November 2, 2001
Sales of Sierra Leone Diamonds Directly Linked to Al Qaeda Network
The Washington Post reports this morning that al Qaeda, the terrorist network led by Osama bin Laden, has reaped millions of dollars from the illicit sale of diamonds mined by the RUF rebels in Sierra Leone and has stockpiled even more diamonds. The Post quotes unnamed U.S. and European intelligence officials and other anonymous sources close to the al Qaeda network.
From July to Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda bought more diamonds than usual and paid a premium price for them. Investigators tell the Post this is a strong indication the terrorist network anticipated its bank accounts would be frozen after the Sept. 11 attacks and sought to protect its money by sinking it into diamonds, which can be easily hidden, hold their value and are hard to trace.
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, the RUF's principal diamond dealer, with cash to buy diamonds.
The Post details the money-laundering scheme, which was in place until Al Qaeda began stockpiling diamonds in July: Bah used al Qaeda money to pay RUF a small amount for diamonds smuggled out of Sierra Leone, far below their true worth. Bah resold the diamonds at much higher prices to diamond dealers who the Post alleges were based in Belgium. It is not known whether the dealers were aware of the al Qaeda connection. The profits realized from the transactions were split among Bah, al Queada and Liberian President Charles Taylor, who received a commission on each deal.
In 1999, the last year for which figures are available, Sierra Leone accounted for 0.5% of worldwide diamond mining production, according to the Mining Journal Ltd. in London.
U.S. and European Intelligence officials only recently realized how important the diamond flow was to fund al Qaeda. "I now believe that to cut off al Qaeda funds and laundering activities, you have to cut off the diamond pipeline," one investigator told the Post.
- by Peggy Jo Donahue