- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy and the editor of the Passport blog. He has worked as a researcher, editorial assistant, and deputy Web editor since joining the FP staff in 2007. In addition to being featured in Foreign Policy, his writing has been published by the Washington Post, Newsweek International, Radio Prague, the Center for Defense Information, and Romania's Adevarul newspaper. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN International, C-Span, ABC News, Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC radio, and others. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he studied comparative politics at Oberlin College.
For the first time, alleged al Qaeda members are being charged by U.S. prosecutors on narcoterrorism charges. Oumar Issa, Harouna Toure and Idriss Abelrahman were arrested in Ghana last week in a sting operation coordinated by the Drug Enforcement Agency and Ghanaian authorities and were hoping to move hundreds of kilograms of cocaine through West Africa to finance al Qaeda and its North African offshoot, Al Qaeda in the Maghreb.
U.S. attorney Preet Bharara says the arrests "reflect the emergence of a worrisome alliance between al Qaeda and transnational narcotics traffickers," but if these guys represent the vanguard of a new generation of narcoterror, we probably don’t have too much to worry about:
The operation took shape in August, when a paid DEA informant posing as a Lebanese radical encountered Issa, an alleged fixer for a criminal organization that operated in Togo, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Mali, according to a sworn statement from veteran DEA agent Daria Lupacchino.
The two met in September in Ghana. The informant said he represented members of FARC, which has targeted U.S. citizens with bombings, kidnappings and other violence in recent years. Issa told the informant, in a conversation recorded by authorities, that his associates had circumvented customs agents and could ensure "safe passage" through the African desert, the affidavit said.
The informant later met with Toure, identified by Issa as "the main guy," and verified Toure’s identity using a passport he mistakenly left at a hotel that served as the meeting site, the DEA agent wrote.
"Toure stated that he has worked with al Qaeda to transport and deliver between one and two tons of hashish to Tunisia and that his organization and al Qaeda have collaborated in the human smuggling of Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian subjects into Spain," the Lupacchino affidavit said.
Toure also allegedly described efforts to kidnap European citizens and to obtain foreign visas, the court papers said.
Granted we don’t many details, but I doubt that most serious high-volume traffic drug smugglers — even if they got taken in by the agent’s Lebanaese radical/FARC story — would brag about all of the other nefarious criminal enterprises they’re involved with or be sloppy enough to leave their passport behind when meeting with a cocaine supplier.