Three Al Qaeda associates have been charged for attempting to transport narcotics for a Colombian terrorist organization and providing part of the proceeds to Al Qaeda, marking the first time associates of the international terrorist network have been charged with narco-terrorism offenses in a United States federal court.
A complaint filed in a New York federal court on December 15, 2009, charged Oumar Issa, Harouna Touré and Idriss Abelrahman with narco-terrorism conspiracy and conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. The men, who were arrested in Ghana the following day and subsequently transferred to New York, allegedly arranged for Al Qaeda to provide a Colombia-based terrorist organization with a secure passage to transport large shipments of cocaine from West Africa to Spain.
DEA Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart called the arrests "further proof of the direct link between dangerous terrorist organizations, including Al Qaeda, and international drug trafficking that fuels their violent activities." All three men face maximum sentences of life in prison if convicted.
Beginning in September 2009, Issa, Touré and Abelrahamn allegedly agreed to assist purported representatives of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) in transporting hundreds of kilograms of cocaine from West Africa to Spain. The FARC, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization based in Colombia, produces more than half the world's supply of cocaine and nearly two-thirds of the cocaine imported into the U.S.
According to the criminal complaint, the men further claimed that their contacts in Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group based in North Africa, could provide the FARC with a safe passage for their cocaine shipment through the African desert.
During an October 2009 meeting, Issa allegedly stated that his boss, Touré, could facilitate the cocaine transportation. He then introduced Touré, the purported leader of a criminal organization that works with Al Qaeda-affiliated groups in North Africa, to a DEA confidential source posing as a member of the FARC. Touré stated that proceeds from the cocaine shipment, slated to cost the FARC $2,000 per kilogram, would be used to pay his Al Qaeda contacts for the secure transport of the cocaine.
In subsequent meetings with DEA sources, Touré described his relationship with Al Qaeda, including other instances in which he transported narcotics through Africa with Al Qaeda's assistance, according to the criminal complaint. He also allegedly stated that he had previously collaborated with Al Qaeda in smuggling people from Bangladesh, Pakistan and India into Spain and that he provides Al Qaeda with gasoline, food and taxes collected from rich Malians.
The criminal complaint also alleged that Touré told the DEA sources that Al Qaeda could assist them in kidnapping foreign nationals to raise money. Touré further bragged that his Al Qaeda associates had recently kidnapped Belgian citizens and collected a large ransom for their return.
In November, Touré introduced the DEA sources to Abelrahman, who claimed that, as the leader of an armed "militia," he could ensure safe passage of the cocaine through the desert. In a subsequent meeting in Ghana, Touré stated that Abelrahman and another Al Qaeda member had established a route and cover story in case they were questioned during the transport. The men were arrested two days later.
Other arms-traffickers have been recently charged in the U.S. for narco-terrorism offenses relating to the FARC. In August 2009, a former member of the Syrian military was charged in New York with conspiring to supply the FARC with military-grade weapons in exchange for nearly one ton of cocaine. In April, an Afghan drug trafficker was charged in New York with narco-terrorism and terrorism financing for conspiring to finance the Taliban's terrorist activities, including their efforts to forcibly expel the U.S. from Afghanistan.
Several FARC members have also been charged in recent months for narco-terrorism and other illegal activities in the U.S. In mid-December, two FARC leaders pleaded guilty in Washington, D.C. to conspiring to import thousands of tons of cocaine to the U.S. One of the men – Gerardo Aguilar Ramirez – was among the FARC members who held three Americans and twelve others hostage for more than five years. In September 2009, twelve other FARC members were indicted in New York for kidnapping an American citizen and procuring weapons and explosives for the Colombia-based terrorist organization.