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3 Al Qaeda Men Nabbed in Africa, Running Drugs for Money

For the first time, three Al-Qaeda operatives have been captured and charged with drug trafficking in Africa to raise money for terrorist activity.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 12/20/2009, 10:54 AM / Last Update: 12/20/2009, 11:43 AM

For the first time, three Al-Qaeda operatives have been arrested and charged with drug trafficking as a means of raising funds to support their terrorist activities. The international terror group has increasingly been turning to this form of activity, although its spread to Africa is a new twist in the pattern, according to evidence gathered by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The agency has long been concerned about the group’s ties to the heroin trade in Afghanistan – but according to DEA director Michele Leonhart, the current case reveals a “direct link” between the terror group and drug traffickers in western Africa.

The three suspects were arrested in a four-month-long sting operation involving a French-speaking informant posing as “a Lebanese radical committed to opposing the interests of the United States, Israel, and, more broadly, the West and its ideals,” according to court papers. The informant presented himself as a supporter of the Revolutionary Armed Force of Columbia (FARC), listed in the U.S. as a terrorist organization and considered in the South American nation to be a rebel force.

During negotiations taped by the informant, Al-Qaeda representatives offered to protect – at a cost of about $4,200 per kilogram – a large amount of cocaine to be smuggled by truck through the Sahara Desert from western to northern Africa and then on to Spain. According to the criminal complaint filed with the court, the terrorists “confirmed that the protection would come from Al-Qaeda and the people that would protect the load would be very well armed.”

The three suspects – Oumar Issa, Harouna Toure and Idriss Abelrahman -- all in their 30s and originally from Mali, were arrested by local police in Ghana last week and then turned over to U.S. authorities. They were arraigned Friday afternoon in a U.S. federal court on charges of narco-terrorism conspiracy and conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, after arriving in the country earlier in the day.

All three suspects netted in the sting required French-speaking interpreters, and were members of an Algeria-based group in the Islamic Magreb that joined the international terror network in 2006. The group, an Al-Qaeda North African offshoot known as AQIM (“Al-Qaeda of Islamic Magreb”), originates with militants who fought the Algerian government. Its members have since spread beyond the country, acting as terrorist mercenaries throughout northwestern Africa.  The group is known for kidnappings, human trafficking and other crimes throughout the region, including drug smuggling.

Mini-Map of Africa-Israel Relations
Located at the western end of the Mediterranean Sea, which forms its northern coast, Algeria is bounded on its western border by Morocco, and on its eastern border by Tunisia to the north and Libya further south, whose eastern neighbor is Egypt. Bedouin tribes in the Sinai Peninsula have been involved in cooperating with Palestinian Authority terrorists in smuggling drugs and weapons into Gaza through tunnels dug under the Egyptian border.

U.S. forces installed monitoring equipment to detect smuggler activity in the tunnels in an effort to reduce the ability of terrorists to maintain the flow of ordnance into the region, but it has had little effect. Just last week PA terrorists launched rocket attacks on southern Israel on two separate days; it was later discovered that the terrorists had used a new type of Russian-made rocket never before seen in the region. The special monitoring technology that was supposed to prevent the "import" of additional weapons into Gaza had been installed months after it was promised as a condition of the agreement for Israel to withdraw from the region following the IDF's counterterrorist Operation Cast Lead last winter.

Sudan, currently wracked by internal violence that has resulted in the mass emigration of thousands of refugees to Israel and other lands, borders Egypt to the south. Ethiopia borders Sudan to the east. Algeria's southern border is bounded by Mauritania, Mali and Niger. Ghana, where the three suspects were arrested, is located south of Mali and on the western borders of Niger, and to its south, Nigeria.

At present, Israel has no diplomatic relations with Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Sudan or Tunisia. Sudanese refugees, many of whom are Muslim, have continued to try and infiltrate into Israel through the Egyptian border. Thousands have succeeded, creating a demographic dilemma for the Jewish State.

Citizens of Egypt, Ethiopia, Mauritania and Nigeria do not require a tourist visa to visit Israel, according to Israel's Ministry of Tourism.