New York: US prosecutors have charged three alleged al-Qaeda associates with trying to set up a drug trafficking ring in Africa to help finance terror operations across the globe.
"Today's allegations reflect the emergence of a worrisome alliance between al-Qaeda and transnational narcotics traffickers," US Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement on Friday. "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."
The three accused, Oumar Issa, Harouna Toure and Idriss Abelrahman were brought to New York early on Friday to face conspiracy charges that could send them to prison for the rest of their lives. They were apprehended in a sting operation coordinated by federal prosecutors in New York and agents at the Drug Enforcement Administration in the United States and Ghana, authorities said.
The men allegedly met with confidential informants and agreed to move hundreds of kilograms of cocaine through West and North Africa.
The operation took shape in August, when a paid DEA informant posing as a Lebanese radical encountered Issa, an alleged fixer for a criminal organization that operated in Togo, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Mali, according to a sworn statement from veteran DEA agent Daria Lupacchino.
The conspiracy, prosecutors say, supported three groups the United States has designated as terrorist organizations: al-Qaeda; al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, an Algerian offshoot founded in the late 1990s with help from Osama bin Laden; and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), the world's largest supplier of cocaine, which seeks to overthrow that country's government.
All three men appeared before US Magistrate Judge James C Francis IV in New York on Friday, days after the sting culminated in arrests in Ghana on December 16.
The men said al-Qaeda could provide protection for the transportation of hundreds of kilograms of cocaine from West Africa through North Africa and ultimately into Spain.
It is the first time associates of al-Qaeda have been charged with "narco-terrorism offenses," the Justice Department said in a press release.
"These narco-terrorists do not respect borders and do not care who they harm with their drug trafficking conspiracies," said Drug Enforcement Administration Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart.