by Rachel Ehrenfeld
January 8, 2004
"Drug money sustains al Qaeda," declared the headlines, last week. "The linkage between terrorists and drug trafficking are only now becoming clear and are a great concern," said government officials. Indeed, if only now al-Qaeda's involvement in the drug trade entered the radar of the US authorities, it is not surprising that al-Qaeda has been able, not only to sustain itself, but also to expand.
The globalization of narco-terrorism, and particularly of the Islamist narco-terror network, has been common knowledge to international law enforcement and intelligence services for decades. And it is not necessarily only a tool to raise funds. Jihad by drugs appears to be one of the terrorists' most favored methods because it also helps undermine targeted countries politically and economically, while creating public health crisis. According to the most recent publication of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, our national annual cost of drug abuse exceeds $160 billion (including treatment, crime, accidents, and the War on Drugs). In one Administration's single term of office this amounts to $640 billion of the taxpayers'.
The Al-Qaeda dependence on heroin began in the mid-1980s soon after Bin Laden established his organization in Afghanistan, which is, was, and continues to be the world's major producer of heroin. That the US neglected to identify the danger of Al-Qaeda is one thing, but to miss the connection between al-Qaeda and drugs one has to be willfully blind. And al-Qaeda is not alone – the State Department has already identified at least, 12 other terrorist organizations as dealing in drugs.
Al-Qaeda's drug-trafficking business involves other terrorist groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the stated purpose of which, like al-Qaeda's, is to turn the sharia into the law of the land. When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, al-Qaeda gave the IMU access to poppy-growing areas in northern Afghanistan for a fee. The Taliban are gone, but al-Qaeda continues to profit from drug trafficking. In fact, according to Interpol, "the IMU may be responsible for 70% of the total amount of heroin and opium transiting through the area."
The Balkan route has facilitated smuggling for centuries, and is also used by al-Qaeda to traffic in drugs and to smuggle al-Qaeda operatives into Europe.
Al-Qaeda's network in the region is led by Muhammed al-Zawahiri, the brother of Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden's closest advisor.
A report prepared by Macedonia's Ministry of the Interior in the spring of 2002, supported by UN and European law enforcement reports, not only lists al-Qaeda's operations in the Balkans, but also describes their criminal activity and the extent of their cooperation with local organized crime syndicates. Their activities include: running prostitution rings; trafficking in illegal immigrants; smuggling illegal arms, oil, cigarettes, alcohol; trafficking in heroin; and laundering money.
According to authorities in Scotland, the Albanian Islamist network have used at least $4 million in profits from Afghan heroin, sold in European cities in 2002, to purchase weapons, including SA-18 and SA –7 surface-to-air missiles.
Another center for drug trafficking for al-Qaeda is the South American Tri-border region—a lawless jungle corner of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. This no-man's land is the heart of Islamist terrorist activity in Latin America. With its porous borders, numerous unguarded waterways, and more than 100 unmonitored hidden airstrips, and with only infrequent passport checks, the region has become a haven for arms dealers, drug traffickers, smugglers, counterfeiters, and terrorists.
According to Brazilian law enforcement, al-Qaeda's activities in the Tri-Border region include: cocaine and heroin trafficking, arms and uranium smuggling, counterfeiting CDs and DVDs, and money laundering operations, frequently in cooperation with Chinese Triads (criminal groups) and the Russian Mafiya. Moreover, Al-Qaeda's relationship with Colombian, Peruvian, and Bolivian drug-traffickers often includes arms-for-drugs deals with Latin American terrorist organizations, such as the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), the ELN (National Liberation Army), and others.
Al-Qaeda's involvement in Latin America's illegal drug trade was preceded by activities of Afghan and Pakistani heroin traffickers, who had worked with the Colombian Cali cartel and the FARC. Not surprisingly, the Colombians' methods of poppy cultivation resembled those in Afghanistan. According to Colombia's former police chief, General Rosso Jose Cerrano, Pakistani and Afghan heroin traffickers, like al-Qaeda operatives, often enter Colombia with false identification papers.
Hizballah, which according to US Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, "may be the A-team of terrorists," is also profiting from the illegal drug trade worldwide. But "while al-Qaeda may be actually the B-team," according to Armitage, Hizballah's criminal activities, including drug trafficking, are on a par with al-Qaeda's. Already in the mid-1980s, Hizballah's use of the illicit drug trade as a funding source and a weapon against the West was sanctioned by an official fatwa (religious edict), saying:" We are making these drugs for Satan America and the Jews. If we cannot kill them with guns, so we will kill them with drugs."
Furthermore, the drug trade has helped Islamist terrorist organizations recruit new members by citing drug abuse they have inflicted as an indication of Western degeneracy, and then, as a justification that such corrupt societies should be destroyed.
Clearly, the drug trade has become one of the major sources of funding terrorism, and the need to eradicate it is greater than ever. An effective solution: The use of mycoherbicides for inducing specific soils to become permanently inadequate to grow selected narcotics producing plants. These mycoherbicides have been tested and proven environmentally and ecologically safe. Eradicating narcotics at the source would not only cut off the funds for terrorists, but would also eliminate a great deal of human suffering, and the enormous cost they presently incur. Moreover, it would render acts of terror much less likely for the future.
The worldwide savings from not having to use billions of dollars to fight the consequence of opium and coca would make monies available to help to fight terrorism, and to help current poppy and coca farmers adjust to loss of narcotics income (which is not much; most of the profits go to the drug lords and the terrorists). These monies could also provide extra funds to support education, women's rights, and the promotion of democracy.
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of Funding Evil; How Terrorism is Financed– and How to Stop It (Bonus Books, 2003), is the Director of the NYC based American Center for Democracy. Dr. Ehrenfeld is available through www.benadorassociates.com.
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