Officials said U.S. intelligence first spotted AQIM's use of Boeing 727
jets for drug smuggling as early as 2006. They acknowledged that the threat
was played down in the U.S. government, particularly by the Homeland
AQIM has significantly expanded its use of jets to fly tons of
cocaine and weapons to such countries as Mali and Mauritania. Officials said
the weapons were used for Al Qaida's war against Algeria and Western
interests while the cocaine was meant to finance insurgency operations, Middle East Newsline reported.
"The planes have been owned by South American smugglers and terrorists,
and AQIM operates flights, cargo transfer and smuggling to Europe," the
official said. "AQIM could use the planes for their operations once they
land in North Africa."
In 2008, the Homeland Security Department drafted a classified report on
the collaboration of AQIM with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia,
known as FARC. The report, said to have been ignored, warned that both
organizations were using twin-engine turboprops in what was termed "the most
significant development in the criminal exploitation of aircraft since
The AQIM-aligned fleet was said to consist of about a dozen jets,
including the Boeing 727. The Boeing aircraft, which could transport 10 tons
of cargo, were said to have joined the fleet in 2009.
The aircraft fleet was exposed by Morocco in October 2010 when the North
African kingdom announced the dismantling of an AQIM cell. Rabat said 34
suspects were accused of working with aircraft from South America for drug
smuggling. Morocco said AQIM destroyed one of the Boeing 727s after fuel
acquired for another flight turned out to be unsuitable.
Officials said AQIM was reaping tens of millions of dollars in profit
from the drug smuggling from South America. They said this has facilitated
AQIM operations, recruitment and the establishment of safe havens in such
countries as Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
The AQIM drug smuggling route, said to contain at least 250 people, has
included Algeria, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger and Tunisia.
Officials said one or several of the smuggling routes ended up in Spain.
"This has not only made AQIM rich, but multi-millionaires out of
terrorists," the official said.