Professional Jeweler Archive: Sales of Sierra Leone Diamonds Linked to al Qaeda

January 2002


Sales of Sierra Leone Diamonds Linked to al Qaeda

The terrorist group hid money and raised money using conflict diamonds

Al Qaeda, the terrorist network led by Osama bin Laden, reaped millions of dollars from the illicit sale of diamonds mined by RUF rebels in Sierra Leone, says The Washington Post, then stockpiled diamonds to hide cash before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The Post quoted unnamed U.S. and European intelligence officials and other anonymous sources close to al Qaeda.

Preparing for Terror

From July to Sept. 11, al Qaeda bought more diamonds than usual and paid a premium price for them. Investigators told The Post this indicates the terrorist network anticipated its bank accounts would be frozen after the Sept. 11 attacks and sought to protect some of its money by sinking it into diamonds, which are easy to hide, hard to trace and hold their value.

For three years before this stockpiling, key al Qaeda operatives – including three men on the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists – traveled to Monrovia, Liberia, to visit Ibrahim Bah, RUF’s principal diamond dealer, with cash to buy diamonds, says The Post.

This is how the newspaper details the money-laundering scheme, which was in place until al Qaeda began to stockpile diamonds in July: Bah used al Qaeda money to pay RUF for diamonds at far below their true worth. Bah resold the diamonds at much higher prices to diamond dealers from Belgium. The profits realized from the transactions were split among Bah, al Qaeda and Liberian President Charles Taylor, who received a commission on each deal, says The Post.

At least one of the diamond dealers mentioned, Sammy Ossailly, has denied any trading connections to Bah or the al Qaeda network, according to the Belgian newspaper De Morgen. The Diamond High Council of Antwerp says Ossailly and the other Belgian dealer mentioned, Aziz Nassur, are not members of an Antwerp diamond bourse and haven’t imported or exported diamonds in Antwerp in recent years, though they were active many years ago. Ossailly said he trades only in Africa. Bah told the Associated Press he did not sell diamonds to al Qaeda, though he acknowledged some RUF fighters could have unknowingly sold diamonds to individuals linked to the terrorists.

Official Condemnation

The De Beers Group, Jewelers of America and the World Diamond Council immediately reacted to the reported connection between diamonds and terrorists. De Beers said it “utterly condemned the way in which these organizations are preying on otherwise legitimate industries to further their criminal and murderous activities.”

JA and the World Diamond Council issued a joint statement urging passage of pending U.S. legislation that would enable the president to bar diamonds from entering the U.S. unless the exporting countries have a system of controls in place for rough diamonds. These controls would prevent conflict diamonds from enriching terrorists. At press time, the Clean Diamond Trade Act had passed the House and was pending in the Senate.

In related news, the Kimberley Process, which is devising a worldwide system to purge conflict diamonds from the legitimate trade supply, completed a set of recommendations for a certification system to control the flow of rough diamonds. The recommendations will be presented to the United Nations in March.

– by Peggy Jo Donahue

Copyright © 2002 by Bond Communications