JOHANNESBURG (AP) — There is little evidence to suggest al-Shabab extremists are heavily involved in the illegal ivory trade, contrary to some widely circulated assertions that the Somalia-based group receives significant profits from elephant poaching, according to a new report.
Allegations that al-Shabab, which is linked to al-Qaida, is a major player in East African ivory trafficking makes for a potent but misleading narrative that risks diverting attention from organized crime groups that direct the trade with the help of corrupt officials, said the authors of the report by the Royal United Services Institute.
"It is here that our attention and scarce resources must be focused if we are to see greater success in tackling this highly damaging trade," co-author Cathy Haenlein wrote in an email to The Associated Press on Thursday.
The report by the London-based institute, which focuses on defense and security issues, was based partly on interviews with experts on al-Shabab and wildlife trafficking as well as research in Nairobi and northern Kenya, near the border with Somalia.
The assertion of a close link between al-Shabab and ivory poaching has been made by some journalists, conservation groups and government officials, including U.S. trade representatives and former President Bill Clinton. In 2014, Oscar-winning film director Kathryn Bigelow released a short animated film called "Last Days" that alleged al-Shabab makes $600,000 a month from ivory trafficking.
Any al-Shabab involvement has probably been small-scale and opportunistic, according to the new report. Al-Shabab's key funding streams include taxing charcoal and sugar cargoes in territory where militants hold sway, the report said.
Matt Bryden, a former coordinator of the United Nations' Somalia monitoring group who was not involved in the report, said the alleged link between al-Shabab and ivory trafficking "just doesn't stand up under granular inspection."