To establish some background, we begin with a passage from Cocaine, kidnapping and the al-Qaeda cash squeeze, from March 6, 2010:
The three al-Qaeda agents assured the Colombians that they would have no problem moving their shipment of European-bound cocaine through the Islamist badlands of the Sahara.
As supporters of the terrorist organisation's North African branch, they would guarantee shipment of the drugs through territory they controlled - so long as they were paid fee of $2,000 per kilo.
The trio, all from the impoverished desert nation of Mali, thought they were setting up a deal with representatives of Colombia's Marxist FARC guerrillas to smuggle up to 1,000 kgs of cocaine.
In fact, they were speaking to informants for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) who secretly taped the meeting in Ghana in a sting operation in December.
Every business needs cash flow, and Islamic terror is no exception. Across the world, al-Qaeda is turning to drug smuggling and sharply stepping up kidnapping and extortion to plug the gap in its finances caused by a fierce international crackdown on its original sources of cash. The trend raises the prospect of new floods of illegal drugs entering the West, and a sharply increased risk to Western tourists and businesspeople as they travel outside Europe.
When the terror group first began its activities more than a decade ago, it did not need to resort to criminal activities of a kind which might offend the strict Koranic principles proclaimed by its founder, Osama bin Laden. Deep-pocketed donors, in countries like Saudi Arabia, and Islamic charities throughout the Middle East channelled the cash needed to bankroll bin Laden's drive to create an Islamic caliphate across the region.
There has been a nexus between terrorism and organized crime for decades. These guys run in the same circles, and ever since the Cold War began to die down, terrorists began to look to drug trafficking as a source of money. Credible evidence suggests Al Qaeda and its predecessors were getting a significant amount of funding from trafficking Afghan heroin going all the way back to the 1980's jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
Bin Laden's group had previously been able to rely on wheeler-dealers like Abdul al Hamid al Mujil, known in jihadist circles as "the million dollar man" for his ability to solicit donations to the cause of holy war.
The 60-year-old Saudi was a regular visitor to Afghanistan during the 1990s and on friendly terms with bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, as he channelled funds from Arab states to al-Qaeda.
But in August 2006, al Mujil and the Philippine and Indonesian branches of the International Islamic Relief Organisation, which he headed, were designated by the US treasury as financiers of terrorism.
Western firms were prohibited from doing business with him, UN member states froze his assets and Saudi Arabia restricted the outflow of funds from the charity.
Deprived of his largesse, groups such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (the Arabic name for North Africa) are turning increasingly to international crime to provide their cash flow. And for bin Laden, that represents a dilemma.
At first he did not want al-Qaeda to dirty its hands with the drugs trade. But he apparently was won round by a combination of fiscal necessity and the argument, as often voiced on jihadist websites, that the drugs trade weakens Western "infidels" by feeding their sinful addictions.
Kidnapping of Western tourists to the Sahara has also become a lucrative money-spinner for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Its members also traffic everything from arms to cigarettes to people.
And, AQIM is connected to Nigeria's Boko Haram which, in turn, just got people back from training with Al Shabaab in Somalia, as mentioned in Unity and Faith, Part 4. There we also considered Iranian trafficking of arms and heroin through Nigeria. And, in Hazy Shade of Winter, Part 3, we considered evidence of and rationale for Shi'ite Iran's support of Sunni extremist groups.
If you think about it, it all kind of comes together.
We now consider excerpts from South American drug gangs funding al-Qaeda terrorists, December 29, 2010:
Islamic rebels familiar with the barren terrain of the Sahara have struck deals under which they provide armed security escorts for drug traffickers in return for a slice of their profits.
Counter-terrorism experts said that the terrorists belong to the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) group, which has kidnapped a series of Westerners and killed a British tourist last year.
They warned that the money they receive from drugs gangs could be used to attract new recruits and plan terrorist attacks on European cities.
Olivier Guitta, a counter-terrorism and foreign affairs consultant, said that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Marxist rebel group, was the "force behind the agreement with AQIM".
In the past drugs were flown or shipped from South America straight to Spain or Portugal but the introduction of more rigorous controls in those countries led FARC to change its way of operating.
"Since the routes going through Europe became much more difficult to use, FARC saw an opportunity to use the Sahel and North Africa as its new drug route," said Mr Guitta.
"And since AQIM has a hold over the area and was already involved in major smuggling operations it made sense to offer them a deal.
"AQIM is an independent unit of al-Qaeda and does not share the monies with al-Qaeda central but is looking to pull off terror attacks on its own in Europe."
I have been warning about this for some time.
In Côte d'Ivoire, the legitimate government of President Gbagbo was overthrown, and French-backed strongman (and friend of Sarkozy) Ouattara was installed with French military force under UN auspices. In Libya, Gaddafi's regime is being destabilized, with the intent to overthrow it.
There are many factors in play. One of them is to open up a way for South American cocaine to enter Africa via Côte d'Ivoire; another is to open up Libya as a staging ground to move cocaine into Europe's soft underbelly, possibly to open up connections with long-established transnational criminal cartels based nearby in the Balkans and Turkey - important players and key connections in trafficking Afghan heroin.
These newly-opened routes will provide redundancy against interdiction, offering options against those routes currently in use to move cocaine from South America to Europe.
But, a major focus of this series is what is happening on this side of the Atlantic, so let's continue:
Terrorists linked to al-Qaeda in north Africa have made $130m (£84m) from helping drugs gangs and kidnap ransoms since 2007, according to one report citing an investigation by the Algerian government.
Algeria's paramilitary police have reported dozens of clashes with AQIM rebels carrying Kalashnikovs and providing armed escorts for drug smugglers since 2008.
Counter-terrorism officials in Europe and the United States fear that the Sahara is fast becoming a safe haven for the activities of Islamic terrorists, along the lines of Somalia and Yemen.
May I suggest you also review Standing There on Freedom's Shore, Part 1 and Standing There on Freedom's Shore, Part 2 for further background on what is happening in and around the Sahara/Sahel region?
But Mr Guitta said attempts by Europe, the US and some north African states such as Morocco to tackle the growing links between terrorism and drug trafficking are hampered by the attitudes of other governments.
"In South America, only Colombia really helps. In Africa, most other countries do not co-operate very much and a few allegedly actually profit from the drug trafficking," he said.
Once you've made the connection to Columbia and its fight against the FARC, connections to Venezuela's strongman Chavez jump out at you.
But, it doesn't end there.
Here is Mexican Groups Team Up With Islamic Terrorists, from July 16, 2008, in its entirety (see the original for a link which I did not reproduce):
The same Mexican drug cartels that violently smuggle their goods through the United States' porous southern border are buying arms from radical Islamic terrorists and teaming up with them to distribute narcotics in Europe and the Middle East.
An alarming U.S. government intelligence report reveals this dangerous relationship, lending credibility to what advocates of immigration enforcement—including a barrier along the southern border—have said for years: National security is at risk. The southern border is not utilized only by desperate, hard-working people in search of the American dream.
Published by the Justice Department's National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), the report identifies terrorist groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, the Palestine Liberation Front and the Palestine Liberation Organization as Arab associates of Mexican drug-trafficking cartels. All are officially designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S. Department of State.
The Islamic terrorist groups have trafficked large amounts of heroin and cocaine in Europe and the Middle East sold to them by Mexican drug cartels as well as similar enterprises in South America. In turn, the terrorist groups have established multi million-dollar contracts in order to sell weapons to Mexican drug traffickers that are commercialized by providers in Yemen, Kuwait and Syria.
The investigation was conducted by the three U.S. government agencies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), probing Islamic groups operating on the common border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. It revealed that these groups launder money, sell arms and traffic drugs of the same Mexican criminal organizations that operate within a stone's throw of the United States.
And this brings us full circle: Islamic terrorist groups are based and operating literally a stone's throw from the United States, receiving their funding from trafficking drugs in this hemisphere.
And the reason we can't have honest investigations of this is because the investigations would connect the terrorists to the drug traffickers, and the drug traffickers to corrupt officials in Washington. That's why there is no effective policy to control the flow of drugs and terrorists into the US along the border with Mexico: the drug traffickers are paying Washington officials for ineffective control of the border, so they can move their drugs to a very lucrative North American market.
The only good news is that now Europe is becoming the destination-of-choice for South American cocaine. :)