National Post

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Somali drug may fund terrorism

14 Tonnes Seized

Stewart Bell,  National Post  Published: Thursday, December 20, 2007

Stewart Bell/National Post

Terrorist groups may be funding their activities through khat, an illegal stimulant smuggled daily into Canada, says a newly released intelligence report.

The report by the Canadian government's Integrated Threat Assessment Centre says "some part of the proceeds involved in the global khat trade possibly finances terrorism."

Khat is an illicit drug that is wildly popular among Somali-Canadians. It originates in East Africa and the Middle East, regions that "are 'of concern' from a terrorism viewpoint," the report says.

"Given that a number of terrorist organizations around the world finance their activities through the drug trade, and that much of the khat trade occurs in and emanates from a region of the world closely identified with terrorism, it is possible that some parts of the proceeds involved may end up in the hands of terrorists or their sympathizers."

A declassified version of the Dec. 8, 2006, intelligence assessment, titled Khat: Connections to Terrorism? was obtained by the National Post under the Access to Information Act.

Formally called Catha edulis, khat is a leafy shrub that grows only in the Horn of Africa and Yemen. Chewing khat is a daily ritual among men in Somalia.

As home to one of the world's largest Somali communities, Canada has experienced a steady rise in the use of khat. Although illegal, khat is still widely available on the black market in places like Etobicoke, home to Toronto's Little Mogadishu neighbourhood, where it is sold out of backrooms in restaurants and shops.

The RCMP's annual drug report, released yesterday, said 14 tonnes of khat were seized in Canada last year, two-thirds of it at Toronto Pearson International Airport.

The drugs were destined for the Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa regions, "where larger concentrations of Somali communities are found," the RCMP report said.

The seizures were valued at $7-million.

The United Kingdom and the Netherlands are the major transshipment points, but smugglers are increasingly using alternative countries such as Italy, the United States, France and Germany, it said.

Most of it is coming to Canada aboard passenger and cargo planes.

"Mules were recruited through the Internet, newspaper ads or word-of-mouth to bring khat to Canada," the RCMP said. "They were often offered all-expense-paid trips and cash rewards if the delivery was successful."

While many Somalis chew khat, others oppose the practice, arguing it is destructive to families because it is costly (a small bundle can cost $80), time-consuming and makes users lethargic.

Somalia's Islamist extremist movement, currently at war with the government, opposes khat, considering it against Islamic law. But in 2003, the Somali terrorist group Al Ittihad Al-Islam, which is associated with al-Qaeda, was accused of smuggling khat into the United States. The group has operated a small fundraising network in Toronto since the 1990s.

The RCMP has found "no distinct links" between the import and trafficking of khat in Canada and terrorist groups, the report said. But the report also concluded there are several ways terrorists may be profiting from the global trade.

The primary producers of khat, Kenya and Ethiopia, have "experienced significant terrorist activity," it said. Khat is also cultivated in Yemen, and "several terrorist organizations, such as al-Qaeda, continue to maintain a presence in Yemen." Some khat also makes its way to Saudi Arabia, it added.

"It is possible that some terrorist financing occurs through involvement in the local or regional khat trade, either directly in the cultivation, transport and distribution of the dru g, or indirectly, such as levying fees or 'taxes' for transport or access," it says.

sbell@nationalpost.com