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Al-Qaeda, drug traffic alliance threatens Sahel security

Jamel Arfaoui in Tunis, Siham Ali in Rabat and Fidet Mansour in Algiers contributed to this report – 08/01/10

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Three men from Mali, with alleged links to a rebel group from South America, were recently arrested in Ghana and flown to the United States to face trial. Many Maghreb observers, however, are feeling repercussions from the international criminal case much closer to home.

Oumar Issa, Harouna Touré and Idriss Abelrahman are accused of conspiring to finance al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) operations by transporting drugs. According to the US indictment announced on December 19th, the Malians agreed to help the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) move Europe-bound cocaine from Ghana to the North African desert.

But their South American contacts were not members of the al-Qaeda linked Colombian rebel group that uses Africa as a drug-trafficking gateway to Europe; they were US intelligence agents.

"The involvement of al-Qaeda in the drugs trade does not come as a surprise," Maghreb affairs expert Nasr El Din Ben Hadid told Magharebia. "They adopt the principle of 'the ends justify the means'."

"The fact that terrorist groups have resorted to the trafficking of drugs is an open secret," agreed Amine Kirem, an Algerian researcher on Islamic movements.

"Investigations carried out by the special services in Algeria have highlighted a very close relationship between terrorist groups and drug barons," he explained, adding that terrorists are using the illegal drug trade to buy weapons and explosives.

"During the 1990s, these groups had the money they needed to fund their activities. This is no longer the case," Kirem said.

Desperate circumstances are prompting desperate measures, according to Algerian security expert Elias Boukeraa.

"Having been beaten politically and militarily, terrorists in the Sahel are trying to bounce back by creating more armed cells within this vast region. These groups are exploiting the poor socioeconomic situation and armed conflicts in an attempt to re-establish themselves," he said.

The region must now face a "confirmed" link between terrorist groups and drug-trafficking networks, former Malian Defence Minister Soumeylou Maiga Boubey told an Algiers conference on December 28th.

"Mafia activity, the trafficking of drugs and arms and kidnappings are all methods used by these groups," he said.

"To say that the danger is far away from our borders and shirk our responsibilities is to make a huge mistake. Terrorism poses a serious threat to stability and peace in the region," the former minister added.

North Africa, the Sahel/Sahara region and the whole of West Africa are particularly affected by the problem, said Moroccan security and terrorism expert Mohammed Benhemmou.

"Over the past few years we have witnessed a change in the routes by which drugs are trafficked, from Latin America, via West Africa and across the desert towards the target markets, taking advantage of the failure of certain countries to monitor what is going on in their territory," he said.

Morocco, according to a source within the Ministry of the Interior, has long been aware of the activities of terrorist organisations and the ways by which they are financed. The government is therefore implementing anti-money laundering laws and other initiatives targeting organised crime and drug trafficking.

But terrorism cannot be defeated by one country alone, Benhemmou pointed out: "Even though the ends of drug trafficking and terrorism are not the same, since the former is done for financial gain and the latter for political, the two activities assist one another."

Even if Morocco steps up checks along its borders and inside its own territory, neighbourly relations in the region are fragile and a high degree of co-operation is required if goals are to be reached, the expert said.

To this end, Arab states are co-ordinating efforts to dry out funding resources for terror operations. Last September, the Secretariat-General of the Council of Interior Ministers endorsed a three-year plan to implement a unified Arab strategy for combating illegal drugs and the related issue of money-laundering.

Algerian expert Boukeraa proposed going even further, suggesting to Magharebia that all countries in the region should consider creating a combined army to overcome the threat. Pan-Arab initiatives against drug-related crimes and states' focus on internal security, however, are not the whole story, argued Lahcen Daoudi, an MP for Morocco's Party of Justice and Development.

"Whether we're talking about terrorism or drug trafficking, we have to look inwards to find the root causes," he said. "Why do people become terrorists or drug traffickers? We need to know the reasons underpinning it so that we can do something about them. One way of doing that is take action in schools."

Beyond discussions of regional security concerns, Maghreb counter-terrorism strategies and social projects to stem the problem at its source, some people question the sheer incongruity of terrorists who claim faith but use drug trafficking as a source of income.

"This is a crime against ethics, human rights, and religion, a crime against Islam, because the fatwa they use to justify such crimes take place under the banner of Islam," said Sami Burham, a Tunisia-based expert on Islamic groups.

"I think they justified their selling of drugs on the basis of a fatwa that permitted Muslims to sell alcohol to non-Muslims," Burham added. "Terrorists use the same logic to rob money from non-Muslims to finance jihad, because according to that fatwa, non-Muslims have no sanctity."

Drugs are also being used to lure the next generation of terrorists.

According to Salim Ahmed, an Algerian journalist who specialises in security issues, the failure of "extremist religious" arguments has spurred these groups to seek new ways of operating and recruiting new members.

"Young people no longer believe promises that they will go to heaven. It was necessary to find another way of recruiting them to commit acts of violence," Ahmed said. "Drugs are one such method."

Indeed, he said, "several suicide bombers have acted under the influence of drugs".

"People who have slit infants' throats, raped women, killed themselves or blown themselves up cannot have been in full control of their senses," he concluded.

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  1. Anonymous thumb

    Med Lamine 2011-5-16

    To Abou Gharib Mahdi- If it were enough to blow smoke in people's eyes with your ranting, the world would be plunged into your shadow. Reading such wacky remarks from the author leaves no doubt about the psychological and mental disposition of the author. Frustration is not a good prism to approach reality and seriously strains your credibility. Saying such words anonymously is not in itself a guarantee of truth, and even less so of courage. There is no need to underestimate the intelligence of others. No one gives the slightest credit to making statements without getting wet, without offering the slightest proof besides from a few “convinced” people of this same vintage, who are won over as soon as it comes to overwhelming a predetermined target. If this gentlemen had the slightest certainty about what he is advancing, he would have made use of it differently and would not be content with chattering on a forum, especially since it is not difficult to find a willing ear for this sort of speech, which denigrates Algeria. These are ears that are not only willing, but also have an interest, if not more. There are interests that are vexed by Algeria and which do not hesitate to fuel the anti-Algerian propaganda, demonising this country, which is only defending its most legitimate interest. This country is not attacked for good reasons, and that is clear. Whatever critical objects may be addressed to the leaders, we are witnessing that the aforesaid, who, in their bad form, poorly dissimulate their ulterior motives and bad mood and deranged, unsatisfied secret interests. More flexibility, co-operation, and openness would make the Algerians more respectable. And so there you have it: they are not what we call “good students”.


  2. Anonymous thumb

    abou Gharib Mahdi 2011-5-2

    The date of May 2 will remain etched in the memories of the Muslims of the entire world who have suffered from terrorism and who practice true Islam, which is to say, without ikrah (coercion) and with tolerance and respect for all other religions. This date saw the disappearance of the criminal Ben Laden, who went up in smoke and will never return or have a grave. How can we not rejoice in the punishment of this criminal who came from the recesses of time and the ages? It is a shame that he was not captured and judged by the entire world. May his destiny be an example to think about for the rogue states and gangs of mercenaries and terrorists that they created to remote control to destabilise their neighbouring countries.


  3. Anonymous thumb

    Essid 2011-4-28

    To Abou Gharib Mahdi- I am not at Algerian. I know you must think that I am Algerian to ask for evidence of your accusations, but I am not. I simply hate seeing groundless accusation when there are plenty of real violations that you could discuss. There are countless cases of rape, murder, torture, imprisonment, conspiracy, embezzlement, rigging elections, etc. in Algeria, and there is hard evidence for all of them. But, instead of talking about these cases, you decided to talk about things for which you have no evidence. The things that you said may be true, but without evidence discussing them is no better than spreading rumours. I am not a nationalist, but a humanist. I was born in the Maghreb, and I want to see not only the Maghreb, but also the entire world live in harmony with full respect for their rights. For that reason, it is in my interest that all the evils of every regime be exposed – be it Algeria, Morocco or any other regime – so that we can work to resolve them and build truly democratic institutions. However, I do not see how discussing accusations without evidence will help us in this.


  4. Anonymous thumb

    abou Gharib Mahdi 2011-4-25

    In response to Essid- State policies are secret, and I can cite you several examples that were not accepted by obtuse people at the time they took place. I will site the massacre of Melouza; the collective massacre of Bentalha; the murder of Belgaid; Kemisti, Medaghry, Merbah, the late President Boudiaf, the monks of Tibherine and so many others in both Algeria and Paris, where the demands for evidence now have more naiveté than faltering or, rather, obsolete nationalism. I can assure you that I have no hatred for a country like yours, which I respect and whose blood flows in my veins!! May Allah the Pure cleanse hatred wherever it may be and put the grave-diggers of the Maghreb on the right path. The kharafa, which is to say, the joke creation of the Polisario, was made around a bowl of shorpa with five people: Boumediène, Taleb Ibrahimi and three others, whose names I cannot cite. None of the five believed that this was the story of a liar, who told it so well that even you would have been converted!!! If you know how we woke up the delegates from Botswana and other micro states with suitcases of cash and the good laughs they had before the votes!!! I pity those who are gullible and naïve and who indulge in ideas that the criminal Kadhafi was loved by his people!!! Have a good wake up call. –With all of my brotherly greetings


  5. Anonymous thumb

    Essid 2011-4-22

    To Abou Gharib Mahdi- Do you have any evidence for what you are saying? If you do, could you please share it because I am very interested in your sources. Without this evidence, your words are at best hearsay and at worst slander. I want the conflict between Algeria and Morocco to end. I want the border between the two countries to be open. I think that that the Western Sahara would benefit most by being an autonomous republic in the Kingdom of Morocco, but I also think that the people of the Western Sahara deserve the right to self-determination. I furthermore believe that the Moroccan and Algerian people deserve the right to self-determination, both of whom suffer from dictatorships –even if one calls itself royalty and the other democratic. However, I will not allow my convictions to make me into a liar and spout conspiracy theories on the Internet out of sheer spite for people whom I do not know. I doubt that you have evidence that Algeria is offering military support to Kadhafi or material support to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, so do me a favour and stop spreading rumours. There is enough propaganda and hatred on the Internet without you adding something to it. Moreover, even if the Algerian leaders were supporting terrorists or Kadhafi, there is no reason to think that the Algerian people support their leaders. I doubt that even those who support the leaders would support the military and material support of criminals. In other words, keep your hatred to yourself.


  6. Anonymous thumb

    abou Gharib Mahdi 2011-3-7

    I borrowed this computer from a friend in order to deliver a few ideas: Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb exists only by the will of the rogue state that created it. It is an emanation of the criminal political-military financial mafia that holds power in Algiers. So there you have it: the fox that wants to guard the henhouse!!! The Americans and the French are not fooled by this farce or the aid that the Algerian regime is currently offering Kadhafi in utter duplicity such that he is able to have air support and the support of China and Russia against a no-fly zone of their friend Kadhafi’s air space. The usurper regime of Algiers has lost its mask. This comment has nothing defamatory in nature.


  7. Anonymous thumb

    Moroccan Patriot 2010-2-8

    Any Journalist who uses claims that Alqueda exists is a liar. I will repeat that so that I am very clear. Alqueda is about as real as the easter bunny or Santa Clause. Any Journalist who attributes any statements or actions to Alqueda is either a liar or incompetent. Either way they should not be called a Journalist. A Journalist is supposed to report on Fact. If I write an article and attribute the floods in the Bangladesh to terrorist attacks by the easter bunny, I would still have more credibility than the hack that wrote this article.


  8. Anonymous thumb

    marocain libre 2010-1-21

    Thank you so much, Acharif Moulay Abdellah Bouskraoui, but we must start with ourselves in Morocco. This is the only Arab country that is still involved in the drug culture. It is 100% the case that Moroccan hashish is going to destroy so many Algerian families. Why doesn’t our king take a step forward and prohibit hashish here? I think that our country has earned enough from these drugs. This money is haram. So, all the people involved in this affair are not really Muslim. If you don't believe me, take a trip to the border to see with your own eyes.


  9. Anonymous thumb

    Acharif Moulay Abdellah BOUSKRAOUI 2010-1-10

    As such, for a mere handful of money, they will allow terrorists hiding behind drug running or simple smuggling to pass through. Poverty, trafficking and even the use of blackmail could be their solutions. As such, we need close collaboration among all the general intelligence services, the establishment of central computers to facilitate the flow of information and qualified people in the field. (Satellites are not always the most effective way.) Moreover, the creation of a database in order to draw a political, social and economic map and a map of plans and the creation of a study centre that will anticipate the actions and movements of terrorists as well as their strategies.


  10. Anonymous thumb

    Acharif Moulay Abdellah BOUSKRAOUI 2010-1-10

    The alliance between Al-Qaeda and drug traffickers comes in the framework of fund collection for logistics and transport. After the secret services took to pursuing them and after the bank accounts of those associations and people subsidising them were blocked, a connection between the mafia and the terrorists has been their only source of subsidies and recruitment. As an expert in the field of security, I think that terrorists are going to return to fatwas in order to legitimate their sale of drugs and trafficking of arms and narcotics. They may even go beyond this to prostitution, which will play the role of A) easily recruiting suicidal men; B) allowing them to pass unperceived by inexperienced intelligence service agents in Arab and Muslim countries, which most are, as they think that only bearded, practicing people fall within the terrorist project; C) exploiting corruption on the borders, which comes from a lack of money, a lack of directors and agents – both police and military - who patrol all along the border and are not used to this form of work and, sometimes, are not selected for this profession.


  11. Anonymous thumb

    Farid 2010-1-10

    An Islamist group in Chad named the “Chadian Islamic Front” justifies the trafficking of drugs. They say that drugs destroy the West and should finance jihad and zakat.


  12. Anonymous thumb

    BEN 2010-1-9

    “Young people no longer believe promises that they will go to heaven. It was necessary to find another way of recruiting them to commit acts of violence”, says Ahmed. “Drugs are one such method.” And what if we finally begin to “detoxify” our high schools and preparatory schools?


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