Sao Paulo: South American drugs gangs are reportedly providing millions of pounds of funding to al Qaeda terrorists to ensure the safe passage of cocaine across North Africa and towards Europe.
Islamic rebels familiar with the barren terrain of the Sahara have struck deals under which they provide armed security escorts for drug traffickers in return for a slice of their profits, The Telegraph reports.
Counter-terrorism experts said the terrorists belong to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) group, which has kidnapped a series of Westerners and killed a British tourist last year.
They warned that the money they receive from drugs gangs could be used to attract new recruits and plan terrorist attacks on European cities.
Olivier Guitta, a counter-terrorism and foreign affairs consultant, said that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Marxist rebel group, was the "force behind the agreement with AQIM".
In the past, drugs were flown or shipped from South America straight to Spain or Portugal but the introduction of more rigorous controls in those countries led FARC to change its way of operating.
"AQIM is an independent unit of al Qaeda and does not share the monies with al Qaeda central but is looking to pull off terror attacks on its own in Europe," Guitta was quoted, as saying.
Terrorists linked to al Qaeda in North Africa have made USD 130 million from helping drugs gangs and kidnap ransoms since 2007, according to one report citing an investigation by the Algerian government.
AQIM first emerged under a different name as an Islamic resistance group opposed to Algeria’s secular government in the early 1990s and has been behind numerous suicide bombings and ambushes.
It declared allegiance to al Qaeda as early as 2003 and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the terrorist network’s second in command, officially approved the ``merger`` in 2006.