U.N. Court Says Terrorists Converted Cash to Diamonds

June 1, 2004

U.N. Court Says Terrorists Converted Cash to Diamonds

Al Qaeda representatives who took shelter in West Africa in the months prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the U.S. converted terror cash into untraceable diamonds, says a United Nations-backed court, according to The Associated Press. "We have in the process of investigating Charles Taylor ... clearly uncovered that he harbored al Qaeda operatives in Monrovia (the Liberian capital) as late as the summer of 2001," said David Crane, the court's lead prosecutor. "The central thread is blood diamonds." Crane, a veteran U.S. Defense Department lawyer, said he had no information on whether any funds from alleged al Qaeda diamond dealings were used to carrying out the Sept. 11 attacks.

Despite the court's findings, other U.S. government officials say they have found little or no evidence to support the allegations. FBI teams have repeatedly traveled to West Africa to investigate allegations of al Qaeda diamond dealings. Crane, in the Sierra Leone capital of Freetown, said he had "documentary" and "direct evidence" of al Qaeda's West Africa dealings. Crane said he gave the information that his own team uncovered to the U.S. and European and other North American countries. "Now, what other countries, and it's not just the United States, choose to do with that is clearly up to them," Crane said.

The terror-diamonds link came out as part of the Sierra Leone war crimes court's investigation of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, said to have been a middleman between al Qaeda and West Africa's multimillion-dollar diamond trade. The court also ruled on May 31 that Taylor is not immune from prosecution for war crimes. Taylor, in exile in Nigeria, is the most prominent figure indicted by the war crimes court. He is accused him of backing Sierra Leone's rebels in a brutal civil war while he was president of neighbouring Liberia.

The court's three judges, in a brief ruling, said Taylor's claim of immunity as a former head of state did not apply, because the U.N.-Sierra Leone court is international, not national. The court is scheduled June 3 to begin trying indicted figures from Sierra Leone's 10-year war, in which rebels waged an escalating terror campaign for control of the country's diamond fields, frequently hacking off the limbs of men, women and children. Armed intervention by neighbouring Guinea, Britain and the U.N. finally broke the rebels, who signed a peace deal in 2002.

Taylor, a former warlord blamed for much of West Africa's bloodshed, fled rebels in his own country in August 2003. He entered exile in Nigeria, which has agreed not to extradite him to the UN-Sierra Leone court, though the court is still demanding he appear. Its demand raises unease among some African and Western diplomats, who fear bringing the onetime warlord out of exile for prosecution may jar the region's unsteady peace.

by Peggy Jo Donahue

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