Morocco dismantles AQIM-linked drug network
By Siham Ali for Magharebia in Rabat – 18/10/10
A Moroccan court on Saturday (October 16th) remanded 34 alleged members of a drug-trafficking network linked to Colombian drug cartels and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Speaking at a Friday press conference, Interior Minister Moulay Taieb Cherkaoui noted that the mastermind of the cell dismantled last week – a Spanish national caught in Morocco – was working with another Spaniard recently arrested in Bamako.
"At this time, we can state without a shadow of a doubt that there is a relationship between terrorism and drug-trafficking. The two networks are working together to safeguard their interests," the minister said, adding that al-Qaeda terrorists will employ any means to secure finance for their criminal operations.
According to Cherkaoui, drugs arrive from Latin America – and more specifically, Colombia and Venezuela – to be stored to the north of Mali, where terrorist cells are particularly active.
The drug trade involves Moroccan chira (cannabis resin) smugglers, who transport drugs by ship or light aircraft, having violated Moroccan airspace 20 times this year.
Terrorists provide transport across the deserts of Mali and Algeria to the Moroccan border, with some of it sold in the domestic market and the remainder exported to Europe.
Investigations have revealed that between March and August this year, the network carried out eight operations to bring 600 kg of cocaine into Morocco via the Algerian and Mauritanian borders.
The Moroccan government official said that al-Qaeda is providing logistical support and transportation for drugs in the region. According to the Interior Ministry data, in November 2009, al-Qaeda elements brought a lorry-load of fuel to a stationed Boeing jet, which had been used to transfer several tonnes of cocaine from Venezuela via northern Mali into an area under al-Qaeda control. The terrorists started the jet, but were unable to take off because of the poor quality of the fuel.
The Moroccan minister called on the countries involved to remain vigilant, build bridges of co-operation and strengthen security partnerships. He also highlighted the importance of elaborating a preventive strategy to deal with all the risks facing the region, reminding his audience of the threats of abductions and killings that foreign visitors are exposed to.
"The ransom payments that are being demanded are used to buy weapons for al-Qaeda and finance terrorist operations," he said.
The minister concluded that Morocco is acutely aware of its responsibilities as the country participates in activities to maintain security at both regional and international levels. He hailed the partnership between Morocco and Spain in this area, and expressed hope that joint efforts will put an end to terrorism in the future.
Ahmed Chtimi, an international relations expert, told Magharebia that the Maghreb states must forget their political differences and devote themselves to this issue. He warned that there is a persistent threat in the Sahel, which has become an area where terrorist networks and drug barons settle their scores.
"Morocco and Algeria have a particular responsibility to combine their efforts. Necessity requires! You can't mess around when it comes to terrorists who have no scruples," he said.
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