Pablo Escobar Gaviria, the world's most notorious drug lord, became a kind of popular culture icon recently after the Netflix series "Narcos" became a hit. But most probably, the victims of "El Patrón" are not happy to see how "Narcos" depicted him and did not really show the reality of the damage he did. But I will not write about either the famous TV series or the life of Escobar today. My topic is the huge connection between terror organizations and drug trafficking.
When a bilateral extradition treaty became the top political issue in Colombia, Medellin, the second-largest city in the country, was the world center of the cocaine trade. Escobar challenged the state to a war over his extradition with these words: "Better a tomb in Colombia than a prison cell in the U.S." He blew up airplanes, killed dozens of security officers and judges, bribed politicians and bureaucrats and paid bounties for every policeman killed. Maybe his cartel was not a designated terror organization like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC); however, if what he did is not an act of terror, then what is?
There wasn't much of a direct connection between Escobar and FARC in the series, but it is known that starting from the 1980s, Escobar's Medellin Cartel and the Cali Cartel supplied money and armaments in return for guarding their labs and airstrips in Colombia. FARC earned about $1.6 million per month guarding a single "cocaine collection center" in those years. After most cartels declared war on FARC, the terrorist organization started to make Mexican cartels pay for cocaine in return for armaments in the 1990s. And at the end of the day, FARC was directly involved in the drug trafficking business, and this involvement in the narco-economy resulted in significant growth in the terror organization.
According to reports, in the 1970s, FARC had no relationship with the narco-economy and was barely surviving; it couldn't even bring more than 50 insurgents together. However, by the mid 1990's 65% of FARC's funds came from drug trafficking. FARC made at least $400 million a year through the drug trade. In this way, FARC went from having a limited presence in eight municipalities in 1979 to controlling 622 municipalities, which is 61% of all Colombian municipalities by 1998.
As I said, terrorism and narcotics have always been related. Even the word "assassin" is derived from one of the very first terrorist groups, the Hashashins of the Nizārī Ismā'īlītes, led by Hasan as-Sabbah. The Hashashins were killers who acted under the influence of hashish. Today, terrorist groups' suicide bombers, such as the outlawed PKK, are often given drugs to tranquilize them so they don't back out of destroying their own lives and the lives of others. For instance, DAESH has used different types of opium or methamphetamines to sedate and brainwash their terrorist cells into joining vicious fights and even death during combat.
But of course, a far more important connection between drug trafficking and terrorism is economic. Drug trafficking has long been used to finance terrorist operations. Terrorism requires money – to buy weapons, pay fighters, rent places, buy lands, conduct surveillance and plan operations. Terrorists and traffickers can easily connect because they work in the same dark space, and they have common enemies: law enforcement and intelligence services.
For instance, the Taliban has had a big role in the growth of opium production in Afghanistan. Al-Qaidahas used their profits from the opium trade to buy weapons, food and other necessary items to support their insurgency. The al-Qaida terror group's heroin trafficking made Osama bin Laden a "narco-terrorist." According to the U.N. World Drug Report 2007, the total potential value of Afghanistan's drug-traffickers reached about $3.1 billion dollars. Compared to that, it is reported that in 2004, some 400 tons of cocaine was exported from one Latin American country, with an estimated domestic value of $2 billion. Reports show that the international drug trade is a $400 billion business worldwide. Sixty percent of all foreign terror organizations are reportedly linked to the drug trafficking business.
The notorious terror organization Daesh also raised funds from trafficking South Asian heroin. It is reported that Daesh made up to $1 billion annually on Afghan heroin trafficked through its territory when it was on the rise. Therefore, drug money has been high on Daesh's list of profit generators, together with oil and war booty.
As drug trafficking is a great way for terrorist organizations to raise funds for weapons systems, the outlawed PKK is no exception. Since its establishment, the PKK has been using drug profits to fund its campaign of terror. Most of the heroin coming from Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq passes through Turkey and heads toward Western Europe. Police investigations in Italy, Holland, Germany and Scandinavia uncovered PKK involvement in drug and arms smuggling in those countries since 1993.
The "Turkey Drug Report" states that the PKK earns $1.5 billion annually from heroin production just in northern Iraq. According to the report, the PKK is involved in each and every stage of the narcotics trade, from raw production of drugs in Pakistan to distillation in Iraq or Iran and sale in Europe. The money that the PKK gets from drug transfers under the name of "taxes" and the income it receives from drug smuggling in regions under PKK control in our neighboring countries is one of the most significant sources of finance for the terrorist group," the report states. Also, EUROPOL's "Terrorism Situation and Trend Report" states that the PKK is involved in drug smuggling "in order to finance its terrorist activities."
It is also revealed that the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) has also run a network of drug trafficking under the shadow of "legitimate companies." More than a hundred FETÖ members were detained after the attempted coup in 2016 during operations in several Turkish provinces including Gaziantep, Kayseri, Malatya and Erzurum. In these operations, police seized Captagon pills, cocaine and cannabis Sativa roots. Even this week, a FETÖ member was arrested in Bitlis and security forces found 960 grams of metamphetamine in his car.
It is understood that both FETÖ and the PKK have transferred heroin material produced in Asia to the West, while they have carried synthetic drugs and chemicals produced in Europe to countries in the Arab peninsula through Turkey. There is nothing else to say, terrorists are also drug-traffickers, and drug-traffickers are terrorists. Their world is the same.