AUSTRALIA - Heroin sold on Australian streets is funding Islamic terrorists in East Africa and the Middle East, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime believes. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who was briefed on the growing heroin trade in the Indian Ocean during high level meetings in Port Louis, Mauritius, this week, described the growing "narco-terrorism" threat as "terrifying."
The warning came in the same week that the Abbott Government recommitted Australian military forces to fight terrorists in Iraq and local security agencies foiled a domestic terror attack. Political trouble and a deteriorating security situation in Syria and Iraq in the past few years has disrupted the so-called northern route for heroin smuggling, from the poppy fields of Afghanistan - where 90 per cent of the world's heroin in produced - to established markets in Russia and Europe. It has meant drug traffickers have turned to a new southern route across the Indian Ocean, to emerging markets in East Africa, the Indian subcontinent and South-East Asia, from where heroin is smuggled on to Australia.
A UN-backed Combined Maritime Force - which includes significant participation by the Royal Australian Navy - has seized 4200kg of heroin in the Indian Ocean the past 18 months, more than has been seized in the previous 20 years in the region. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime's East Africa regional co-ordinator Alan Cole told Ms Bishop and her counterparts from Mauritius, Arvin Boolell, and Seychelles, Jean Paul Adam, that Afghanistan's opiate production had hit record levels since the drawing-down of western military forces in the war against the Taliban.
Mr Cole said terror groups, including Somalia-based al-Qaida affiliate al-Shabaab, were heavily involved in heroin smuggling through the growing southern route, using the profits to fund their terrorist activities. He said increasing quantities were being trafficked through the Indian Ocean after disruptions to the traditional northern route caused by conflict in Syria and Iraq. He estimated at least 2000 tonnes a year of heroin were being trafficked through the Indian Ocean to destinations in East Africa, China and South-East Asia.
With more than 90 per cent of global heroin production coming from Afghanistan, according to the UNODC, it was probable that at least some of that heroin arriving in South-East Asia was then trafficked on to Australia and sold on the streets.
Profits worth "hundreds of millions of dollars" were likely being reaped by terrorist organisations. Ms Bishop described the developments as alarming. "The prospect of that level of narco-terrorism is, frankly, terrifying," Ms Bishop told the briefing. Mr Cole told _The Weekend West _ that heroin in Australia was "almost certainly" originating in Afghanistan. "Whether it's funding terrorist activities is difficult to say for certain but it is quite likely," he said. "It's worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and it's bigger than it's ever been. Profits are probably higher than they have ever been. It's very difficult to combat, especially on the ground in Afghanistan with the withdrawal of NATO and the Australian forces.
"There are big opportunities at sea to fight this with good, intelligence-led interceptions, and that's what we're hoping to see more of."
Garth Parker - The West Australian for Yahoo.com.au/Aeptember 20, 2014
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