The U.S. recently cut all military aid to of the African nation of Guinea-Bissau, which was in response to Guinea-Bissau refusing to remove military officers known to be involved with cocaine smugglers. The U.S. believes that the military has not only been bought off by drug gangs, but that the newly appointed head of the army, general Antonio Indjai, is heavily involved in the drug business.
Because of the South American drug gangs using Guinea-Bissau as part of their new smuggling route to Europe and the Middle East, West Africa is becoming a new source of income for al Qaeda. At first, the U.S. attacked the problem by putting sanctions, last April, on two senior military commanders in Guinea-Bissau. Air force chief of staff Ibraima Papa Camara and former navy chief of staff Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto were accused of being "drug kingpins" and key members of a drug smuggling operation that moves cocaine from South America to Europe and the Persian Gulf, via Guinea-Bissau. The sanctions freeze any assets the two men have in the United States, and prohibit Americans from doing business with the two. This did not stop the pro-drug commanders, who then staged a coup to remove the anti-drug army commander. To further make their point, pro-drug gang troops also briefly arrested the prime minister. Subsequent negotiations convinced the government to let the pro-drug gang officers have their way.
Al Qaeda has been seen operating in Guinea-Bissau for several years now. Two years ago, two al Qaeda members were arrested and charged with the murder, in nearby Mauritania, of four French tourists. At the time, the United States suspected Qaeda involvement in cocaine trafficking in South America. Then al Qaeda operatives began showing up in Guinea-Bissau. Before long, evidence emerged that al Qaeda was there mainly to facilitate cocaine smuggling.
Algerian police that patrol their southern border are encountering more and more al Qaeda gunmen escorting drug smugglers. There were four such encounters in 2008, and fifteen last year. The most valuable of the smuggled drugs is Colombian cocaine, which is flown into West Africa, and then moved north to Europe and the Persian Gulf (two of the biggest markets). Al Qaeda has been detected working with the Colombian drug cartels to handle movement of the drugs from West African airports to North African ports (where local smuggling groups move the drugs into Europe.)
Apparently al Qaeda has learned from the Taliban, which earns huge amounts partnering with Afghan drug gangs that produce most of the world's supply of opium and heroin. While both the Taliban and al Qaeda officially condemn these drugs, they don't mind handling the supply chain, and even passing them out to their fighters to keep them in the right mood for dangerous operations. Terrorist leaders justify the drug involvement with the "we are using drugs to destroy our enemies" angle. While there is some truth to that, millions of Moslems also become addicts. This does not help the Islamic terror groups in Moslem countries, where these drugs are as destructive as they are in the West.
Terrorist groups in general have always worked with common criminals in order to raise money, and obtain weapons and other gear. Usually, the terrorists stuck to low profile scams like fraud (credit card, mortgage) and smuggling. Drugs were always considered more profitable, but higher risk and bad for the image. In these desperate times, caution is something the terrorists cannot afford. Either they raise money to keep themselves together as an organization, or simply dissolve. This led to greater use of kidnapping and grand larceny, as well as buying, selling and transporting drugs.
The situation in Guinea-Bissau, however, is different. If al Qaeda can make themselves sufficiently useful to the cocaine gangs operating there, the country could become a new base for the terrorist organization.