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Terror & drugs

January 26, 2010

When it comes to the connection between drugs and terrorist financing, there are two types of observations:  those that are legitimate causes for concern and further investigation, and those that are designed to distract from the larger money jihad against the West and make terrorism appear like any other form of international crime.  (See one of my posts on our government’s attempt to sanitize jihadist financing here.)

Today and later this week I’ll make several posts about terror & drug stories in the news—again, some are legitimate, but some are case studies in misdirection.

For now let’s look at a development that is genuine cause for alarm, which is the exploitation of the African Sahel by Al Qaeda.  Deutsche Welle ran this lengthy piece about the Sahel being used as a transshipment point for drugs from Latin America into Europe:

Two incidents involving the trafficking of drugs to Europe have highlighted concerns about links between Islamist militants and drug-trafficking militants in Latin America.

A little-noticed smoldering plane wreckage with traces of cocaine in a remote area of the West African state of Mali in which an Al Qaeda affiliate and nomadic rebels are active has focused attention on the emergence of the region as a major hub for the trafficking of drugs to Europe.

So has the arrest of three al Qaeda operatives in Ghana, who were charged with narco-terrrorism in New York after being handed over to the US Drugs Enforcement Agency (DEA) and transported to the United States.

The two incidents raise the specter of increased cooperation between Islamic militants and drug trafficking Latin American militants and, according to US law enforcement officials, al Qae’da’s evolvement into a global criminal organization.

US, European and African anti-drug and counter-terrorism officials fear that Islamist cooperation with groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) could significantly fill the coffers of rebels operating across a crucial swathe of land that includes Algeria, Morocco, Mauretania, Mali, Chad and Niger, rich in uranium as well as oil and gas. Enhanced cash flow could enable the rebels to further undermine already weak, authoritarian regimes that face widespread discontent, restive nomadic populations, extreme poverty and an influx of Islamist thinking via satellite television and militant missionaries.

While I wish the news story would have also referenced the roll of ransoms and zakat in “filling the coffers of rebels,” it is fair to point out the disturbing increase in Al Qaeda activity in the region.  On last night’s PBS NewsHour, former CIA station chief Luis Rueda warned that Mali and Mauritania could be the new hotbeds for Al Qaeda activity worldwide.  We ignore this trend at our own peril.

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