The Narco-terror Trap

IN DECEMBER 2009, Harouna Touré and Idriss Abdelrahman, smugglers from northern Mali, walked through the doors of the Golden Tulip, a hotel in Accra, Ghana. They were there to meet with two men who had offered them an opportunity to make millions of dollars, transporting cocaine across the Sahara. Touré wore a dashiki, and Abdelrahman had on tattered clothes and a turban that hid much of his face. They tipped the guards at the entrance and then greeted Mohamed, a Lebanese radical, in the lobby. Mohamed took them up to a hotel room to see David, a drug trafficker and a member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. “Hola, Colombiano,” Touré said, as he entered the room. Abdelrahman tried to call David “007” in Spanish, but said “477” instead. David, who was dressed in a short-sleeved pullover and Bermuda shorts, laughed and offered his guests bottles of water.

Touré and Abdelrahman came from Gao, a parched and remote city in northern Mali which has long been used as a base for smuggling of all kinds, from immigrants to cigarettes. In recent years, the surrounding region has also been the scene of conflict between violent bands of nomadic insurgents, including members of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). During months of meetings and phone calls, David and Mohamed had told Touré that the FARC had some 30,000 fighters at war with the United States, and that it wanted to work with al-Qaida, because the groups shared the same enemy. “They are our brothers,” Mohamed said. “We have the same cause.” Touré had explained that he had connections to the organization: he ran a transport company, and, in return for safe passage for his trucks, he provided al-Qaida with food and fuel.

Still, David remained skeptical. He needed assurances that Touré’s organization was up to the task. The FARC had a lot of money riding on the deal and was willing to pay Touré and Abdelrahman as much as $3,000 per kilo, beginning with a 50-kilo test run to Melilla, a Spanish city on the North African mainland. Loads ten times that size would follow, David said, if the first trip went well.

“If you’re done, I’m going to speak,” Touré said. He told David and Mohamed that he was tired of all the “blah, blah, blah.” He had operatives along the smuggling route, which stretched from Ghana to Morocco. Abdelrahman, whom Touré had introduced as the leader of a Malian militia, said that he had hired a driver with links to al-Qaida. They had also bribed a Malian military official, who would help them cross the border without inspection...


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