December 10, 2002
WSJ Links Gold, Diamonds and South Africa to Terrorists
U.S. and South African intelligence officials suspect terrorist groups such as al Qaeda are using South Africa as a new base of operations to raise funds, launder money and regroup for more terrorist attacks, The Wall Street Journal reported on Dec. 10. WSJ says agents also are investigating leads that militant Islamist groups are smuggling gold, diamonds and cash through South African ports to Dubai and Pakistan. South Africa has the broad civil liberties and modern infrastructure that make it easy for terrorists to hide, say investigators.
The article was written by Robert Block, who last year wrote about an alleged link between tanzanite and al Qaeda. Block reports U.S. officials say they believe al Qaeda is active throughout sub-Saharan Africa, particularly East and West Africa. These regions are home to conflict diamond hot spots such as Sierra Leone and Liberia, as well as terrorist bombing sites in Kenya and Tanzania.
The link between South Africa and terrorism was suspected throughout the 1990s, reports Block. Fears escalated after an al Qaeda operative was arrested in South Africa in 1999 and was later convicted in trial in New York City for his role in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing in Tanzania. Recently, other suspects with possible links to al Qaeda have been arrested trying to smuggle large amounts of cash out of South Africa.
So far, the South African Police Service's Gold and Diamond Enforcement Branch has only been able to link the $360 million in gold stolen yearly from the country's mines to Pakistani smuggling syndicates, not terrorists. But some private investigators and U.S. officials believe there is a link, reports Block. Gold smuggled from South Africa disappears in the direction of Dubai, which has a large gold market and is suspected by U.S. officials of being the hub of al Qaeda's underground financial network.
In September, FBI Director Robert Mueller said al Qaeda hadshifted much of its wealth from cash to gold and other commodities, making it harder for U.S. agencies to track the terrorist's group's finances.
by Peggy Jo Donahue