In a partnership that U.S. authorities are referring to as an “unholy alliance,” Islamist extremists are helping Colombian guerrillas smuggle cocaine into Europe through unstable West Africa to increase their funding.
Marxist rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have started collaborating with al-Qaeda in the wake of interdiction efforts on the part of American and European forces aimed at curtailing the amount of cocaine travelling straight from Colombia and other Andean nations to the United States and Europe. “In the mid- to late-1990s when the Europeans became better at maritime interdiction, off the coasts of Portugal and Spain, for example, traffickers started moving their routes southward,” says Jay Bergman, director of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for the Andean region of South America. “So the next progression was to Western Africa.” Indeed, according to the DEA, drug flights from South America to West Africa have greatly increased over the past three years, and officials have seized “ton-sized quantities of cocaine.” Interpol also estimates that two-thirds of drugs sold in Europe in 2009 were trafficked through West Africa.
Last month, U.S. prosecutors arrested three alleged al-Qaeda collaborators in Ghana and accused them of plotting to transport shipments of cocaine across Africa. One of the suspects even gloated on tape that, without him, “[al-Qaeda] could not eat.” To clamp down on the Colombia-to-Africa cocaine route, the DEA says it will improve intelligence rather than attempt to patrol the Atlantic Ocean. “It is much cheaper to have a DEA agent operating in West Africa with sources of information than it is to set up a gauntlet of multinational frigates and surveillance planes,” added Bergman.