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Ghana Connection

In December, Antonio Maria Costa, the executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, told a special session of the UN Security Council that drugs were being traded by “terrorists and anti-government forces” to fund their operations from the Andes, to Asia and the African Sahel.

“In the past, trade across the Sahara was by caravans,” he said. “Today it is larger in size, faster at delivery and more high-tech, as evidenced by the debris of a Boeing 727 found on November 2nd in the Gao region of Mali — an area affected by insurgency and terrorism.”

Just days later, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials arrested three West African men following a sting operation in Ghana. The
men, all from Mali, were extradited to New York on December 16 on drug trafficking and terrorism charges.

Oumar Issa, Harouna Toure, and Idriss Abelrahman are accused of plotting to transport cocaine across Africa with the intent to support 
al Qaeda, its local affiliate AQIM and the FARC. The charges provided evidence of what the DEA’s top official in Colombia described to a 
Reuters reporter as “an unholy alliance between South American narco-terrorists and Islamic extremists.”

Some experts are skeptical, however, that the men are any more than criminals. They questioned whether the drug dealers oversold their 
al Qaeda connections to get their hands on the cocaine.

In its criminal complaint, the DEA said Toure had led an armed group affiliated to al Qaeda that could move the cocaine from Ghana through 
North Africa to Spain for a fee of $2,000 per kilo for transportation and protection.

Toure discussed two different overland routes with an undercover informant. One was through Algeria and Morocco; the other via Algeria to 
Libya. He told the informer that the group had worked with al Qaeda to transport between one and two tons of hashish to Tunisia, as well as 
smuggle Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi migrants into Spain.

In any event, AQIM has been gaining in notoriety. Security analysts warn that cash stemming from the trans-Saharan coke trade could transform 
the organization — a small, agile group whose southern-Sahel wing is estimated to number between 100 and 200 men — into a more potent threat
in the region that stretches from Mauritania to Niger. It is an area with huge foreign investments in oil, mining and a possible trans-Sahara 
gas pipeline.

“These groups are going to have a lot more money than they’ve had before, and I think you are going to see them with much more sophisticated weapons,” said Douglas Farah, a senior fellow at the International Assessment Strategy Center, a Washington based security think-tank.

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