How The Global Cocaine Trade Is Funding North African Jihad

How The Global Cocaine Trade Is Funding North African Jihad

From International Business Times

Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the notorious one-eyed military commander of an al Qaeda-linked terrorist group in North Africa, once earned himself the nickname Mr. Marlboro — but it wasn’t because of his rugged good looks or cowboy attitude. Belmokhtar, who has been sought by U.S. authorities for years, earned the moniker for his major role in trafficking smuggled cigarettes across the Sahara desert. And like many jihadi leaders of armed groups in the region, he helped funnel the profits toward his group’s activities.

That was more than a decade ago, when he was still working for al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), but running a team of jihadi militants in the middle of the desert hasn’t gotten any cheaper.

“To maintain these groups you need millions of dollars, and the money has to come from somewhere,” said Pierre Lapaque, regional representative for West Africa of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. To feed that need, he explained, many of the jihadist groups that have blossomed in the lawless desert regions of Niger, Mali and Algeria are getting in on something more lucrative than smuggled cigarettes: They are making money from cocaine.

AQIM and splinter groups such as Ansar Dine or the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa have moved beyond making money from kidnapping ransoms. These days, the bulk of their funds comes from across the Atlantic Ocean.

“It comes from Colombia, Peru and Bolivia,” Lapaque said. “It is coming from trafficking.”

According to his estimates, between 30 metric tons and 40 metric tons of cocaine come through West Africa every year en route to booming markets in Europe. While a great deal of the profits go to the South American drug cartels, the African traffickers, often from local tribal groups, are getting a big cut, too. Jihadist militias that have blossomed in the region’s chaos in recent years have managed to get a piece of the profits, thanks to their control of ancient trade routes through the Sahara.

Read more at International Business Times