Report links al-Qaeda with diamond trade




By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent, in London

Financial Times, 17 April 2003

An alleged terrorist finance route linking West African conflict diamonds with extremist groups such as al-Qaeda has remained open despite global counter-terrorism measures launched in the wake of the September 11 attacks, a new investigation claims.

Inadequate independent oversight of the diamond industry allowed al-Qaeda to launder millions of dollars through the purchase of illegally mined Sierra Leonean diamonds, the investigation by the UK-based organisation Global Witness says. The value of the deals is unclear, though other investigations have estimated it at about $20m (£12.7m, €18.5m).

The report details how between 1998 and 2001 al-Qaeda sought to raise funds and hide its assets by using the diamond industry, and even considered developing its own diamond mines.

In doing so, the report claims, three al-Qaeda operatives used legitimate diamond industry contacts, while exploiting links between unscrupulous governments, arms traders and rebel forces controlling diamond-producing areas of Sierra Leone.

Measures to enforce the certification of diamonds to ensure they were not mined illegally were accepted by the diamond industry in November 2002. But the so-called Kimberley Process has been criticised for failing to introduce independent oversight of diamond exports.

In the wake of al-Qaeda’s bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on August 7 1998, the organisation expanded its fund-raising efforts across Africa. Its Kenyan cell had launched commodity-buying efforts as early as 1993 but made a strategic decision to expand its commodity-trading enterprises to deflect international sanctions, the report says.

Global Witness alleges that the Lebanese Shia militant groups Hizbollah and Amal had established strong ties within the diamond-producing areas of Sierra Leone long before al-Qaeda did so.

The failure to act against them “ensured that the entrenched illicit diamond trading networks in Africa have been able to flourish, creating the blueprint for al-Qaeda’s subsequent infiltration of the diamond trade”, the report states.

Subsequent measures had not secured the industry from terrorist use.

Al-Qaeda’s first contacts with diamond dealers in the region were made in September 1998, the report says.

A senior adviser to Charles Taylor, Liberian president, and the Sierra Leonean Revolutionary United Front rebel force, which at that time controlled the country’s diamond area, allegedly met an al-Qaeda operative and opened negotiations.

The adviser who fought alongside Islamist forces in Afghanistan and received military training in Libya, is now thought to be living in Burkina Faso.

It was there in 2000 that he discussed diamond deals with Ali Darwish, a Lebanese diamond dealer working with another dealer, Aziz Nassour. Mr Nassour acknowledges he has links with the Amal leader and current Lebanese parliamentary president, Nabih Berri.

In a letter from the RUF rebels, reproduced by Global Witness, Mr Nassour is apparently shown to have had the monopoly of diamond purchases from the RUF, a large part of which was to be bought on behalf of the al-Qaeda operatives.

Mr Darwish yesterday told the Financial Times that the adviser despatched the three al-Qaeda operatives to Liberia’s border with Sierra Leone to finalise the buying deal. He denies knowing the three were part of al-Qaeda.

Mr Nassour, reached yesterday in Beirut, denied he had met the three al-Qaeda operatives in Liberia, or that terrorist groups had used diamonds as a means of raising funds or money laundering. He also denied allegations in the report that he had provided Mr Taylor with $1m as a pay-off from the al-Qaeda deal, a charge Mr Taylor has also denied.

“I don’t believe terrorists use diamonds. I have never come across it, but among diamond dealers, people tell stories,” he said yesterday.


© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.