Al-Qaeda moves into narco-terrorism....
They'll do anything to keep the money flowing...
The three al-Qaeda agents assured the Colombians that they would have no problem moving their shipment of European-bound cocaine through the Islamist badlands of the Sahara.
As supporters of the terrorist organisation's North African branch, they would guarantee shipment of the drugs through territory they controlled - so long as they were paid fee of $2,000 per kilo.
The trio, all from the impoverished desert nation of Mali, thought they were setting up a deal with representatives of Colombia's Marxist FARC guerrillas to smuggle up to 1,000 kgs of cocaine.
In fact, they were speaking to informants for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) who secretly taped the meeting in Ghana in a sting operation in December. The three men, who were recorded on tape saying that they were levying "taxes" on the terror group's behalf, were arrested and extradited to New York, where they are now fighting drug and terror charges.
Anti-terrorism officials believe the case may prove a crucial landmark in the battle against al-Qaeda: it is the first time that anyone linked to the terror group has faced prosecution for its newest money-spinning activity, narco-terrorism.
The $2 million proceeds would have been a lucrative cash injection at a time when al-Qaeda is working flat out to develop new methods of raising money.
Every business needs cash flow, and Islamic terror is no exception. Across the world, al-Qaeda is turning to drug smuggling and sharply stepping up kidnapping and extortion to plug the gap in its finances caused by a fierce international crackdown on its original sources of cash. The trend raises the prospect of new floods of illegal drugs entering the West, and a sharply increased risk to Western tourists and businesspeople as they travel outside Europe.
When the terror group first began its activities more than a decade ago, it did not need to resort to criminal activities of a kind which might offend the strict Koranic principles proclaimed by its founder, Osama bin Laden. Deep-pocketed donors, in countries like Saudi Arabia, and Islamic charities throughout the Middle East channelled the cash needed to bankroll bin Laden's drive to create an Islamic caliphate across the region.
Bin Laden's group had previously been able to rely on wheeler-dealers like Abdul al Hamid al Mujil, known in jihadist circles as "the million dollar man" for his ability to solicit donations to the cause of holy war.
The 60-year-old Saudi was a regular visitor to Afghanistan during the 1990s and on friendly terms with bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, as he channelled funds from Arab states to al-Qaeda.
But in August 2006, al Mujil and the Philippine and Indonesian branches of the International Islamic Relief Organisation, which he headed, were designated by the US treasury as financiers of terrorism.
Western firms were prohibited from doing business with him, UN member states froze his assets and Saudi Arabia restricted the ouitflow of funds from the charity.
Deprived of his largesse, groups such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (the Arabic name for North Africa) are turning increasingly to international crime to provide their cash flow. And for bin Laden, that represents a dilemma.
At first he did not want al-Qaeda to dirty its hands with the drugs trade. But he apparently was won round by a combination of fiscal necessity and the argument, as often voiced on jihadist websites, that the drugs trade weakens Western "infidels" by feeding their sinful additions.