- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
As noted in this morning’s brief, Jay Bergman Drug Enforcement Agency director for the Andean region of South America, told Reuters today about the worrying development of Colombia’s FARC rebels collaborating with al Qaeda:
Three West African men accused of ties to al Qaeda were extradited to New York in December on drug trafficking and terrorism charges.
It was the first time U.S. authorities established a link suggesting al Qaeda is funding itself in part by providing security for drug smugglers in West Africa.
"As suggested by the recent arrest of three alleged al Qaeda operatives, the expansion of cocaine trafficking through West Africa has provided the venue for an unholy alliance between South American narco-terrorists and Islamic extremists," Bergman said in an interview over the weekend.
However, as I noted last month, the three men arrested (whose self-proclaimed links to al Qaeda have yet to be proven) last month, were not caught making a deal with FARC, they were making a deal with an undercover DEA agent that they thought was representing FARC. The ringleader of the group, Harouna Toure, did boast to the agent about smuggling "two tons of hashish to Tunisia" and the "human smuggling of Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian subjects into Spain," but these wouldn’t involve South American naro-terrorists. Is there any other evidence that FARC and al Qaeda are actually taking advantage of the "venue" they’ve been provided?
It’s true that South American cocaine is increasingly being smuggled through West Africa to Europe with disastrous consequences for the stability of that region, and there are increasing concerns about Islamist miltants — particularly Hezbollah — operating in South America. But it does seem like the DEA is stretching the evidence a bit in its portrayal of this "unholy alliance."
(Hat tip to UN Dispatch‘s Matthew Cordell for the most excellent name FARQaeda.)