U.S. diplomat: Al Qaeda launders money in Africa

Extremist groups like al Qaeda are using mafia-type methods to launder funds and hide their financial footprints, including through diamond trading in West Africa, a regional U.S. diplomat said Tuesday.

Reuters reports that Richard Allan Roth, the U.S. ambassador to Senegal, said money laundering was a thriving criminal enterprise, whether it was through the illegal sale of diamonds from Sierra Leone, prostitution in the Balkans or heroin sales in America.

“But the chiefs of organized crime are not the only ones and we now see that the leaders of global terrorism use similar methods to circulate flows of hidden money to finance and disguise their activities,” he reportedly told participants in a seminar on money laundering held in Senegal’s capital Dakar. “Sometimes the two come together, like when al Qaeda tries to infiltrate the illegal diamond market in West Africa.”

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, Africa was seen by some as a potentially rich recruiting ground for Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network.

But despite its many wars, strong Muslim tradition and easy-to-access guns, there have been few signs of serious al Qaeda activity in West Africa. Security analysts say the area is more likely to be used for rest and relaxation than recruiting.

Senegal is among several West African states drafting legislation to combat money laundering.

“The challenge before us is to fight against the use of the financial system for money laundering purposes without hampering the free flow of capital and services,” deputy governor of the Central Bank of West African States, Damon Justin Baro, reportedly told the workshop.