When Moussa, a people smuggler from Niger, worked with jihadists from the so-called “Islamic State in the Greater Sahara” (ISGS), his task was to get inside Mali, pick up prospective migrants from the location the militants gave to him, and take them across the border to an encampment in Niger—the border village of Tongo Tongo.
You may have heard of it. Tongo Tongo was mentioned in many recent news stories because it was the same village where four American Green Berets were killed in an ambush last October. But long before that incident Tongo Tongo was known locally as a place where jihadists trafficked migrants bound for Libya and, the migrants hoped, for Europe.
Some were children who had served the jihadists for a long time. Others were people who each paid militants about 200,000 CFA ($320) to facilitate their crossing into Niger. Often these people carried wrapped parcels containing hard drugs, which they handed over to militants on their arrival in Tongo Tongo.
“It was mostly cocaine,” said Moussa, who was born and raised in Tongo Tongo. “There was hardly a time I didn’t return [to the village] with a migrant carrying drugs.”