There is real danger that Islamic extremist groups such as al-Qaeda and Hezbollah could form alliances with wealthy and powerful Latin American drug lords to launch new terrorist attacks, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
Extremist group operatives have already been identified in several Latin American countries, mostly involved in fundraising and finding logistical support. But Charles Allen, chief of intelligence analysis at the Homeland Security Department, said they could use well-established smuggling routes and drug profits to bring people or even weapons of mass destruction to the U.S.
“The presence of these people in the region leaves open the possibility that they will attempt to attack the United States,” said Allen, a veteran CIA analyst. “The threats in this hemisphere are real. We cannot ignore them.”[…]
Much as the Taliban tapped Afghanistan’s heroin for money, U.S. officials say the vast profits available from Latin American cocaine could provide al-Qaida and others with a ready source of income. The rebel group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, has long used drug money to pay for weapons, supplies and operations — and is also designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S.
“We’ve got a hybrid that has developed right before our eyes,” Braun said.
Latin America’s drug kingpins already have well-established methods of smuggling, laundering money, obtaining false documents, providing safe havens and obtaining illicit weapons, all of which would be attractive to terrorists who are facing new pressures in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Allen, of the Homeland Security Department, said there was currently a “low probability” of cooperation between terrorists and drug organizations, but the “fertile ground” of Latin America — where government corruption is common and institutions often weak — means that the possibility deserves renewed U.S. attention.
“It would be an unprecedented act. But we cannot rule it out,” he said.