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UN Probe Finds Connections Between al Qaeda, Charles Taylor and West African Diamond Trade
8/6/2004 11:45 AM

The arrest of a Tanzanian fugitive in Pakistan last week and a forthcoming finding by the Special Court in Sierra Leone have rekindled the debate over how big a role, if any, West African diamonds played in financing the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian accused of masterminding the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, was arrested by Pakistan security forces on July 25th, along with more than a dozen other al Qaeda operatives. He has been identified as a key player of an al Qaeda diamond trading operation conducted in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

According to U.S. intelligence officials and United Nations investigators, Ghailani met with former Liberian president Charles Taylor in the years before and after September 11 and received refuge from the former president while planning further terrorist operations. Officials and investigators described Liberia under Taylor as a haven for Al Qaeda. Officials also stated that a Special Forces raid, approved by the Defense Department, to capture Al Qaeda leaders under Taylor's protection in 2001 was called off.

Neither the United States nor Nigeria has commented on Liberia's alleged al Qaeda links under Taylor but officials and investigators within the U.S. government and the Special Court for Sierra Leone stated confidentially that these developments raise new questions about why the United States waited so long to support Taylor's expulsion from presidency and continuously refrains from using its influence to force his extradition from Nigeria to face trial before the Special Court.

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was aledgedly living at an army camp and in government-run hotels in Liberia for at least three years, beginning in the late 1990s. In addition, U.S. officials and UN investigators stated that Taylor's forces harbored other suspected al Qaeda leaders, including MIT-educated biologist Aafia Siddiqui.

According to a the confidential report by the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone, ''It is clear that Al Qaeda had been in West Africa since September 1998 and maintained a continuous presence in the area through 2002." Evidence produced by Special Court documents states that Al Qaeda raised millions of dollars for terrorist activities by allegedly paying Taylor for protection and then joining him in the African diamond trade.

The confidential UN investigation found that Ghailani was sent to Liberia in 1999 to helped coordinate Al Qaeda investments in the diamond trade. During this time he met with Taylor and al Qaeda leaders Fazhl Abdullah Mohammed, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, and Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, all three of whom are wanted for the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

The Special Court report outlines a number of additional connections between the illicit conflict diamond trade and links between Taylor’s regime and al Qaeda. Some reported links include Mohammed serving as General Sam Bockarie’s driver; Mohammed Atef, then al Qaeda's military commander, meeting in early 2000 with General Issa Sesay, another Taylor commander, and; Siddiqui visiting as a guest of one of Taylor's top lieutenants for one week.

The report allegedly goes on to describe how Taylor facilitated access to terrorist operatives in Sierra Leone and Liberia in exchange for weapons and helped al Qaeda launder money through the two countries’ diamond mines.

Despite the cancelled Special Forces mission aimed at capturing Ghailani and Mohammed and several recent reports on the issue, the FBI reported, most recently in June 2003, no al Qaeda presence in West Africa to the U.S. General Accounting Office. United Nations investigators stated that after U.S. officials met with them in February of this year, the FBI finally firmly concluded that al Qaeda did have extensive relations with Taylor and local rebel forces.

Accounts supporting al Qaeda connection claims by intelligence officials and the Special Court have also been published by the Global Witness and Partnership Africa Canada. Also, a recent book by Washington Post correspondent, Douglas Farah, entitled "Blood from Stones: The Secret Financial Network of Terror," provides a detailed description of al Qaeda's activity in West Africa.

The Global Witness report, other sources and specialists argue that the 9/11 Commission and the U.S. intelligence community have overlooked the link between Al Qaeda and Charles Taylor, due to Taylor’s long lasting ties with the Central Intelligence Agency. Charles Taylor has often alleged himself of being on the United States payroll.

Compiled from The Boston Globe, Boston, Copyright Globe Newspaper Company 2004, 4 August 2004 and, Washington, D.C., Copyright 2004, 5 August 2004.