Coke Users Fund Islamic Terror in the Sahara

By McCarton Ackerman 01/28/13

Reports claim Al-Qaeda makes millions by providing armed escorts for cocaine traffickers in West Africa. 

african drugs.jpg
An estimated 35 tons of cocaine pass through
West Africa a year.
Photo via

Cocaine users in Europe may be indirectly funding Islamic terrorist groups. A new report claims Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and allied terrorist groups are making millions of dollars a year by providing armed "escorts" for traffickers smuggling cocaine across the Sahara. Latin American cartels have increasingly relied upon West African countries, like Mali, as hubs to traffic drugs to Europe; and many regions of these countries are controlled by AQIM and other Islamist terror groups. The groups reportedly charge a whopping $2,000 "fee" for every kilo trafficked. And the governments in these poverty-stricken countries are often helpless, or even effectively on the drug barons' payrolls. "Increasing amounts of cocaine is reaching markets in Britain and Europe from West Africa through AQIM territory and with AQIM protection," says Matt Levitt, a former counter-terrorism official in the administration of George W. Bush, who is now director of The Washington Institute's Stein Programme on Counterterrorism and Intelligence. "AQIM is in charge of large swathes of smuggling territory and they provide protection, security and transportation for the safe passage of cocaine traffickers through the desert. The final destination for those drugs is primarily Europe."

The United Nations Office for Drug Control (UNODC) estimates that 35 tons of cocaine now pass through West Africa every year, while Yuri Fedotov, the head of the UNODC and former Russian ambassador to London, told the UN Security Council last year that cocaine trafficking in West and Central Africa generates $900 million annually. (There are even claims that the militants currently fighting the French in Mali use cocaine while fighting and carry small bags of the drug with them.) "If you're a major international drug smuggler you can't ask for a better territory to work in than west Africa," says Professor Scott Decker, of Arizona State University, who studied the evolution of trafficking routes. "Mali, in particular, has all the factors you would like to have as a major drug trafficker. It provides a midpoint stage in the trans-shipment of drugs from South America, there is no government to speak of in parts and there is no sophisticated technology being used to provide any serious attempts at stopping smuggling taking place."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.