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Conflict Diamonds:  The Link To Al Qaeda - 2003-04-29

In Johannesburg, representatives from more than 70 countries are meeting to discuss a plan to stop the trade in conflict diamonds. The plan, called the “Kimberly Process,” is an international certification system that ensures diamonds were not obtained illegally.

Organizers say diamonds have played major roles in the conflicts in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. But the Johannesburg meeting will also look at the link between diamonds and terrorism. The group Global Witness has released a report called “For a Few Dollars More.”

Alex Yearsley, the lead campaigner for Global Witness, told English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua that the al Qaeda terrorist organization raised millions of dollars from the diamond trade. Mr. Yearsley says, “Al Qaeda first moved into diamonds and other precious commodities in about 1993, when they had some cell operations in Kenya and Tanzania. They established a diamond mining company and they set up diamond trading firms.” He says they eventually expanded their operations by moving into Sierra Leone and Liberia in the late 1990’s and by 2001/2001 had a large-scale diamond laundering operation.

The Global Witness official says it’s unclear exactly how much money Al Qaeda raised, but that it’s certainly in the millions of dollars. Mr. Yearsley says the terrorist group was able to move very easily into Sierra Leone due to instability. He says, “The current regime in neighboring Liberia enabled these diamond trading networks to be utilized by Al Qaeda.”

He says terrorists mainly dealt with the rebel movement in Sierra Leone, the RUF, which “was dealing with diamond traders from Lebanon, from Antwerp and indeed with some people from the United States.” Since the war on terrorism, it’s uncertain how much money Al Qaeda is raising from diamonds. But Mr. Yearsley warns there are not enough controls to ensure against it, especially in Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He also says it’s been an “open secret” for many years that the Middle Eastern group Hezbollah has been involved in diamond trading. He says Israel and the United States consider it a terrorist organization, but many countries in Europe do not.

Click above links to download or listen to De Capua interview.