Man accused of smuggling diamonds to terrorists denies charge

The man accused of being the chief diamond dealer for rebels in Sierra Leone has denied reports he sold gems to Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

“I only heard of bin Laden and al-Qaida after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States,” Ibrahim Bah said in an interview with the AP.

The Washington Post, citing unnamed sources, has identified Bah, a Libyan-trained former Senegalese rebel reportedly based in Burkina Faso, as a broker between Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front rebels and buyers from bin Laden’s al-Qaida network.

Bah confirmed he fought with the RUF rebels from 1991 until 1996, but said he has no links with bin Laden-the prime suspect in the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, the AP reported.

“I am ready to meet the American investigators whenever and wherever they want on all issues, and to show them that I have no relations with bin Laden or any other terrorist movement,” he told the AP by satellite phone from an undisclosed location.

He conceded, however, that the RUF was a loosely structured movement and said some rebel fighters could have “unknowingly” sold diamonds to individuals linked to bin Laden.

The Washington Post reported that al-Qaida has earned millions of dollars in the last three years from the illegal sale of diamonds mined by rebels in Sierra Leone. The paper identified Bah as the rebels’ principal diamond dealer.

Bah was also named by a U.N. panel that investigated gun-running and diamond smuggling in neighboring Liberia as an agent operating out of Burkina Faso who obtained RUF diamonds and smuggled them into Europe.

While the U.N. investigators did not look into any possible link to al-Qaida, the Interpol expert on the panel said this week that “common sense” would suggest the network used diamonds to move money, the AP reported.

Bah, who denies any role in diamond smuggling, says he has had no contact with the Sierra Leone rebels since they signed-and later abandoned-a 1999 cease-fire, the AP reported.

He said he has now left Burkina Faso and is hoping to start a secondhand car dealership, he told the AP. He did not say where.

Fearing the possibility of reprisal attacks, Burkina Faso denied Friday that it has been harboring Bah, the AP reported.