Terror groups on backfoot after drug seizures on seas

Allan Jacob (Senior Editor) Filed on June 2, 2014
Terror groups on backfoot after drug seizures on seas

Record hauls of various contraband at sea worth millions of dollars confirm terror-narcotics link.

Terror groups like Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab and the Taleban are on the backfoot following a series of major drug seizures on the high seas this year. The illegal global trade in narcotics is an important source of funds for these outfits and recent record seizures by global navies in the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea from January to May have disrupted their operations to a large extent.

A whopping 2,871kg of heroin and 2,736kg of hashish worth millions of dollars were recovered from smugglers on boats in 10 major operations. In the latest bust, 55.7kg of heroin worth $22million was recovered on May 25 from a dhow in the north Arabian Sea by the Royal Navy’s HMS Somerset operating under the Combined Maritime Forces, a coalition of navies.

Terror groups on backfoot after drug seizures on seas (/assets/oldimages/terror1_02062014.jpg)Naval officials Khaleej Times spoke to were tight-lipped as to where the contraband was headed for operational reasons, but said their patrolling, confiscation and destruction of the dangerous contarband had dealt a “significant blow” to drug smuggling networks linked to Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab.

Two weeks ago, the Australian HMAS Darwin netted 786kg of hashish from another dhow. On May 15, the same ship intercepted a boat off the East African coast to recover and destroy 449kg of heroin.

In April, the Combined Task Force (CTF-150) of the naval coalition based in Bahrain, pulled in a whopping 1,032kg of heroin, a record, near Kenya and Tanzania. ‘‘The successful seizures are testament to the evolving and increasingly effective cooperation and coordination between international maritime forces working under CTF 150,” said Lieutanant Commander Sally Armstrong of the Royal Navy.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) confirmed this was the largest ever amount of heroin seized on the high seas.

No arrests were made in all cases and the contraband was destroyed at sea, said officials. “After the heroin seizures was made and the drugs destroyed at sea, the crew of the dhows were released. For operational reasons, it is normal practice for the people on the smuggling vessels to be allowed to continue on their way once all the illegal narcotics carried aboard have been removed and destroyed,’’ said the navy official. Narco-terrorism experts said the successful operations conducted by the Combined Maritime Forces confirmed the increasing drug operations in East Africa, which had dramatically risen since 2009.

“Drug traffickers, working closely with transnational crime and terrorist groups, have been rapidly expanding their operations in East and West Africa, which pose the biggest security threat that affects the region,’’ said Johan Obdola, President of the International Organisation of Security and Intelligence.

In East Africa, heroin and cannabis (resin) from South-West Asia have become a $190 million-year-business and approximately 24 tonnes of drugs are moved annually. “The source of the drugs are mainly Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India-China with landing areas in East Africa being used as temporary trans-shipment hubs for smuggling operations,” said Obdola.

Recently, cocaine has also been moved along the East Coast of Africa and the seizures off Kenya and Tanzania are indicative of the routes smugglers take. The most active drug operations have spread, but some focused areas are Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia and Tanzania. Heroin and cannabis come from Thailand, Myanmar, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and China (Meth) while most cocaine has its origins in Latin America.

Terror groups on backfoot after drug seizures on seas (/assets/oldimages/terror5_02062014.jpg)There are strong ties in East Africa between organised crime, drug cartels and terrorist groups to coordinate all levels of operations. Active terror groups are Al Shabaab, which is affiliated to Al Qaeda, particularly Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP), and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Obdola said Boko Haram works with Al Shabaab and Al Qaeda and is looking to expand regionally.

Obdola believes Al Shabaab uses its links to the Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) to receive guns, ammunition, medicine, communication equipment, grenades, surveillance equipment, mortar bombs and other bomb-making components. The drug operations are an important source of funds which they need to keep well oiled.

‘‘The relationship between Al Qaeda (AQIM) and organised drug smuggling cartels started out with AQIM offering protection to the cartels against the payment of right-of-passage taxes along the long-established smuggling routes in the vast, lightly-occupied Sahel region. ‘‘Since the 1990s, cocaine trafficking has become a significant source of funding for them,’’ said Obdola.

UN statistics showed 33 tonnes of cocaine flowed through West Africa in 2010 and 18 tonnes were shipped to Europe, for an estimated value of $1.25 billion.

It said local manufacture of methamphetamines was booming with 1,250kg of amphetamines seized in Côte d’Ivoire in 2013, and 227 kg seized in Nigeria between June 2012 and July 2013.


Allan Jacob

A news junkie with an abiding interest in foreign affairs. I'm a keen follower and learner of the media and how it will pan out in the future when the common man and woman will themselves be journalists and not just sources of information. Lead a team of bright journalists who are driving the change and have their feet on the ground.

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