NEW YORK (Christian Examiner) – Four members of Hezbollah, the radical Shiite terror group operating in Lebanon and Syria with funding from Iran were arrested in France Feb. 1.
The members of the cell weren't connected with the Paris terror attacks in November 2015, but were charged with terrorist activities nonetheless, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).
The operatives, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials said, had created a pipeline in which drugs (in particular, heroin and marijuana) flowed west into Europe, while money flowed east to fund terror operations and weapons purchases.
The case, which saw the drug trafficking and money laundering reach from the Ivory Coast to Belgium and Latin America, was indicative of a new phase in the drug war where terrorism and drug trafficking are intertwined and where Muslim extremists who normally eschew immoral social behaviors are content to use the drugs at their disposal to further weaken the West and increase their arms caches.
Hezbollah is, of course, not the only terror organization using such tactics. The Taliban has also funded its operations with drug money.
In January Duetsche Welle reported that while the Taliban has always been good at kidnapping and extortion, such as the exchange of protection money for safety, it is especially good at trafficking drugs.
According to the magazine, the insurgents depend on farmers to grow opium poppies and reward them handsomely. Some resist, but for famers who will not grow the drug crop, the Taliban uses threats of violence and intimidation to coerce them into doing so.
"They profit not only from drug sales, but also by extracting revenue from various taxes imposed on drugs throughout key trade routes, many of which are located in areas under their control," the magazine concluded. Those who don't farm or who are too poor to pay the Taliban for the protection racket simply disappear, a resident of Helmand Province told the German news magazine.
Another source, anonymous for fear of reprisal, told the magazine that the Taliban makes large sums of money from drug traffickers as they help transport the opium. One counter-terrorism expert valued their income at $100-300 million annually. A single United Nations report in 2012 claimed the Taliban collected as much as $400 million in that year.
The illegal narcotics trade is at the heart of the Taliban's success. It is for the Islamic State as well, but the organization's response to the illicit drug trade is inconsistent.
In January, the UK's Mirror reported the Islamic State had gained a large share in the European marijuana market when it seized control of a smuggling ring anchored in Lazarat, Albania. Most in the town already grew marijuana, but according to the paper police raids on mafia drug farms in 2014 left an opening for the terror group.
It recruited heavily among young, nominal Muslims who were already trained in violence and drug smuggling, according to a former intelligence officer, Vladimir Pivovarov.
"With new recruits and money, the Mafia in the region is exactly the reason why Muslim extremism is establishing itself in this part of Europe," Pivovarov said.
"It wasn't as if the Mafia moved out and Jihadists moved in," another government official said, though he wished to remain anonymous.
"What many people fail to understand is that the borders between Albanian Mafiosi and ISIS militants are blurred. Even if the leadership is different, they often use the same people to supply them with illegal weapons, and use the same people for illegal activities whether it's drug running or indeed any of the other illicit activities," he said.
ISIS is also participating in drug trafficking from South American cartels.
There was virtually no South American cartel presence in the Middle East before 2004, when they began smuggling drugs across the Atlantic by ship and plane. Now, however, the cartels are shipping more than 350 tons of cocaine to the region annually.
The cartels flew into private airstrips in the North African desert and trafficked the drugs along thousand-year-old caravan routes. Ironically, Islamic militants who now control the region have provided security and collected windfall profits on the estimated 48 tons of cocaine (worth $1.8 billion) shipped along the routes annually.
According to International Business Times, jihadists then used the money from trafficking drugs to buy armored vehicles, surface-to-air missiles and automatic rifles made available in the collapse of Muammar Gaddafi's regime during the Arab Spring in 2012 – an effort stoked by U.S. President Barack Obama and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In some instances, ISIS has burned marijuana fields it has captured in Syria, calling the plant popular in America and Europe "evil."
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That may be more for show than anything, an act carried out against villagers who oppose their rule. At other times, they've bought the marijuana from farmers on the edges of the territory they wish to control. They then sell the weed to fund their operations.
But ISIS and other jihadists are not just trafficking drugs. They're cooking them as well – and taking them, according to multiple reports.
The Sun, a British tabloid, reported the discovery of an amphetamine factory by Al-Nusra Front rebels in Syria last week. Those rebels, aligned with Al-Qaeda, which is competing with ISIS for control of the region, said the drugs – primarily Captagon – were being taken by ISIS terrorists.
Captagon in its liquid form was the same drug found in syringes in the hotel rooms of the Paris attackers who killed 130 people and wounded dozens more in November.
French police, the paper said, believed the attackers were high on the drug – which opens the airways, raises the heartrate and increases alertness – when they launched the assault.
ISIS jihadists are also reportedly high on cocaine and Captagon when they go into battle. In December, a British newspaper reported former British army sniper Allan Duncan, who fought alongside Kurdish Peshmerga forces in Northern Iraq, saw ISIS soldiers dead on the battlefield, each with a syringe as part of his combat gear.
"IS [soldiers] have syringes attached to their clothing so that if they are shot they can give themselves a boost," Duncan said. "They are high on cocaine and amphetamines. It helps them fight."
In that respect, history is repeating itself. During World War II, Nazi leaders ordered Pervitin, a methamphetamine, to be issued to German soldiers and airmen to keep them alert and awake on the battlefield. The drug also produced in the soldiers a sense of invincibility and euphoria in war.
One German soldier wrote in a letter home to his family that he needed more Pervitin. When he took the drug, he wrote, all of his cares seemed to disappear and he was happy. Even the "desert fox," General Erwin Rommel, was said to have taken the drug daily.
Use of the similar drug Captagon, though in use by all sides in the conflict in Syria, may explain why ISIS has gained so much territory, so fast and with such ferocity. They are high on 21st-century "chemical courage."
One Syrian rebel leader, Imaduldin Hneithel, former head of the Revolutionary Council in Manbej, told an Australian reporter that rebel forces "aren't angels," but it is most often a weapon used by ISIS fighters.
Ahmed Thaljeh, another soldier with the Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki brigade, a tribal unit near Aleppo, told the source the drug "helps them fight crazily, [and] attack uncovered against strong positions."
"They don't even care about their wounded," he said.