first_img Twisted and charred debris from a burnt-out Boeing 727 was found scattered in the Sahara Desert about 200 km north of Gao in Mali on Dec. 10. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, or UNODC, said the plane transported cocaine from Venezuela and landed on a makeshift airstrip in the West African country. Local officials said the cargo was unloaded and the plane crashed during takeoff, the Reuters news agency reported. A growing number of drug planes have been flying to West Africa from South America, said a 2008 U.S. Department of Homeland Security report obtained by Reuters. Factions of al-Qaida are believed to be facilitating the West African drug trade, the report said. At least 10 aircraft have been discovered in the West African desert from 2006 through 2009. Alexandre Schmidt, regional representative for West and Central Africa for the UNODC, said the drug aviation network expanded during 2009 and now likely includes several Boeing 727 aircraft, Reuters reported. The drug pilots fly across the ocean with minimal fear of interdiction because there is no long-range radar covering the Atlantic. They also use false certificates and registration documents, Reuters reported. The drug pilots fly across the ocean with minimal fear of interdiction because there is no long-range radar covering the Atlantic. They also use false certificates and registration documents, Reuters reported. They land in abandoned landing strips and makeshift runways in Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Guinea-Bissau and other West African states, which are an established refuge for al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM. “I don’t know if you can find any evidence proving a link between al-Qaida and the drug traffickers, unless you are CIA. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see why they would want to work together. To do terrorism, you need money, and what are you going to do in the deserts of Mali to make money. You take money where it is. You work with the drug traffickers,” Rinaldo Depagne, a West Africa expert at the International Crisis Group in Dakar, Senegal, told The Christian Science Monitor. In December 2009, suspected AQIM associates Oumar Issa, Harouna Touré and Idriss Abelrahman were arrested in Ghana and extradited to the United States. Each was charged in New York City with narcoterrorism conspiracy and conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, The Washington Times reported. Michele Leonhart, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, called the case “further proof of the direct link between dangerous terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida, and international drug traffickers.” During the undercover sting that produced the arrests, a paid DEA informant posed as a representative of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and requested help smuggling a large amount of cocaine from West Africa to Spain. Touré, who described himself as the leader of a criminal organization that worked with al-Qaida affiliates in Africa, offered AQIM’s protection for the supposed cocaine shipment, a DEA statement said. While tons of drugs are being flown from South America to West Africa, U.S. authorities are worried about the return trips. “It’s reckless to assume that nothing is coming back,” the Department of Homeland Security report stated. “With terrorist organizations on either side of this pipeline, it should be a priority to find out what is coming back on those airplanes.” By Dialogo January 01, 2010last_img

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