This is nothing new. Jihadists have used drugs to fund their efforts for years. Years ago, in his study of the Taliban, journalist Ahmed Rashid reported: “Abdul Rashid, the head of the Taliban’s anti-drugs control force in Kandahar, spelt out the nature of his unique job. He is authorized to impose a strict ban on the growing of hashish, “˜because it is consumed by Afghans and Muslims.” But, Rashid tells me without a hint of sarcasm, “˜Opium is permissible because it is consumed by kafirs [unbelievers] in the West and not by Muslims or Afghans.– This seems to have been a common view among the Taliban. Another Taliban named Khaled asked, “Who cares if heroin is wreaking havoc in the West? It doesn’t matter; they aren’t Muslims.”
“Revealed: how Saharan caravans of cocaine help to fund al-Qaeda in terrorists’ North African domain,” by Colin Freeman in the Telegraph, January 26 (thanks to David):
Like everywhere else that has fallen under Islamist rule in northern Mali, the city of Gao on the edge of the Sahara is not a place where vice is tolerated. Drinking and dancing are banned, the city’s two nightclubs have been burned down, and the only thing that passes for street entertainment is watching citizens being flogged in public for smoking.
Such all-encompassing piety, though, comes to a halt outside the high walls of the gaudy new villas on Gao’s outskirts, which stand out amid the shanty towns overlooking the sand dunes.
Nicknamed “Cocainebougou” – which translates as “cocaine town” – the strip of mansions is home to the elite of the city’s ancient smuggling community, which has trafficked goods across the Sahara since the 11 century, when Gao was better known than nearby Timbuktu.
Unlike their ancestors’ cargoes of spices, salts and silks, the contraband that Gao’s smugglers bring in today from Colombia is deemed strictly “haram”, or forbidden, by Islam.
Yet the city’s ever-zealous Islamist morality police have a good reason for turning a blind eye. For it is thanks to the trans-Saharan cocaine trade that Islamist groups like al-Qaeda have become a power in the region, building up formidable war chests to buy both arms and recruits.
“Cocainebougou is full of very rich traffickers, all with gleaming new SUVs,” said one former resident of Gao, who asked not to be named. “But they and the Islamists have a very close relationship.”
The cocaine trade first exploded in this region five years ago, as Latino cartels, faced with a saturated market in the US, sought new routes to get their product to Europe’s borders. First the drug is shipped or flown across the Atlantic to lawless, corrupt coastal states like Guinea Bissau, then it is moved thousands of miles across the Sahara to Algeria, Morocco and Libya.
Already, the influx of drug cash into such a poor region has had a disastrously corrosive effect. In Guinea Bissau, for example, the cartels’ limitless funds have bought up so many police, politicians and soldiers that it has been dubbed Africa’s first “narco-state”, with a military coup last April blamed on in-fighting over drug trade proceeds.
But while Britain and other Western nations have committed vast resources to fighting a similar narco-terror axis in the Taliban-controlled poppy fields of Afghanistan, the threat directly beneath Europe’s belly has had rather less attention. The entire region has only a handful of Western counter-narcotics agents assigned to it, while many local police forces, such as in Guinea Bissau, lack even the cash to put petrol in their cars.
Now, though, the trade’s potential to wreak far wider havoc has become horrifyingly clear, in helping to bankroll the al-Qaeda movements behind both the Islamist take-over of northern Mali and the murder of western workers at the Algerian gas facility earlier this month.
Among its most prominent beneficiaries is none other than Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the one-eyed jihadist and smuggler who has claimed responsibility for the mass hostage-taking in al-Qaeda’s name.
Nicknamed the Marlboro Man for his lucrative cigarette smuggling empire, Belmokhtar, who helped found Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, is thought to have diversified into drugs a few years ago, earning himself the moniker of “le narco-Islamiste” on the smuggling routes between Mali and his native Algeria.
More widely, AQIM is thought to levy “taxes” on other drug smugglers in return for safe passage, earning the group a direct subsidy from the cocaine that ends up in the clubs, bars and crack dens of Britain. As the US State Department puts it, AQIM provides “protection and permissions for traffickers moving product through areas they control”.
As someone who boasts of fighting jihad in Afghanistan while just a teenager, Belmokhtar seems to have had no problem accommodating a sideline in “haram” contraband into his puritanical Islamic vision. As drugs are seen as a largely Western vice, jiihadists can argue that enabling them to flood into Europe is all part of a plan to weaken and corrupt the enemy….