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“This money doesn’t come from just criminal operations but from private donors in the Persian Gulf and Middle East who support al Qaeda,” the official said. “It is difficult to fight a war when the rich are supporting the enemy and the poor are coerced into giving up their children.”

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb also fills its coffers through drug-trafficking and ransoms from high-profile kidnapping of tourists and diplomats.

“AQIM traffics cocaine from Latin America into Europe to help finance their operations. But beyond the obvious, it poses a very serious risk to U.S. national security, as ties between the nefarious drug organizations and terror groups grows stronger,” said a U.S. official, with knowledge of the Latin America drug trade.

Turmoil fuels terrorism

U.S. and European officials say increased instability in Africa is an area of concern because it leads to increased recruitment, thus strengthening the terror movement.

Rep. Edward R. Royce, California Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said at a hearing last month that AQIM in Mali is a “shared threat,” noting that it is the fastest-growing al Qaeda franchise in the world.

French intelligence officers earlier this month discovered British, Saudi and European passports in a terrorist hideout in the ancient Malian city of Timbuktu. They also found ammunition and weapons stockpiled in the home, according to news reports from the region.

The discovery is evidence that al Qaeda’s reach goes beyond the region, deep into Europe and “many believe into the U.S. as well,” a U.S. official told The Guardian.

Converging al Qaeda franchises is yet another concern.

In mid-March, U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria Terence McCulley warned that Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group in Nigeria with ties to al Qaeda, was moving freely between Nigeria and northern Mali. The convergence of these groups threatens progress in the region and increases the chance that Mali will fall into the hands of extremists.

Ms. Aissata is pleading for more action by the West.

“The Obama administration must be a part of the solution before it is too late,” she said.

“The country who has led the fight against terrorists around the world is the United States. It must do the same with Africa. Only when they fear U.S. involvement, can we find a way to stop them.”

Mr. Creal said the solution may be as simple as bankrupting the enemy.

“Now is the time to pull all our resources and attack the black money, find it and get it back — Mali on one end and Afghanistan on the other end — meet in the middle, stockpiling all the money and bankrupting the enemy,” he said.