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UN Envoy Warns of Risk of Youth Radicalization in Sahel

FILE - A child pumps water in the northern town of Kouroume, Mali, in May 2015. A UN envoy warns that the up to 41 million young people in the Sahel are at risk of radicalization.

The United Nations special envoy for the Sahel warned Wednesday that drug traffickers are increasingly working with terrorist groups in this expansive region across northern Africa.

Hiroute Sellassie told the U.N. Security Council that traffickers pay terrorists to let them safely pass through areas they control, providing a source of funding for the violent extremists.

"I called for the member states of the Security Council to expand the mandate of the sanctions committees against al-Qaida to narco-trafficking in the region," she told reporters, "for these committees to monitor, report and prevent the collusion between the jihadists and them."

The Security Council oversees sanctions committees which have designated seven entities and six individuals with origins in the Sahel as having links to terrorism. They are subject to asset freezes, travel bans and arms embargoes.

Political instability has plagued some of the Sahel countries for years, creating power vacuums and shortages of services in already poor countries, giving extremist groups an opportunity to win over disenfranchised and frustrated groups.

Mali, in particular, has been mired in conflict and political instability for the past three years, with various militant groups, including al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, causing instability across the country. On Friday, jihadists attacked a hotel frequented by foreigners, killing at least 19 people.

Sellassie said up to 41 million people under age 25 in the Sahel face hopelessness and are at risk of radicalization. She said that unless more investment is made in providing the region's youth with education and job opportunities, the Sahel will become an easy target for radical groups.

"The Sahel, I am afraid, will become a hub of mass migration and of recruitment and training of terrorist groups and individuals," she told the council. She warned that "will ultimately have grave consequences for global peace and security."

She said the trafficking of drugs, humans and guns must be stopped, and she praised the Sahel countries for taking greater leadership roles in addressing regional challenges.