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Al-Qaida's secret South American money trail

Tuesday - 3/8/2011, 3:32pm  ET

J.J. Green, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - There is growing proof of a link between narco-traffickers and al-Qaida after international authorities have discovered a scheme that's been flying under the radar.

A report from the Peruvian government sent to U.S. officials confirms they have found proof that al-Qaida has been routing money through Peru to Europe and eventually to South Asia. But the money is not going to Pakistan, the place where al-Qaida's leadership is believed to be.

Instead, it's headed into India.

Authorities have long had suspicions that al-Qaida was receiving significant support from the tri-border region connecting Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. But this discovery adds a new dimension to al-Qaida's fundraising capabilities.

The Peruvian Financial Intelligence Unit says it has informed U.S. authorities it has found evidence of at least one transaction per month -- dating back to 2009 -- that was sent by al-Qaida from Lima through European banking systems to India.

A top Peruvian intelligence official says he was frustrated because Peru's legal system has hampered authorities' attempts to take action against the money launderers. The Peruvians say $3 billion in laundered money passed through their system in 2009 -- 83 percent of which was related to drugs, while the other 17 percent was related to fiscal fraud, corruption and gun dealing.

As WTOP reported in 2009 in the series "The Nexus," the alliance between terrorists and narco-traffickers has exploded into a global network of sophisticated and ruthless America-hating operatives that are flooding Latin America, Central Asia and the Middle East.

U.S officials have noted since then that another problem has emerged that could have a devastating impact on the U.S. -- collaboration between the drug traffickers, weapons dealers and terrorists.

"This poses, I believe, the greatest strategic threat that faces our country right now," says Mike Braun, former head of operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration. "As we speak -- with the explosive increase of cocaine abuse in Europe -- Colombian and Mexican cartels are all over West Africa."

Braun says the groups are making friends and forging bonds.

"You've got operatives from al-Qaida, from Hezbollah and Hamas that are occupying the same space at exactly the same time," Braun says. "This potpourri of global scum is hanging out in the same seedy bars, the same sweaty brothels, and they're staying in the same shady hotels and what're they doing? They're talking business."

He believes the alliances and relationships they are creating will come back to haunt the U.S.

One day "you're going to have a Hezbollah operative that built a personal relationship with a Mexican cartel member pick up the phone and say 'Can you help me get my guy into the U.S.?' or 'Can you help me move some items into the U.S. that I desperately need to move?'" Braun says.

Braun, now managing partner at Spectre Group International, contends items being moved in the dark of night could include a weapon of mass destruction.

Click here to read J.J. Green's "The Nexus" series from 2009.

Follow J.J. and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)