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US Military Official: al-Qaida Profiting from Illegal Diamond Trade in West Africa - 2004-04-02

A senior U.S. military commander says the al-Qaida terrorist group has been profiting from the diamond trade in West Africa and is seeking other support in the region.

General Charles Wald says he is convinced al-Qaida is involved in the diamond trade, particularly the illegal trade in what are called "blood diamonds" from conflict areas in West Africa.

The four-star Air Force general is the deputy commander of the U.S. European Command, headquartered in Germany and responsible for military operations not only in Europe but also most of Africa.

In an interview with VOA during a visit the general made to the Pentagon, he referred to a congressional hearing at which a witness, former Washington Post correspondent Doug Farah, testified on al-Qaida ties to the "blood diamond" trade.

"There's no doubt in my mind that's a truism," he said. "They may be connected through Lebanese or Hezbollah or whatever the case may be but the fact of the matter is that I think that's a source of income for al-Qaida."

General Wald goes on to say there is evidence of an al-Qaida presence in North Africa, although he describes that presence as small and scattered.

He believes the terrorist group may be recruiting in Africa. He says it may also be looking for logistical support.

General Wald says the threat of terrorism has acted as a kind of glue bringing countries together and that applies to Africa.

"People are worried about instability and fundamentalism and that threat of terrorism so I think, in fact, ironically, as bad as terrorism is - it's the worst thing we've had face us at least in my lifetime - that it has an up side, ironically, and that up side is this common understanding that there needs to be a certain order in the world, a certain stability and the ability to fight these people that don't have borders," he said.

General Wald says terrorism is in part the reason behind greater U.S. military engagement in Africa.

He says the model the Pentagon is following is one in which the U.S. military will assist governments with specialized support, especially in areas where local forces lack skills and resources. These areas include communications, intelligence and surveillance.