Drug Money Sustains Al Qaeda; Cutoff Needed to Strangle Cells
Byline: Rowan Scarborough, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network has become deeply involved in international drug trafficking, using the money to buy arms and, possibly, radioactive material for use in a so-called "dirty" nuclear bomb, senior U.S. officials say.
The seizure earlier this month of boats carrying heroin and hashish, and operated by al Qaeda-linked persons, has brought to light an al Qaeda drug operation that has grown tremendously since the September 11 attacks, the sources say.
"Bin Laden does not mind trafficking in drugs, even though it's against the teaching of Islam, because it's being used to kill Westerners," said a defense official who asked not to be named. "He has allies and associates who are not members per se, but who move products for him and take drugs and buy arms and give the arms to al Qaeda."
This official and other sources say the intelligence community still does not have a firm grasp on the scope of the al Qaeda drug operation and how much money it raises, although estimates are in the millions of dollars. And officials say U.S. Central Command is so busy fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan it does not devote large resources to stopping the drug trade.
But the Bush administration is starting to realize that to ultimately defeat al Qaeda, it must mount more aggressive counternarcotics operations. With its source of money from Islamic charities being shut down by the United States and its allies, al Qaeda has turned to the poppy fields of Afghanistan as barter to finance operations.
The poppies are converted into opium and heroin, which fetch huge sums of money as they move from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region to the West.
"If you're going to get terrorism under control, we've got to stop their livelihood, which is money," said the defense official. "Without money, they die."
Said Andre Hollis, a former senior counternarcotics official under Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, "The linkage between terrorists and drug trafficking are only now becoming clear and are a great concern. The methods by which terrorists and other underworld actors move drugs are the same routes that are used to move weapons, terrorists and, potentially, [weapons of mass destruction]."
Bin Laden reaps the profits in two ways: His allies regulate smuggling routes out of Afghanistan into Iran, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and other countries, essentially placing a tax on each shipment to let it pass. Or, alternatively, al Qaeda takes the drugs as payment and uses them to buy arms.
There are unconfirmed intelligence reports that al Qaeda has bought radioactive material for use in a "dirty bomb."
Such a device is a conventional bomb packed with radioactive material that the explosion spreads, instead of using the radioactive material for the more technically demanding task of igniting a nuclear reaction, as in an atomic bomb. …