The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) says illegal cigarette trafficking is funding terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda and Hezbollah, the Washington Post reported June 8.
According to the ATF, there are currently 300 open cases of cigarette smuggling, compared with only a handful five years ago. “This is a major priority for us,” said Michael Bouchard, assistant director of the ATF. “The deeper we dig into these cases, the more ties to terrorism we’re discovering.”
Bouchard said millions of dollars are being generated from illegal cigarette sales because the scheme is difficult for law-enforcement officials to stop. In addition, penalties for arrest and conviction are relatively mild.
According to ATF, traffickers buy large volumes of cigarettes in states where the tax is low, such as Virginia and North Carolina. They then sell the cigarettes in states like Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey without paying the higher cigarette taxes.
The substantial profit made, said William Billingslea, an ATF senior intelligence analyst, is rivaling drug trafficking as a funding method for terrorist groups.
“The schemes provide terrorists millions of dollars which can be used to purchase firearms and explosives to use against the United States and others,” said ATF Director Carl Truscott.