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Are Latin American Drug Cartels Merging With Al Qaeda?

Within the illegal drug community, there is the tale of the Coca Cola plane. The CS Monitor captured the story of an event in early November. Drug traffickers landed a Boeing 727 in the Malian desert in Gao state. After offloading as much as 10 tons of cocaine, they simply burned the plane, treating it like a used Coke can.

This event puzzled investigators, who at first believed the plane had crashed in the desert after takeoff. The location of its death is a haven for Islamist insurgents with close ties to Al Qaeda. Having found the plane largely intact, experts suspect it was burned by drug cartels deliberately.

“That shows you the strength of the drug cartels, and how much money they have,” said Rinaldo Depagne, a West Africa expert at the International Crisis Group in Dakar, Senegal, in the CS Monitor. “It’s like a plastic [Coca Cola] bottle to them. When you are done with it, you just throw it away.”

United Nations reports show that nearly 60 percent of the cocaine sold in Europe is trafficked through the weak West African states, such as Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Guinea Bissau.

As these countries have become a haven for Al Qqeda in the Lslamic Maghreb (AQIM), concerns are growing that Islamist radicals and Latin American drug cartels are working together in an effort to enrich themselves and to weaken law enforcement capabilities within those West African states.

“At this point Al Qaeda in the Maghreb seems to be nothing more than just facilitators, but more and more we see evidence of them working together,” says an official for the U.S. military at the African command center in Stuttgart. The official noted that it is safe to assume the Al Qaeda is profiting from the drug trafficking trade going through its areas of the Sahara.

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