Preet Bharara, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Michele M. Leonhart, the acting administrator of the DEA, announced that Oumar Issa, Harouna Toure and Idriss Abelrahman arrived in the Southern District of New York Dec. 18 to face charges of conspiracy to commit acts of “narco-terrorism” and conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. The charges stem from the defendants’ alleged agreement to transport cocaine through West and North Africa with the intent to support three terrorist organizations—al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM), and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). All three have been designated by the US Department of State as “Foreign Terrorist Organizations.”
The charges in this case mark the first time that associates of al-Qaeda have been charged with narco-terrorism offenses. Issa, Toure and Abelrahman were arrested in Ghana on Dec. 16, at the request of the United States; they were transferred to US custody and transported to New York. The defendants will be arraigned in Manhattan federal court before US Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV.
Between September 2009 and December 2009, Issa, Toure and Abelrahman, who the Justice Department says stated that they were associated with al-Qaeda, conspired to assist what the Justice Department called “purported representatives” of the FARC in transporting hundreds of kilograms of cocaine from West Africa through North Africa and ultimately into Spain. In a series of telephone calls and meetings with two confidential sources working with the DEA who “claimed to represent” the FARC, the defendants stated that they had a transportation route worked out through Mali, Algeria and Morocco, with al-Qaeda protection.
Abelrahman was reportedly introduced to one confidential source as a leader of a local “militia.” He reportedly discussed with the source the shared goals of the FARC and Abelrahman’s organization, including the fact that they were committed to what the Justice Department called “the same anti-American cause.”
The defendants each 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, and one count of conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
“Today’s allegations reflect the emergence of a worrisome alliance between al-Qaeda and transnational narcotics traffickers. As terrorists diversify into drugs, however, they provide us with more opportunities to incapacitate them and cut off the funding for future acts of terror,” said US Attorney Bharara. “We will continue to work with our partners at the DEA, in Ghana, and around the world to meet the threat narco-terrorism poses to our national security.”
“Today’s arrests are further proof of the direct link between dangerous terrorist organizations, including al-Qaeda, and international drug trafficking that fuels their violent activities,” said the DEA’s Leonhart. “These narco-terrorists do not respect borders and do not care who they harm with their drug trafficking conspiracies. Working with our narcotics law enforcement partners in Ghana and across the globe, DEA is making unprecedented progress in dismantling illicit drug networks in western Africa and around the world, and putting the criminals who operate them behind bars, where they belong.” (Justice Department press release, Dec. 18 via PR Newswire)
Use of the phrase “purported representatives” indicates that the “confidential sources” were themselves the only ostensible link to the FARC, and the lurid talk of a “worrisome alliance” of international “narco-terrorists” is essentially meaningless. The DEA has used this trick before. These guys may have wanted to smuggle cocaine for the FARC—but as we have asked before, is wanting to a crime?