- By Gretchen PetersGretchen Peters is a former ABC News reporter for Pakistan and Afghanistan. She authored the forthcoming book, Seeds of Terror (New York: St. Martin's Press), which probes links between the opium trade and insurgency.
By Gretchen Peters
A Taliban fighter killed this spring by NATO troops in southern Afghanistan was found to have a tattoo from the Aston Villa Football Club, indicating he may have grown up in Britain’s West Midlands. It was the latest evidence that British Muslims of South Asian origin have joined the fight in Afghanistan. (Read the full report here.)
For some time, Royal Air Force spy planes have picked up radio communication between Taliban fighters who speak with thick accents from Manchester, Birmingham, West Bromwich and Bradford, all cities with large populations of British Muslims of South Asian origin.
“But it was a shock to hear that the guys we were fighting against supported the same football clubs as us, and maybe even grew up on the same streets as us,” the Telegraph newspaper quoted an unnamed British military official as saying.
Some law enforcement officials believe the British Taliban fighters may have links to criminal gangs in Britain whose members are Muslim and who have been connected to selling heroin on British streets. At least one other captured Taliban fighter was found to have British gang tattoos on his arms, according to a western law enforcement advisor to the U.S. military, and there is evidence that various British Muslim gangs have sent fighters to Afghanistan, or sell Afghan heroin on British streets. Roughly 90 percent of the heroin sold in Britain comes from Afghanistan.
The Gambinos, gangsters of Pakistani origin who take their name from the New York crime family, have been linked to selling Afghan heroin in north London and Luton. So have the South Man Syndicate (SMS) and the Muslim Boys (who are also known as the PDC, or Poverty Driven Children).
“The big bosses have Taliban and al Qaeda connections and we’re often told only to deal it to non-Muslims. They call it chemical jihad and hope to ruin lives while getting massive payouts at the same time,” said a street dealer quoted in this British tabloid.
Members of the Muslim Boys, a gang of Afro-Caribbean Muslim converts (many of who converted to Islam in prison) have boasted to the British media of their links to to al Qaeda, although British officials admit it is hard to tell how much is bravado and how much is a sign of a concrete relationship between extremists in South Asia and the Muslim gangs of the U.K.
But some British law enforcement officials believe the link is there – and a cause for serious worry. Lee Jasper, the chair of the Lambeth police consultative group has expressed concerns that “the leaders of the Muslim Boys could be a criminalized front for terrorist extremists” in Britain.
Although the DEA says less than 5% of the heroin sold on U.S. streets comes from Southwest Asia, some U.S. law enforcement authorities nonetheless fear that Afghan heroin could be headed this way. Currently the vast majority of criminal gangs tied to smuggling heroin into the U.S. are Latin American, not South Asian, in origin. That said, Canada’s Royal Mounted Police recently warned that more than 60 percent of the heroin sold in Canada now comes from Afghanistan and links have been established between Indian crime rings and that emerging trend.
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