Abstract Ab initio calculations were carried out on complexes between 1,3,5-trinitrobenzene (TNB) and anions, where the anion is positioned over the ring along the C 3 axis. This study combines crystallographic and computational evidences to demonstrate an attractive interaction between the anion and the π-cloud of TNB. This interaction is rationalized based on the important role of the quadrupole moment of TNB and the anion-induced polarization. In addition, this study has been extended to 1,3,5-trifluorobenzene (TFB), which possesses a very small quadrupole moment. As a result, minimum energy complexes have been found between TFB and both anions and cations due to the stabilization obtained from the ion-induced polarization.