June 28, 2004
Diamonds/Al Qaeda Link Exists, Says U.N.
United Nations war-crimes prosecutors say they have evidence that Aafia Siddiqui, believed to be al Qaeda's only female leader, visited Liberia in June 2001 to assist the terrorism group's reported diamond-trading operation, according to the Wall Street Journal. This comes after the recent statement by the U.S. commission investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that there's no persuasive evidence linking al Qaeda and diamonds.
In a dossier, U.N. prosecutors say a witness said Siddiqui, was sent "to evaluate the diamond operation in Liberia" in June 2001. It's the first indication she has been positively seen in Liberia. The dossier is connected to discoveries by the Office of the Prosecutor for the Special Court of Sierra Leone, a special court jointly administered by the U.N. and the Sierra Leone government to prosecute war crimes. The dossier and other discoveries indicate the diamond operation might have been a central component of al Qaeda's finances.
The U.N. and Belgian police say the group obtained diamonds from war-torn Sierra Leone and sold at least $19 million of the stones on the Antwerp diamond market in the year before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
In the U.S., the FBI is seeking Siddiqui for questioning. The FBI linked the Pakistani geneticist and former Boston resident to weapons purchases in Massachusetts. At a Justice Department press conference last month, FBI Director Robert Mueller labeled her "an al Qaeda operative and facilitator."
The dossier states Sheik Ahmed Sahm Swedan, an al Qaeda leader on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorist list, visited Monrovia, Liberia, at the same time as Siddiqui. "It is clear that al Qaeda has been in West Africa since September 1998 and maintained a continuous presence in the area through 2002," the U.N. documents state.
U.N. Sierra Leone prosecutor David Crane would only say "al Qaeda is in West Africa and has been for years." Crane has brought war-crimes charges against former Liberian President Charles Taylor, now in exile in Nigeria, for the carnage that took place in the Sierra Leone civil war.
The staff of the U.S. commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks said June 16 that "no persuasive evidence exists" that al Qaeda "funded itself through trafficking in diamonds from African states engaged in civil wars." The commission gave no details on its sourcing for that conclusion.
But U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, a senior Republican from Virginia, an aggressive advocate for ending the trade in conflict diamonds who is investigating connections between diamonds and terrorism, says he strongly disagrees. "I think the commission overall has done a good job, but I think they now have to talk to the FBI and other individuals with the information and get that information," he says.
In the years before the Sept. 11 attacks, Liberia's Taylor hosted a cell of top al Qaeda leaders dealing diamonds in Monrovia, according to information U.N. investigators gave to members of Congress and the Sept. 11 commission.
At the Justice Department news conference last month, Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Mueller said they were urgently seeking capture of several top al Qaeda leaders linked to the West Africa cell, suggesting it remains the group's most intact, and therefore most dangerous, wing.
Belgian police, who are probing the Antwerp diamond market, turned over some of their findings to the U.N. The inquiry centers on a firm used by al Qaeda called ASA International, which is allegedly controlled by a Lebanese organized-crime figure named Aziz Nassour, who is believed to be in Beirut, officials say. ASA, which is controlled by a Delaware-registered shell company ASA Holding Inc., has been linked by Belgian authorities to narcotics, money laundering and counterfeiting as well as an $87 million fraud against ABN-Amro Bank in Amsterdam and diamond deals with the now-defunct UNITA rebel group of Angola.