Professional Jeweler Archive: Study Cites Al Qaeda Link to Diamonds

June 2003


Study Cites Al Qaeda Link to Diamonds

Human rights group says diamond trade continues to be vulnerable to infiltration by terrorists

Global Witness, the human rights group that first called the industry’s attention to the conflict diamond crisis in 1998, published a 100-page report in April detailing its latest investigation into the ties between al Qaeda terrorists and diamonds. Though the report breaks little new ground, it further substantiates earlier stories in The Washington Post detailing how al Qaeda bought potentially $20 million worth of diamonds from Sierra Leone to hide its assets before attacking the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001 ( Daily News archives, Jan. 3, 2003, and Nov. 2, 2001). An unstable Sierra Leone, corrupt diamond traders who acted as go-betweens and Liberian President Charles Taylor’s collusion in smuggling the diamonds made the purchases possible.

Global Witness called for governments and the diamond industry to strengthen the Kimberley Process to prevent infiltration by terrorist groups. The Kimberley Process is an international certification system for rough diamonds designed to bar illicit material from the legitimate trade. Global Witness says terrorist groups have been building a network to exploit diamonds throughout Africa since the early 1990s. Specifically, the report says al Qaeda traded diamonds in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Tanzania, Kenya and other countries. It also says terrorist group Hezbollah traded in diamonds in Africa.

The report cites weaknesses in the Kimberley Process certification plan, focusing on African countries where alluvial diamond mining takes place. Alluvial mining involves diamonds found in open areas rather than protected mines. Diggers, almost always poor and desperate to sell their finds, often broker with any willing buyer.

Many of these African countries with alluvial mining have unstable or corrupt governments, leaving them vulnerable to diamond smuggling and illegal exploitation of natural resources. It’s feared illegally obtained or sold diamonds could mix into supplies of Kimberley Process participants, especially where governments can’t adequately track diamonds or monitor certification. Illegal diamonds could be approved by Kimberley certificates and resold on the international market, making the process a sham.

Global Witness released the report before the April 28-30 meeting of Kimberley participants in South Africa, where the agenda focused on improvements to the system. At a meeting of many Kimberley leaders in Washington, DC, April 10, suggestions included better screening of Kimberley members, independent monitoring of the diamond pipeline, licensing alluvial diamond miners, instituting an independent statistical system to account for all diamond trading, and technical and financial assistance, especially to African countries with unstable governments.

In its report, Global Witness says the industry should have launched an independent investigation of reported ties between some diamond dealers and terrorist groups. Industry leaders have said these dealers aren’t part of any recognized diamond bourse and are outside of their authority and must be handled by government authorities.

Global Witness also criticized the U.S. for not taking the ties between terrorism and diamonds more seriously. The report called upon the United Nations, individual governments, banking institutions, international law enforcement and Kimberley Process participants to do more to uncover terrorist ties to diamonds and work to prevent them.

– by Peggy Jo Donahue

Diamonds from alluvial mines are still vulnerable to terrorist exploitation, says a new report. These diamonds, which are conflict-free, are courtesy of Leo Schachter Diamonds, New York City.

Copyright © 2003 by Bond Communications