Washington Post Reports on Diamond Smuggling

A yearlong European investigation into al Qaeda financing has found evidence that two West African governments hosted the senior terrorist operatives who oversaw a $20 million diamond-buying spree that effectively cornered the market on the region’s precious stones, the Washington Post reported on Dec. 29, 2002.

Investigators from several countries concluded that President Charles Taylor of Liberia received a $1 million payment for arranging to harbor the operatives, who were in the region for at least two months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Pentagon, the newspaper reports. The terrorists moved between a protected area in Liberia and the presidential compound in neighboring Burkina Faso, investigators say.

Long accused of sanctioning illicit diamond and weapons trading, Taylor and President Blaise Campaore of Burkina Faso deny the charge, which is included in a summary of the joint intelligence findings.

The Washington Post says it obtained a copy of the military intelligence summary, which details al Qaeda’s secretive business operations in West Africa and an elaborate plot that began in 1998 to hide substantial terrorist assets in diamonds. This account draws on interviews with senior investigators, the intelligence report, and documents obtained independently that verify the report’s findings. The newspaper also interviewed two sources with direct knowledge of certain events, both of whom asked that their names not be used for fear of retribution.

European and Latin American investigations also found evidence that a group of people buying diamonds on behalf of the terrorists were simultaneously attempting to procure sophisticated weapons, such as anti-aircraft missiles, the Post has learned. Investigators have been unable to trace the diamonds since they left Liberia and Burkina Faso.

The diamond-buying operation appears to have been hatched in response to a move by the United States in 1998 to freeze al Qaeda assets after attacks on two U.S. embassies in Africa that were blamed on the organization, the newspaper reports.