Three men accused of being al-Qaida associates were brought to New York on Friday and charged with plotting to ferry drugs through the Sahara desert to raise money for terror attacks.
The arrests mark the first time U.S. authorities have captured and charged al-Qaida suspects in a drug trafficking plot in Africa. Prosecutors say the evidence points to a dangerous, growing alliance between terror chiefs and drug lords.
The three suspects — believed to be in their 30s and originally from Mali — were arrested by local authorities in Ghana earlier this week and turned over to U.S. agents. They arrived in the United States early Friday, officials said, and were ordered held without bail after a brief court appearance in which they did not enter pleas to charges of narcoterrorism conspiracy and conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists.
The head of the Drug Enforcement Agency, Michele Leonhart, said the case shows a "direct link" between al-Qaida and drug traffickers. The U.S. has long been concerned about close ties between militants and the heroin trade in Afghanistan, but the African case appears to show an expansion of both al-Qaida's illegal activities around the globe and U.S. efforts to curtail black market deals that funnel cash to terror operations.
The criminal complaint unsealed Friday says Oumar Issa, Harouna Toure and Idriss Abelrahman worked with al-Qaida in the Islamic Magreb. Court papers say the DEA infiltrated the group by using informants posing as supporters of Columbia's rebel army, which the United States considers a terrorist organization.
Detainee release: The Obama administration is planning to repatriate six Yemenis held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a transfer that could be a prelude to the release of dozens more detainees to Yemen, the Washington Post reported Friday. There are currently 97 Yemenis at Guantanamo. The six Yemenis and four Afghans will be transferred out of Guantanamo Bay in coming days.