Press Release / June 17, 2004

Global Witness questions 9/11 commission regarding diamonds


A draft report by the 9/11 Commission stating that Al Qaeda did not “fund itself through trafficking in diamonds from African states engaged in civil wars” is wrong and will damage international efforts to ensure that rough diamonds are not used to fund terrorism. Global Witness fears that unscrupulous elements of the diamond trade will use the draft report to undermine genuine and serious efforts being made by groups such as the US Department of Treasury’s FinCEN and diamond financing banks such as ABN Amro to ensure that money laundering and terrorist financing are taken more seriously by the diamond industry.

Following the revelations by the Washington Post in 2001, Global Witness conducted a yearlong investigation into Al Qaeda’s involvement in the diamond trade. In March 2003 Global Witness released an investigative report detailing how Al Qaeda cells had strategically used diamonds for profit and to launder targeted funds. Evidence contained in Global Witness’ report came from the US government and FBI itself. Notebooks and business cards taken by the FBI from Osama bin Laden’s personal secretary, Wadih El Hage, show a deep involvement in the diamond and precious gem trade. Similarly court transcripts of trials in the USA and Germany in 2000 and 2001 show that Al Qaeda members in East Africa were involved in the diamond and gem trade.

In 2003 and 2004 the FBI undertook investigations into the links between Al Qaeda operatives in West Africa and their involvement in the diamond trade. According to classified briefings given to Congressional members by the FBI’s Terrorist finance team they confirmed that Al Qaeda operatives were in Liberia and Sierra Leone in order to gain access to the lucrative diamond trade. “The FBI should release an unclassified version of their report as soon as possible,” said Alex Yearsley of Global Witness.

Furthermore, the Chief Prosecutor of the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone, David Crane, a former Pentagon General Counsel and a former Defence Intelligence Agency Counsel has repeatedly and consistently confirmed that key Al Qaeda operatives were in Liberia. Most recently he has stated, “We have in the process of investigating Charles Taylor ... clearly uncovered that he harboured al-Qaida operatives in Monrovia as late as the summer of 2001,” “The central thread is blood diamonds.”

Further credence comes from a US four star Air Force General, General Charles Wald, Deputy Commander of European Central Command who publicly stated during an interview at the Pentagon his belief regarding Al Qaeda’s use of diamonds, "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."

Further links emerged in November 2003 when Abdel Qadir Mamou, a Senegalese cleric, admitted that he met Bin Laden three times in Sudan from 1993 to 1996 to receive money to fund his diamond buying operations from West Africa into Belgium. Similarly, convicted Al Qaeda terrorist Nizar Trabelsi stated in court that he funded his operations through selling diamonds. Belgian and Dutch police believe he was part of a robbery involving $162 million worth of rough diamonds from Brussels airport in October 2000.

Global Witness is preparing a detailed submission to the 9/11 Commission on the involvement that Al Qaeda operatives had in the diamond trade. “Until all sectors of the diamond industry, particularly the medium to small rough diamond traders based in west and central Africa with buying partners in Europe, take this issue more seriously the continued possibility exists that terrorist groups will use the highly profitable and lucrative rough diamond trade to launder money and raise funds,” said Yearsley.

i. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. 12th Public Hearing. Staff Statement No 15. Overview of the Enemy Page 10.
ii. For A Few Dollars More. How Al Qaeda Moved into the Diamond Trade. March 2003.
iii. War Crimes Tribunal investigating Taylor finds links to terrorists. Edward Harris, The Associated Press. June 1 2004.
iv. War On Terrorism US Military Official: al-Qaida Profiting from Illegal Diamond Trade in West Africa Alex Belida Pentagon 02 Apr 2004 23:44 UTC
v. Muslim Cleric Deported From Italy Says he Met Bin Laden. 30 November 2003. Dow Jones.

For further information, please contact Alex Yearsley, Global Witness
Tel: +44 (0) 207 561 6388 or +44 (0) 7773 812 901, Internet: