Submitted by Anne Landman on
Post-9-11 crackdowns on funding streams for Islamic and other terrorist groups worldwide have led these networks to turn to criminal rackets, with cigarette smuggling offering low risks and high returns. Cigarettes are easy to buy, easy to bootleg and offer lucrative returns. Among the groups controlling black market cigarettes -- a multi-billion-dollar trade -- are al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an Algeria-based terrorist organization widely believed to have been backed by Osama Bin Laden; Hezbollah; the Taliban; the Real Irish Republican Army ("Real IRA") and the Kurdistan Workers Party. The most commonly-smuggled brand is Marlboro, followed closely by Gauloises and American Legend. "Drug dogs don't alert on if your car is full of Camels," explained former FBI counterterrorism agent David Cid. "The other advantage is you don't go to jail for 50 years" for smuggling cigarettes, since they are a legal product. In Colombia, established drug-smuggling routes are used for cigarette smuggling. U.S.-made cigarettes, particularly Marlboros, Kents and Lucky Strikes, make up a large portion of the goods smuggled into Colombia, with drug cartels, left-wing guerrilla groups and brutal right-wing paramilitary groups all jostling for market share. The profits from tobacco smuggling can rival those from narcotics: a shipping container of 10 million cigarettes made in China costs as little as $100,000, but can bring as much as $2 million in the U.S. A little money can go a long way with terrorist groups, too -- Al Qaeda's entire 9/11 operation was estimated to have cost between $400,000 and $500,000, according to the final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.