An Islamist holds aloft the Isis flag at a demonstration in Tunis. (Getty)
An Islamist holds aloft the Isis flag at a demonstration in Tunis (Getty)

Europe's cocaine trade is funding Islamist terrorists in north Africa, who used the cash to seize swaths of Mali in north Africa in 2013 and have pledged their support for Isis (Islamic State).

When militants from al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb established a power base in the deserts of north Africa in 2007, they also took control of lucrative routes used to smuggle cocaine to the north African coast, and from there to Europe.

The money they earned from the trade allowed the group to buy weapons that fuelled their conquest of Mali, and could be used to fund brutal acts of violence against the West, reports the latest edition of IBTimes UK's sister publication, Newsweek magazine.

"You know, this is not some small game," a Western diplomat in Guinea Bissau told the magazine.

"This is about financing terrorism on Europe's southern border, about drug money from Guinea Bissau and Mali being used for a bomb in London," he said.

In 2004, South American drugs cartels began transporting huge quantities of cocaine across the Atlantic by boat and plane.

At the beginning of the 2000s, the cocaine market was a quarter of the size of north America's, but by its end it matched it, with 350 tons a year smuggled in annually.

The drugs are transported from the coast and remote airstrips across the desert along former caravan routes, with jihadist militants providing security, and taking millions of dollars in return.

It is estimated that 48 tons of cocaine, worth approximately $1.8 billion in Europe, are smuggled along the routes every year.

The group also takes millions from seizing and ransoming western hostages.

The jihadists used the money to buy equipment including armoured vehicles, surface-to-air missiles and AK-47s from soldiers fleeing Libya after dictator Muammar Gaddafi was deposed in 2012.

The militants used the equipment to seize north Mali in 2013, easily overpowering the country's army, with the group's relentless march on the Malian capital Bamako only halted by a French-led bombing campaign.

Recently, the group declared their support for Islamic State, the jihadist organisation which has established a brutal 'caliphate' in Syria and Iraq.

An al-Qaida in the Islamic Mahgreb splinter group, Jund al-Khalifa, also recently pledged their support for Isis. The group recently beheaded French hiker Herve Gourdel after kidnapping him in Algeria.

And with Islamic State making inroads into north Africa, the likelihood that the millions spent in European cities on the drug every weekend will be used to fund the crimes of one of the most terrifying jihadist organisations of recent times increases.