Drug trade funds terrorism

A European report published today outlines increased co-operation between terrorist groups and global drug traffickers. The report, jointly published by Europol and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), warns of risks to European security as a result of the illicit drug industry.

Links between terrorism and the drug trade have been historically hard to trace because of groups’ indirect involvement. Many terrorist groups, today’s report states, control or ‘tax’ drug trafficking networks rather than become directly involved. One such group named explicitly in the report is the Mali-based group Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, also known as AQIM. Sources indicate that AQIM provides protection for traffickers and their cargo in exchange for money, with a more direct involvement of AQIM in the drug trade and establishment of links with Latin American organised crime groups to be expected in the future. Europol Director Rob Wainwright said: “International drug trafficking remains the principal activity of most organised crime groups. They are adapting to new criminal opportunities and changing smuggling methods and routes to evade law enforcement.”

Cocaine Consumption

The U.S. National Intelligence Council suggested in 2011 that more than 40 terrorist organisations have links to the drug trade, with proceeds being “critical to the continued funding” of terrorist groups as the Taliban and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). “Drug trafficking – whilst illegal – is a highly profitable commercial activity,” Cecilia Malmström, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, points out. “70 % of the criminal proceeds of drug trafficking are laundered through the financial system,” she notes. “We need to be better able to identify this impact on European society and on the EU economy.”

Even profit which makes it to the licit economy may still end up being used for terrorist purposes. The report lists many typical expenses for terrorist groups, like “websites, training, travel and propaganda.” Since drug trafficking is often hidden as the real source of terrorist group funding, this type of micro-financing can be “difficult to identify and to link to terrorist organisations.” The purchase of actual equipment for attacks is no longer a major expenditure; Madrid’s 2004 bombings are cited in the report as an explicit example of this. The subsequent year’s bomb attacks in London were found to have only cost a few hundred pounds.

As Europe reacts to global supply and demand, the production and consumption of drugs leads to greater insecurity and higher crime. When United States’ cocaine consumption dropped by more than 40% between 1998 and 2009, in the same time period cocaine consumption doubled in Europe. Drug production has also increased: all 29 European countries now report some domestic cannabis production, with the number of cannabis seizures rising steadily over ten years, peaking at 39000 in 2010. EMCDDA Director Wolfgang Götz says: “The trend for producing illicit drugs close to their intended consumer markets, where they are less likely to be intercepted, is a growing one. We are now paying an increasing cost for this development in terms of community safety, public health and the burden placed on already stretched police resources”.

Infographic and article both created by Nicola Marven – Image shows quantities of cocaine consumed in Europe and United States from 1998 to 2009 (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2011)

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