New Drug Routes Through Lawless Libya Raise Questions About ISIS’ Role

New Drug Routes Through Lawless Libya Raise Questions About ISIS’ Role
A Libyan fighter affiliated with the internationally recognized government in Tripoli during clashes against the Islamic State, Sirte, Sept. 22, 2016 (AP photo by Manu Brabo).

In a story that reads like a crime thriller, The New York Times’ Rukmini Callimachi and Lorenzo Tondo reported last week on new routes for smuggling hashish from Morocco to Europe that raise suspicions about whether the self-proclaimed Islamic State is profiting off the drug trade. The hashish routes wind their way across the eastern Mediterranean through Libya, a roundabout passage that avoids the usual short run—often on small boats and even jet skis—across the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain.

There are two reasons for the new route, Callimachi and Tondo write: more police surveillance along the Spanish coast in recent years and, in 2011, Libya’s descent into chaos after the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi. Large freighters now go east across the North African coast, stopping in Libya, where their shipments often continue overland through Egypt and the Middle East, entering Europe through the Balkans.

It isn’t just the emergence of the new route that is newsworthy, but the scale of trafficked drugs. Huge cargo freighters have been seized with hundreds of millions of dollars of hashish on board. One freighter stopped by Italian authorities south of Sicily off the Libyan coast in 2013, operated by a Syrian crew, was carrying 15 metric tons of hashish, according to Callimachi and Tondo’s reporting—nearly $170 million worth, since the drug sells for around $11,000 a kilogram on the street in Europe.

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