By Laurel Neme, Andrea Crosta, Nir Kalron
As the bloody stain from Al Shabaab’s attack in Nairobi spreads, we grieve not only for those who died or were injured, and their families and friends, but also for the many innocents affected by its preparation and financing.
Tragically, that long list includes thousands of slaughtered elephants, because it is their ivory that, in large part, helped finance the Westgate assault. Income from ivory smuggling helped pay the soldiers, buy the weapons, rent the shop used for scoping and staging, and likely even purchase the computer that tweeted updates as events unfolded.
The link between this attack and wildlife smuggling is clear. Andrea Crosta and Nir Kalron’s 18-month undercover investigation showed that the illicit trade in ivory and rhino horn supplies Al Shabaab with important financial resources.
Moreover, when Somalia’s Kismayo port was retaken from insurgents by the Kenya Defense Forces this summer, the illegal wildlife trade became a financial savior for Al Shabaab.
Al Shabaab as Middleman
The investigation detailed how Al Shabaab acts as a middleman, filling orders from agents in end-user countries in Asia or the Gulf states. It confirmed that the terrorist group pays better than average prices (U.S. $200 per kilogram in 2011-2012), making them desirable buyers of illicit ivory from small-time brokers.
It is then these small-time brokers, often related to the terrorists by clan, who engage the poachers, paying $50 per kilogram (although the price varies considerably) for what they know will make a hefty return. More....