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Arrests in Guinea-Bissau over 1.8 tonnes cocaine bust

Police in Guinea-Bissau have seized more than 1.8 tonnes of cocaine hidden in flour bags in the biggest seizure in the country’s history, authorities said on Tuesday.

Police said the drugs had arrived by sea in the country’s northwest. After a two-week intelligence operation, police arrested eight people: four Bissau-Guineans, three Colombians and a Malian, the force said.

It was the second large drug shipment to be caught this year in the former Portuguese colony on the Atlantic Coast, long a major crossing point for Latin American cocaine headed to Europe. An 800 kg haul was seized in March.

Guinea-Bissau is home to just 1.8 million people and covers just 10,800 square miles, but its plethora of remote islands and unpoliced mangrove creeks makes it ideal territory for smugglers.

Police said the latest shipment was on its way to Islamist militants: “The drugs belong to the terrorist network Al Qaeda. The cocaine comes from Colombia. But the destination is the Arab Maghreb,” said Domingos Monteiro, deputy director of the judicial police.

Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in north and West Africa is based primarily in northern and central Mali but has a presence across the region. Authorities in the region have long suggested it is involved in drug trafficking in the lawless Sahara desert.

For years, the United Nations described Guinea-Bissau as a “narco state” in which drug traffickers had become so powerful they controlled parts of the government.

But after the arrest of some politicians implicated in the trade by the United States’ Drug Enforcement Administration in 2012, Bissau’s cocaine traffic seemed to decline or go underground.