Three citizens of the West African country of Mali will soon go on trial here in the United States on charges of conspiracy to commit acts of narco-terrorism and conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.
Oumar Issa, Harouna Toure, and Idriss Abelrahman were arrested on December 16 in Ghana after they allegedly agreed to transport cocaine through West and North Africa to Europe for al-Qaida, al-Qaida in the Islamic Magreb and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia known as FARC.
The three organizations have been designated by the U.S. State Department as foreign terrorist groups.
Lou Milione, supervisory special agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said the arrests were made after a series of undercover meetings.
“In the complaint, it lays out that there were series of undercover meetings where there were audio and video recordings, And during those negotiations, our undercovers, one of them presented himself as a member of the FARC. And the other undercover presented themselves as a Lebanese sympathizer or Islamic sympathizer and also anti-American,” he said.
Milione said that during undercover negotiations, Oumar Issa, Harouna Toure, and Idriss Abelrahman admitted to being supporters of al-Qaida in the Islamic Margreb.
Believing that the undercover negotiators were true FARC representatives, Milione said the Malians agreed to transport cocaine from West Africa through North Africa and into Europe.
He said the U.S. DEA is working in partnership with a number of African countries, particularly West African countries.
“In Ghana, the foreign counterparts have been very cooperative. We’ve also had similar cooperative relationships in Togo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Senegal,” Milione said.
He said while the alliance between al-Qaida and transnational narcotics traffickers is worrisome, it allows the United States and its partners to cut off the funding for future acts of terrorism.
“Working these sensitive undercover investigations, it gives us some kind of an insight into what these groups are doing, but it also enables us to charge, arrest, and working with our foreign counterparts, expel or extradite these defendants back to the United States where they’ll face trial,” Milione said.
Milione said the trans-shipment of cocaine and other drugs in metric tons through West Africa poses a serious risk for the region.
“The trafficking groups, whether they are South Americans, whether they are Lebanese, whether they are other groups are looking to kind of capitalize on what they perceive as a soft spot for trafficking activities. So it’s a very significant problem because the drug money that comes in can corrupt very conclusively in certain areas,” Milione said.
He said this huge trafficking can also lead to destabilization and eventually create a fertile ground for terrorist acts and terrorist sympathizers.
A DEA news release said each of the three Malians are charged with one count of narco-terrorism conspiracy which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years and a maximum sentence of life in prison.
They are also charged with one count of conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
The lawyer for the three accused Malians, Harouna Mamadou Toure, told VOA French to Africa Service his clients are not drug traffickers.
He said he will travel to New York early next year to begin their defense.