U.S. holds 3 in alleged narcoterrorism case
Saturday, December 19, 2009
U.S. prosecutors have charged three alleged al-Qaeda associates with conspiring to engage in narcoterrorism, attacking what experts say is a widespread source of illicit funding for terrorist groups across the globe.
Oumar Issa, Harouna Toure and Idriss Abelrahman were brought to New York early 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 allegations "reflect the emergence of a worrisome alliance between al Qaeda and transnational narcotics traffickers," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement. "As terrorists diversify into drugs . . . they provide us with more opportunities to incapacitate them and cut off the funding for future acts of terror."
The men allegedly met with confidential informants and agreed to move hundreds of kilograms of cocaine through West and North Africa. 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.
Toure allegedly served as a business leader of an organization that worked closely with al-Qaeda affiliates in North Africa, and he described his "strong relationship" with the network in meetings with a confidential informant cited in court filings. Abelrahman allegedly led a "militia" of 11 armed men who provided security along the African route and expressed anti-American sentiments in conversations with government operatives, the court papers said.
All three men appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV in New York on Friday, days after the sting culminated in arrests in Ghana on Dec. 16.
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 two met in September in Ghana. The informant said he represented members of FARC, which has targeted U.S. citizens with bombings, kidnappings and other violence in recent years. Issa told the informant, in a conversation recorded by authorities, that his associates had circumvented customs agents and could ensure "safe passage" through the African desert, the affidavit said.
The informant later met with Toure, identified by Issa as "the main guy," and verified Toure's identity using a passport he mistakenly left at a hotel that served as the meeting site, the DEA agent wrote.
"Toure stated that he has worked with al Qaeda to transport and deliver between one and two tons of hashish to Tunisia and that his organization and al Qaeda have collaborated in the human smuggling of Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian subjects into Spain," the Lupacchino affidavit said.
Toure also allegedly described efforts to kidnap European citizens and to obtain foreign visas, the court papers said.
Toure and Abelrahman met with informants in mid-November in Ghana, where they described themselves in the recorded meeting as "kings" of the desert and "warriors of God." They followed up with meetings as recently as Monday, two days before their arrest and transfer to U.S. soil.
DEA Acting Administrator Michele M. Leonhart said the case demonstrated ongoing efforts by the agency to dismantle drug networks in Africa and around the world. "These narcoterrorists do not respect borders and do not care who they harm with their drug-trafficking conspiracies," she said.