How Europe's Cocaine Habit Fuels Radical Islam in West Africa

By Victoria Kim 11/26/14

Terrorist groups like Hezbollah and al-Qaeda have benefited from corrupt regimes.

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In a recent issue of Newsweek, writer Alex Perry traces the source of Europe’s appetite for cocaine to West Africa, where the trade has infiltrated countries like Guinea-Bissau and Mali, breeding corruption and unrest.

Islamist militant organizations have also benefited from the lucrative cocaine trade as well. The Lebanese Shia militia, Hezbollah, has earned hundreds of millions of dollars from cocaine trafficking in West Africa; al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) escorts cocaine convoys across the Sahara desert.

These trans-Sahara cocaine trafficking convoys involve 15 to 22 cars traveling across the desert, according to a colonel in the Malian secret service, who told Perry that the corruption reached the very top—smugglers were in business with government officials and Malian soldiers, all the way to former President Amadou Toumani Touré.

Touré, who fled Mali to Senegal in early 2012 when faced with a rebellion spurred by a group of low-ranking officers in the army protesting corruption in the upper ranks, led a corrupt narco state that was in business with drug smugglers and, by extension, the foreign donors who funded him. Despite this, Mali was showered with special treatment—foreign aid rose 50% of the government’s budget under Touré—who is considered a symbol of democratic West African leadership.

“The same Malian government to which the West gave hundreds of millions of dollars and which the U.S. was training in counter-terrorism had been business partners with an al-Qaeda group that kidnapped and ransomed Westerners and smuggled billions of dollars of cocaine to Europe,” Perry wrote.

“By failing to connect aid with fighting crime…donors may also be fueling the sort of popular frustration that, as in Mali, leads directly to Islamic revolution.”

A few months after Touré’s departure, al-Qaeda, which happened to have a branch in northern Mali, had occupied the entire north of the country, resulting in a “de-facto al-Qaeda state the size of France” about an hour’s flight south of Europe.

“You know, this is not some small game. This is about financing terrorism on Europe’s southern border, about drug money from Guinea-Bissau and Mali being used for a bomb in London,” a Western diplomat in Guinea-Bissau told Perry, whose article explores this issue in much greater detail.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr