- 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.
Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, says "there is more than just spotty evidence" indicating a link between drug traffickers and terror groups.
"And before this becomes a very serious problem, it has to be dealt with and nipped in the bud," Costa said in an interview with The Associated Press, on the sidelines of a seven-nation drug summit in the Senegalese capital of Dakar.
Cocaine from South America has been moving through the West African coast for several years, and experts believe drugs are then parceled out to smugglers who move the cocaine north by boats and by road. One suspected smuggling route crosses portions of the Sahara desert controlled by insurgents. The cocaine-for-arms trade is especially worrying given the recent expansion of an al-Quaida-linked terror group, which was once based exclusively in Algeria but now has tentacles in Mauritania, Mali and Niger.
"There is plenty of evidence of a double flow. (Of) drugs moving, arriving into West Africa from across the Atlantic … and the trading — exchange — of cocaine for arms," Costa said.
Costa did not say how extensive the cocaine-for-arms exchange was thought to be, or which countries were involved.
There seems to be an awful lot of hand-waving happening here. What we know is that drug smugglers are moving cocaine through West Africa, including regions where Al Qaeda linked militants also operate. This, in itself, may be cause for concern. But many, including prominent politicans, seem to be assuming that an established link exists when the only reported case of a suspected al Qaeda affiliate making a coke deal –again trotted out as evidence in this article — was with someone who turned out to be a DEA agent. Until there’s some more evidence, a little more cautious reporting might be in order.
In any event, if al Qaeda is getting into the cocaine business, it would seem to suggest that the organization is moving outside its core competency in order to raise money, and perhaps setting up more opportunities for authorities to infiltrate their networks.