brigades were a left-wing paramilitary, Marxist armed organization. The group was formed in 1970 and was responsible for assassinations, kidnapping and robberies. When the Red Brigades declared the end of the struggle in 1992, Napoleoni had the chance to talk to them. Here Napoleoni discovered that next to a political goal, the group was also in search of money: ‘’Actually, terrorism is quite an expensive business. So at that point I decided to research the economics of terrorism.‘’
The next years Napoleoni talked to several negogiaters and hostages which led to her new book. When asking about the goal of the book, Napoloni says she is trying to expose something that is happening. ‘’The fact’’, she says, ‘’is that we are paying ransom to terrorist and this money is actually used by terrorists to set up businesses in human trafficking’’.
Napoleoni says the disturbing thing is that we’re thinking that the government is thinking that they are doing something good by getting the hostages free, without thinking about the consequences of paying a ransom. The problem here according to Napoleoni is that there is no debate about the subject, because the government is extremely secretative about the business.
To find a solution, Napoleoni explains that the situation in people’s homeland should become better: ‘’I think the best solution would be to prevent these people to being forced to come to our countries. I mean, why do you think that people come from West-Africa or East-Africa? They come because their country is completely de-stabilized and the reason that their countries our de-stabilized is because of our policies, at the end of the day it is our responsibility.’’
However, Napoleoni is not positive that there will be a short term solution. She says that there is a global governance needed to deal with this problem, but this will take time. And, according to her, this is a problem that nobody wants to face.