Illegal gold mining funding Sahel militants, Interpol says

More than 260 officers found scores of firearms, ammunition, as well as illicit drugs

Illegal gold mining has been found to be the latest source of illicit funding for armed groups in the Sahel. Pawel Dwulit / The National
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Interpol and the UN have arrested several suspected terrorists, retrieved more than 40,000 sticks of dynamite and detonator cords for illegal gold mining, the latest source of illicit funding for armed groups in Africa's Sahel region.

The seven-day Operation KAFO II, jointly coordinated by Interpol and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), targeted trafficking networks at airports, seaports and land borders in Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali and Niger.

More than 260 officers from police, customs and other national services in the four countries, participated in the operation, which was conducted from November 30 to December 6.

Officials seized scores of guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition, after checking more than 12,000 individuals, vehicles, containers and goods against international criminal databases, and carrying out physical searches.

They also found nearly 1,500 kilograms of cannabis and the plant-based stimulant drug khat; some 60,000 litres of contraband fuel, and more than 2,000 boxes of contraband medical drugs.

"Trafficking in firearms is a lucrative business which, in turn, fuels and funds other types of serious crimes," Interpol Secretary-General Jurgen Stock said.

"Operation KAFO II shows the need to connect the dots between crime cases involving firearms and terrorists across different countries."

UNODC and Interpol said the dynamite and detonator cords were destined for use in illegal gold mining: a new source of financing but also a potential recruiting ground for armed groups operating in the Sahel.

The two agencies said that the seizure of large quantities of contraband gasoline in Niger and Mali represented a new trend, as it is believed the fuel came from Nigeria and was being trafficked to both finance and supply the terrorist group Al-Qaeda and its affiliates.

The officials seized hand sanitiser, gel containers, gloves and drugs during the operation, indicating the black market for these items is flourishing amid the Covid-19 pandemic.