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AQIM tied to Colombian drug trade

LONDON, Dec. 30 (UPI) -- Colombian rebel groups are paying al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb to provide protection for cocaine shipments in Africa and Europe, a terrorist analyst said.

U.S. counter-terrorism officials and European governments are worried AQIM, the North African branch of al-Qaida, is creating a stronghold for militant groups in a region stretching from Mauritania to Somalia.

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Olivier Guitta, an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, said the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia were behind a drug agreement with AQIM to act as security escorts.

"Since the routes going through Europe became much more difficult to use, FARC saw an opportunity to use the Sahel and North Africa as its new drug route," he told London's Telegraph newspaper. "And since AQIM has a hold over the area and was already involved in major smuggling operations it made sense to offer them a deal."

The Algerian government estimates terrorist groups tied to AQIM brought in around $130 million from the drug trade and kidnappings since 2007.

AQIM, which went by the name Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, swore its allegiance to Osama bin Laden in 2007. Guitta said despite the concerns from U.S. and European officials, some North African governments are turning a blind eye to the reported activities.

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"In Africa, (most) countries do not cooperate very much and a few allegedly actually profit from the drug trafficking," he said.

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