Arabian Gulf countries should work together to fight growing drug trade, experts say

ABU DHABI // The number of terrorists using the Arabian Gulf to launder drug-trafficking money is on the rise and countries in the region should reinforce the sharing of their intelligence and train local police forces to prevent smugglers from succeeding, experts say.

Johan Obdola, the president of the International Organisation for Security and Intelligence, visited the UAE to meet its police forces.

He wanted to spread the message that the UAE and the region were targets for such criminals, or so-called narco-terrorists.

Mr Obdola said there were several narco-terrorist groups from south and central America and Mexico that were doing a lot of drug trafficking in west Africa.

“The new routes that they are developing involve the GCC,” he said, adding there were members of Colombian and Mexican criminal gangs in the UAE to supply the demand or increase it for money laundering.

“It’s becoming a bit of a problem here,” said Mr Obdola.

The traffickers are using submarines to transport drugs and weapons to west Africa.

“They can go down to 10 metres and they can be used as a strategic weapon against oil or gas facilities offshore,” he said.

“It’s very hard to track them on radar and there’s now another interesting emerging route between Argentina and Brazil to Qatar.”

The UAE’s economic development is drawing the interest of such groups.

“So you have very powerful criminal organisations looking into it,” he said.

“It’s a matter of identifying what would be the immediate and long-term threat to the UAE’s homeland security.

“These people are very smart, they know how to penetrate any country and they’re looking at this area now, especially in the last three to four years.”

Mr Obdola said he received information that a well-known Mexican drug lord, who had established his operation in Argentina and had worked in China, was “now working on Qatar and the whole GCC”.

“They invest in real estate, more than using it as a hub for drugs, but they’re expanding,” he said.

Mr Obdola met with Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed, the president of Dubai Civil Aviation, to discuss the threat.

He said police in Abu Dhabi and Dubai were doing a good job of fighting drug trafficking, “but when you face something unknown, you have to be prepared”.

“Narco-terrorists are very subtle but very aggressive and, although the Gulf is a tougher region because everything is very clean and clear here, it’s not impossible for them, especially now with Expo 2020,” he said.

Dr Firuz Yasamis, the director of diplomacy at the American University in the Emirates, said countries in the region should work together in fighting the drug trade.

He said drug trafficking could become economically significant in the region.

“It’s something I see happening in the near future,” said Dr Yasamis. “This region is a channel of transit from the Far East to Africa for alcohol, drugs, cigarettes and human trafficking as a source of income for these terrorists.”

Arabian Gulf governments should establish a cooperative regional organisation, he said.

“Security begins with intelligence,” he said. “If you don’t have any good and secure intelligence services, they [countries] will be disarmed by the very powerful international mafia.

“These people are working and running around and somebody should say no to them.”

As such, airport security was more important than ever, said Nauman Arshad, the chief executive of Xellerix, a Dubai-based company that provides advanced electronic security systems.

“For the Middle East, I’ve always felt that the UAE led the region in terms of innovation, security and stability, so I think they’re falling in line with the vision they set,” he said.

Mr Obdola said: “What happens depends on the response from the government and the security forces. They need to share information and process it because the new frontier is the UAE.”

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