By Ginger Thompson for The New Yorker. In December, 2009, Harouna Touré and Idriss Abdelrahman, smugglers from northern Mali, walked through the doors of the Golden Tulip, a hotel in Accra, Ghana. They were there to meet with two men who had offered them an opportunity to make millions of dollars, transporting cocaine across the Sahara. Touré wore a dashiki, and Abdelrahman had on tattered clothes and a turban that hid much of his face. They tipped the guards at the entrance and then greeted Mohamed, a Lebanese radical, in the lobby. Mohamed took them up to a hotel room to see David, a drug trafficker and a member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. “Hola, Colombiano,” Touré said, as he entered the room. Abdelrahman tried to call David “007” in Spanish, but said “477” instead. David, who was dressed in a short-sleeved pullover and Bermuda shorts, laughed and offered his guests bottles of water.
Touré and Abdelrahman came from Gao, a parched and remote city in northern Mali which has long been used as a base for smuggling of all kinds, from immigrants to cigarettes. In recent years, the surrounding region has also been the scene of conflict between violent bands of nomadic insurgents, including members of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). During months of meetings and phone calls, David and Mohamed had told Touré that the FARC had some thirty thousand fighters at war with the United States, and that it wanted to work with Al Qaeda, because the groups shared the same enemy. “They are our brothers,” Mohamed said. “We have the same cause.” Touré had explained that he had connections to the organization: he ran a transport company, and, in return for safe passage for his trucks, he provided Al Qaeda with food and fuel.