Criminal activities such as arms and drug trafficking are crucial to the survival of jihadist groups in the Sahel, creating links with organised crime, a South African research centre said Tuesday.
A study conducted by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) over two years in the Liptako-Gourma area, which covers the regions of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger that are currently fighting jihadist groups, found that illicit activities by extremist groups “finance their establishment and expansion”.
The jihadists can generate the finances they need for their operations and provide livelihoods allowing them to gain support from the locals, which has resulted in some of them joining the extremists.
The study, which involved 800 people, some of whom were imprisoned members of armed groups, said the link between trafficking and jihadists is “generally indirect” as they do not own the trafficked products.
Rather the jihadist groups — as well as Malian armed groups — are paid for “the necessary protection” they provide to the traffickers’ convoys of drugs.
The ISS also said cattle theft is widespread in the Sahel region and that groups often steal cattle during attacks on villages and sell them to butchers or markets that are far away.
“All armed groups in the area are involved in the removal of livestock, their survival depends on it,” a former member of a jihadist group in Niger told the ISS.
In some areas, extremist groups have imposed a levy called a “zakat”, which farmers must pay in exchange for protection.