Although Washington, Paris and London are expressing a great deal of concern about the rise of al-Qaeda in North Africa carrying Jihad flags, the facts are somewhat different and are becoming a bit more transparent now. Luke Harding, writing for Britain's Guardian on Jan. 27, pointed out that in reality, the rebels' earlier successes had less to do with hardline jihadist doctrine than with organized crime and drug smuggling. "There is strong evidence, moreover, of collusion between the previous and possibly current Mali government and radical Islamist groups."
"In recent years, western nations have secretly paid millions of dollars in ransom to various Al-Qaeda-allied factions for the release of kidnapped nationals. Since 2008, around 50 westerners have been abducted in the region. Eleven are still being held. The biggest beneficiary of this lucrative industry has undoubtedly been AQIM. It is this western cash $40m to $65m since 2008 that has enabled AQIM and other factions to capture the north.
"They bought weapons, especially after the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi, and political allies. The weapons facilitated their capture of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu; the Malian army fled in disarray. These shadowy groups have also reaped the rewards of another clandestine business: drugs. One police officer showed the Guardian a photo taken in Gao in 2008 of a warehouse stacked with neat rectangles of cocaine. He estimated its value to be $40m. The most expensive area of Gao, lined with colonial villas, is nicknamed Cocainebougou cocaine town. The officer speaking anonymously admitted there was collusion between smugglers and state officials. He added: [The police] destroyed a small bag to show the public. I'm wondering myself what happened to the rest,'"Harding reports.
The drug moves northwards to Europe where the cocaine use has gone up hugely and the drug money is flowing into various banks. The most important transit countries in West Africa are Nigeria, Ghana and Guinea-Bissau. Nigeria and Ghana serve as hubs for money laundering, while Guinea-Bissau, handles shipments from South America. Corrupt government officials help regulate the passage of narcotics through the country. The arrival of the drug trade has further exacerbated the existing problems of widespread corruption, which causes further neglect for crime and a lack of proficient security. Drugs arrive in Europe in trucks, planes, fishing boats, speedboats or via drug mules. The majority enters Europe along the Spanish coast: Europes gateway for illicit narcotics. Other points of entry (POEs) in Europe include the Netherlands, the UK and the Mediterranean coasts of Italy and Southern France.