Al Qaeda Converted $20 Million Into Diamonds

January 6, 2003

Al Qaeda Converted $20 Million Into Diamonds

A Dec. 29 Washington Post article provides the strongest evidence to date that al Qaeda terrorists converted about $20 million into diamond stockpiles in the months prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. The whereabouts of the diamonds, how many have been sold – and to whom – are unknown.

A recently-completed European investigation, shared with The Washington Post, reports the terrorist group worked through three diamond dealers. These diamond dealers also have been named in United Nations reports and other sources as being notorious diamond smugglers connected to conflict diamonds.

Aziz Nassour, a Lebanese diamond merchant; his cousin, Samih Osailly; and Ibrahim Bah, a long-time trafficker in diamonds and guns across Africa, are all accused of acting as conduits for al Qaeda operatives who bought the $20 million in diamonds. The diamonds were mined in Sierra Leone and mostly smuggled out of Liberia and Burkina Faso. The presidents of Liberia and Burkina Faso were bribed to play host to al Qaeda during the terrorist diamond buying operations. President Charles Taylor of Liberia has long been accused of illegal diamond and weapons trading.

All those accused deny the charges. However, Nassour and Bah have both been barred by the from international travel by the U.N. because of their suspected smuggling activities. Osailly was arrested in April of 2002 and is in prison awaiting trial on charges of diamond smuggling and illegal weapons sales. Liberia's Taylor is also under U.N. restrictions due to his activities.

Nassour and Osailly are associated with Asa Diam, an Antwerp company, which investigators say handled the terrorist diamond transactions after being contacted by Bah on behalf of al Qaeda. Last year, when accusations against Nassour and Osailly first surfaced, Antwerp's Diamond High Council said the two men were not members of any Antwerp diamond bourse, and hadn't imported or exported diamonds in Antwerp in recent years. European investigators say Asa Diam handled the financial transactions with al Qaeda, but the diamonds were smuggled out of Liberia and never went through Antwerp.

Bah is a general in the Sierra Leonean rebel group Revolutionary United Front, which was responsible for countless human rights atrocities during Sierra Leone's prolonged war that ended last year. It was Bah's RUF connections that enabled him to take al Qaeda operatives to the diamond fields of Sierra Leone and begin what amounted to a cornering of the market in diamonds during the period of April - August, 2001, according to the European investigation. This time period is the peak diamond mining season in Sierra Leone. Local diamond merchants said they were perplexed why they could no longer buy diamonds, but learned new buyers were paying 15%-30% more than the going rate. These buyers are now thought to have been working for al Qaeda.

– Peggy Jo Donahue

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