The Al-Qaeda linked Somali Islamist group Al-Shabaab is now said to be raising funds through the trade of khat, a narcotic green leaf, Dutch media reports.
The Netherlands and the United Kingdom are the only two Western countries where it is legal to import the narcotic. According to Swedish police estimates, about 80% of the khat imported to Schiphol airport in Amsterdam is smuggled into surrounding countries.
In an interview with a Dutch radio station, one Swedish former khat smuggler just released from prison, said that he used to be involved in sending money to Al-Shabaab. The ex-smuggler, who spent seven years as the right hand man of a Somali drug lord, estimated that twenty thousand Euros per week were sent to Somalia—eventually making its way to Al-Shabaab leaders seeking new sources of revenue to pay its militants.
Swedish police official Stefan Kalman said that the Swedish secret service recently received information that several Somali groups in the khat trade have joined Al-Shabaab. He described the khat trade as a great opportunity for Al-Shabaab to raise money.
Swedish MEP Olle Schmidt said that the position of the Netherlands on khat is a problem, and that he hopes that the new information about the link between the drug's trade and terrorism will be a "wake up call for the Dutch government."
The issue of narco-terrorism is a growing problem, not only for European law enforcement, but for U.S. officials as well. In 2002, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) established the Counter-Narco-terrorism Operations Center (CNTOC). This division of the DEA has cracked several cases since its establishment.
As recently as December of 2009, the DEA arrested several individuals suspected of trafficking cocaine throughout Africa as part of a narco-terrorism conspiracy. The men, Oumar Issa, Harouna Toure and Idriss Abdelrahman, have been indicted in New York for conspiracy to provide material support to both Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC).
In a March 2010 Congressional testimony before the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs Anthony P. Placido, Assistant Administrator for Intelligence for the DEA, summed up the narco-terrorism phenomenon:
"As insurgents and terrorists become more heavily involved in the drug trade, hybrid organizations are emerging. These hybrids have morphed into one part terrorist organization, one part global drug trafficking cartel."
Palcido emphasized that these narco-terrorist groups, "represent the most significant security challenge facing governments worldwide."