Blood Diamond Research
For thousands of years, diamonds have been highly regarded by everyone from kings and queens to ordinary people. Diamonds are a symbol for wealth, elegance, love, and power. Centuries ago, they were also a symbol of courage, invincibility and strength. What is less commonly known is that these stones are also a symbol of terror and death. Conflicts arise from the mining of these gems; many people have died and many are perhaps still dying because of the mining of these precious stones. The Discovery of Diamonds
Although the exact date in unclear, the first diamond discovery in Africa was sometime between late 1866 and early 1867. The discovery of these precious stones began when a 15-year old farm boy by the name of Stephanus Erasmus Jacobs found a sparkling white pebble on the grounds of the De Kalk farm along the southeastern part of the Orange River, an area formerly known as the Cape Colony. Jacobs gave the pebble to his friend, Schalk van Niekirk who later gave it to a travelling trader named John O’Reilly. The stone was passed from hand to hand after that. It was later discovered that the pebble was not merely a stone but a “Eureka” diamond.
In 1867, the diamond was displayed at the Paris Exhibition. The Diamond Rush to Africa In 1869, approximately two years after the discovery of the “Eureka” diamond, another brilliant white diamond was found near the banks of the Orange River. This time, the diamond was found on the farm of the De Beers brothers: Joahannes and Diederik. Niekirk bought the diamond from the person who found it and sold it to the Lilienfeld brothers, who later sold it to the Earl of Dudley. This diamond was named the “Star of Africa”. The discovery of the “Star of Africa” sparked the beginning of the diamond rush to Africa.
De Beers Group and the Diamond Mines The De Beers farmland were turned into diamond mines. It has at least two diamond mines, namely, the Premier and Kimberly mines. There were too many diamond seekers trying to find diamonds in their land and eventually, the De Beers brothers were not able to handle the stress of constantly protecting their land from the great number of diamond seekers. They sold their land to Cecile Rhodes, who later merged diamond mines as one corporation called the De Beers Consolidated Mines. There were other diamond mining companies but the De Beers Group was the biggest.
The Diamond Monopoly The biggest share of diamond mining was controlled by the De Beers Group. Its chairman, Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, initiated a single-channel marketing campaign. To keep the value of the diamonds at a high level and to keep the stability of the diamond trade, they controlled the stone’s availability. The company was said to have been involved in shady dealings such as price fixing. They also managed to have a stranglehold on the diamond supply and production. They were known to be ruthless to their competitors, stomping out any competition that came their way.
They prevented the rise of competition by convincing people that diamonds are most precious when left untouched by others. The company launched a marketing campaign which helped prevent the rise of secondary markets for diamonds. The rarity of the diamonds made the gems more precious and in demand. And with the high demand for these precious stones came terror and death to people working in the diamond mines. A Diamond is Forever In the 1930s, the Depression rocked many countries of the globe. This situation affected the diamond market greatly, causing sales to plummet dramatically.
The 1940s did not bring much improvement in the diamond market while World War II was raging. To improve the sale of diamonds, the De Beers Group launched a marketing campaign bearing the slogan “A Diamond is Forever. ” This was meant to entice women to buy diamonds and keep the stones with them forever. The marketing campaign was a success and, subsequently, the De Beers Group was able to take control of the entire diamond trade. Without any competition, they sold diamonds at exorbitant prices. It was the marketing campaign of the De Beers Group that have made diamonds as popular as they are now.
Conflict Diamonds Conflict diamonds are mined in Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire, Angola, Congo and Liberia, where unstable governments and various rebel groups are in constant conflict. Rebels and other armed insurgents mine diamonds and sell them to finance the purchase of weapons and ammunition. Common people such as farmers, including children, are forced to work in diamond mines and suffer extreme violence. Mass murders are common and those who fail to obey orders, are caught for petty crimes or are not able to produce enough diamonds are either shot on the spot or have their arms amputated.
The popularity of diamonds has escalated such crimes. It has encouraged the rebels to mine more diamonds to be able to purchase more arms. Diamonds are worth a lot of money. That is a fact that cannot be denied. For the most part, the international diamond trade is all above board with countries trading diamonds all over the world. But, as is usually the case where lots of money is involved, there are those who try to take advantage of others even in the diamond trade. What is Conflict Diamonds? When ‘conflict diamonds’ are mentioned, most people think of the film Blood Diamond.
The film did succeed in making the problem of conflict diamonds public, but it also gave people a terribly one-sided view of the problem. One of the biggest problem that diamond producers had after the release of the film was that people had the misconception that little to nothing was being done about the problem, which is definitely not the truth. Conflict diamonds, also known as converted diamonds, hot diamonds, war diamonds or blood diamonds, refer to diamonds that are usually, but not always, mined in a conflict area.
These diamonds are used to fund the war efforts of rebels, warlords or other agencies that do are not legally recognised by the United Nations. Not only are these diamonds used to fund continuing war efforts that reduce the quality of life of the people in the affected country; but people are often exploited to mine these diamonds. Conflict diamonds may also refer to diamonds that illegally traded to fund conflict in war-torn areas, particularly in central and western Africa.
The United Nations (UN) defines conflict diamonds as “… diamonds that riginate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognized governments, and are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments, or in contravention of the decisions of the Security Council. ” These diamonds are sometimes referred to as “blood diamonds. ” Countries that have been most affected by conflict diamonds are Sierra Leone, Angola, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo — all places where citizens have been terrorized, mutilated and killed by groups in control of the local diamond trade.
Wars in most of those areas have ended or at least decreased in intensity, but conflict diamonds from Cote d’Ivoire, in West Africa, and Liberia are still reaching the trade labeled as conflict-free diamonds. In 2000, South African countries with a legitimate diamond trade began a campaign to track the origins of all rough diamonds, attempting to put a stop to blood diamond sales from known conflict areas. Their efforts eventually resulted in The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), an international effort to rid the world of conflict diamonds.
Background Conflict diamonds captured the world’s attention during the extremely brutal conflict in Sierra Leone in the late 1990s. During this time, it is estimated that conflict diamonds represented approximately 4% of the world’s diamond production. Illicit rough diamonds have also been used by rebels to fund conflicts in Angola, Liberia, Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo (also known as Congo Brazzaville). History The story goes that the first diamond was found by a young boy named Stephanus Erasmus.
He found a stone at the DeKalk farm, on the banks of Orange River in South Africa, and gave it to his neighbor named Schalk van Niekerk, who used to collect unusual types of stones. Niekerk gave it to a traveling salesman who showed the stone to the magistrate, Lourenzo Boyes. The stone was displayed at the World Fair in Paris in 1867, and there it was declared to be a diamond and named ‘Eureka’. More diamonds were found during this time and this was the start of the history of bloodshed in Africa. As people started realizing the worth and preciousness of diamonds, they started quarreling over them.
Mining for diamonds became a big time activity. The Dutch and the English fought and tried to establish their control on the mines. The local tribes too came to know about it, and were at war among themselves. Terrorists are known to have enslaved people and even children, to force them work on the coal mines, for decades, to fund their interests. The limbs of people who refused to work on the mines, were amputated. It also resulted in the death of thousands of people, since the diamond was discovered.
Hence, the diamonds from these regions of Western Africa (Angola, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia), which were mined by forceful labor and traded illegally by terrorist outfits to fund terror activities, are called as “Blood Diamonds” or “Conflict Diamonds”. In Sierra Leone, Lebanese traders discovered that profits could be made by smuggling the diamonds out of the country. Hence, they started illegal mining and smuggling of diamonds. The discovery of diamonds in poor African countries should have led to prosperity and development, but instead, it led to violence, human rights violation and terror activities.
In 1950, the government of Sierra Leone gave up monitoring the diamond industry, but tightened securities at Kono and Freetown diamond districts. This resulted in the illegitimate diamonds being diverted to Liberia and the establishment of an illegal trade route between Sierra Leone and Liberia. The biggest blunder that the government made in 1956 was that it passed the Alluvial Mining Scheme that allowed indigenous miners to receive mining and trading licenses. After gaining independence from Great Britain in 1961, Sierra Leone plunged into political and economic problems.
Almost all the problems centered around the control of diamond mines. In 1968, Siaka Stevens became the prime minister. He was aware how profitable the smuggling of diamonds could be to him, so he encouraged illegal diamond mining and trading. During his rule, more diamonds were traded illegally than by legal procedures. The legitimate diamond trading dropped heavily; from more than two million carats in 1970 to 48,000 carats in 1988. In 1991, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) under Foday Sankoh, rebelled against the government.
Sankoh said he represented the poor peasants and promised to get them their share of the mineral wealth, which the government was misusing. However, Sankoh himself used brutal tactics like cutting the limbs of innocent people who worked in the mines, to prove his strength and show the government’s inability to protect them. From the beginning, RUF had realized that whoever controlled the diamond mines, controls the country. It later became clear that their main aim was to control the mines, not to help the poor. They would take people as prisoners and make them forcefully work on the mines.
People were heavily punished for minor mistakes. And a decade long civil war followed. In 1999, United Nations (UN) intervened to solve the problem. The Lome Peace Accord was signed and the hostilities came to an end. According to the amnesty, Sankoh was given a high position in Sierra Leone’s transitional government. Kimberley process certification was introduced which monitors the diamonds, from the mining till they reach the hands of distributors. The illegal trading and mining has almost been eradicated, but the struggle still continues.
The peaceful situation has almost doubled the diamond production in Angola. However, in Sierra Leone and surrounding regions like Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire, the people still remain poor. People are being encouraged to buy conflict free diamonds, which are the diamonds, whose profits are not used to fund wars. So, it’s your right to ask, before purchasing the diamonds, where they have come from, because the certifications can be faked. But, finally it’s more about the denial of human rights of people who are made to work in the mines, which everyone should keep in mind.
In 2000, South African countries with a legitimate diamond trade began a campaign to track the origins of all rough diamonds, attempting to put a stop to blood diamond sales from known conflict areas. Their efforts eventually resulted in The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), an international effort to rid the world of conflict diamonds. Conflict Diamonds in the US In September of 2006, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report confirming that many avenues exist for conflict diamonds to enter the US. The GAO states that “domestically, the U. S. ystems for reporting rough diamond statistics and for controlling imports and exports of these diamonds are vulnerable to illicit trade…”
Lacking an effective system for confirming diamond imports, the United States does not follow the Kimberley Process requirements for avoiding possible diversions of rough diamond imports — a violation of the Clean Diamond Act. Each year, the US reports exporting more diamonds than it receives, despite the fact that no diamonds originate from the US. Sadly, US control systems do not deter illicit rough diamonds from entering the legitimate diamond trade.
As reported in July of 2007, federal agents seized 957 diamonds in Wilmington, Ohio in the second conflict diamond-related bust in the span of a few months. The shipment, allegedly imported in violation of the 2003 Clean Diamond Trade Act, did not conform to regulations specified by the Kimberley Process Did Someone Die for That Diamond? The blood diamond market is a serious political and social problem. Many people are killed in the pursuit of blood diamonds, including mine workers who are forced to smuggle diamonds out to support growing families or pay off individuals who have threatened them.
The weapons that the diamonds purchase fuel violent civil wars in which innocent individuals are stricken down. Billions of dollars have been gained from the sale of these war diamonds, leading to death tolls which are estimated to be in the millions. Some diamonds have helped fund devastating civil wars in Africa, destroying the lives of millions. Conflict diamonds are those sold in order to fund armed conflict and civil war. Profits from the trade in conflict diamonds, worth billions of dollars, were used by warlords and rebels to buy arms during the devastating wars in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sierra Leone.
Wars that have cost an estimated 3. 7 million lives. While the wars in Angola and Sierra Leone are now over, and fighting in the DRC has decreased, the problem of conflict diamonds hasn’t gone away. Diamonds mined in rebel-held areas in Cote d’Ivoire, a West African country in the midst of a volatile conflict, are reaching the international diamond market. Conflict diamonds from Liberia are also being smuggled into neighboring countries and exported as part of the legitimate diamond trade. Conflict diamonds are often mined using slave labor, and in many cases, child slaves.
Children are kidnapped during village raids and forced into military service or labor. Children who are too small, weak or insolent to be of use are killed or maimed. Children work as slaves in the diamond mines near Koidu Town, the capital of the Kono district of the Republic of Sierra Leone (ironically, a former British colony which was established for freed West African slaves and which was once the base for the Anti-Slavery Squadron of the Royal Navy). There thousands of child slaves work without pay for the mine barons.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, was stunned by the magnitude and scale of slavery which he saw in the diamond mines. “I was horrified by what I saw at the minefields”, he said. These diamonds are not “blood diamonds” and are readily exported to Antwerp and other locations where they are polished and make their way to your local department store or jeweler. If your diamond is a cheaper diamond or gem, was it cut or polished by bonded children in India? Less expensive diamonds and gems are imported into India as rough stones, which are cut or polished by children.
Much of the industry is based in the State of Gujarat. What’s being done to stop conflict diamonds? The United Nations, in association with the global diamond producers have formed initiatives to stop the illegal trading of diamonds from war-torn countries. The leading force behind this movement is the Kimberley Process Scheme (KPCS). In 1999, diamond producing countries met to discuss the problem of conflict diamonds. In 2000, they signed a resolution in Antwerp to stop the illegal trade of these diamonds and to clamp down on those responsible for the smuggling and selling of these stones.
The World Diamond Council was formed in 2001 and in 2002 the United Nations formally recognised the KPCS and actively started assisting their efforts worldwide. Under the KPCS resolution, plans were implemented to standardise the certification of diamonds. In addition, they urged countries to implement legislation to control the import and export of diamonds from countries. This legislation included practices where only official, sealed diamond packages were to be accepted and transported.
The legislation also called for the incarceration and fining of diamond smugglers and the banning of those associating with smugglers from the international diamond market. One of the main goals of the KPCS is to create transparency in regard to countries’ import and export of diamonds. The hope is that by having information on how many diamonds are being exported or imported by a country, that early warning of possible smuggling could be detected and stopped. There are, however, murmurs as to how effective the KPCS is in their endeavours.
The largest concern being how they can actually monitor the import and export of every single carat of diamond. There is proof of their success, though. Since they have started, it is reported that the trade in conflict diamonds has been reduced from 4% to one 1%. The fight against conflict diamonds is made harder by political factors and countries’ non-compliance with various KPCS regulations. It is an ongoing war that is slowly being won one battle at a time. The average person can help the battle by making sure that the diamonds they purchase are certified and their origin known and reporting any suspicions to the KPCS.
Crucial Issue in Fuelling Wars On 1 December 2000, the United Nations General Assembly adopted, unanimously, a resolution on the role of diamonds in fuelling conflict, breaking the link between the illicit transaction of rough diamonds and armed conflict, as a contribution to prevention and settlement of conflicts. In taking up this agenda item, the General Assembly recognized that conflict diamonds are a crucial factor in prolonging brutal wars in parts of Africa, and underscored that legitimate diamonds contribute to prosperity and development elsewhere on the continent.
In Angola and Sierra Leone, conflict diamonds continue to fund the rebel groups, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), both of which are acting in contravention of the international community’s objectives of restoring peace in the two countries. Fuelling Wars Rough diamond caches have often been used by rebel forces to finance arms purchases and other illegal activities. Neighbouring and other countries can be used as trading and transit grounds for illicit diamonds.
Once diamonds are brought to market, their origin is difficult to trace and once polished, they can no longer be identified. Who Need To Takes Action? Governments, inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations, diamond traders, financial institutions, arms manufacturers, social and educational institutions and other civil society players need to combine their efforts, demand the strict enforcement of sanctions and encourage real peace.
The horrific atrocities in Sierra Leone and the long suffering of the people of Angola have heightened the international community’s awareness of the need to cut off sources of funding for the rebels in order to promote lasting peace in those countries; such an opportunity cannot be wasted. Legitimate Diamonds| Peace| Development| Controls on conflict diamonds cut off sources of funding for rebels, help shorten wars and prevent their recurrence.
Peace in diamond producing regions will bring about the potential for economic development and tax revenue for building infrastructure as legitimate mining ventures increase. The international diamond industry is already taking steps to respond, such as the adoption by the World Diamond Congress, Antwerp, 19 July 2000, of a resolution which, if fully implemented, stands to increase the diamond industry’s ability to block conflict diamonds from reaching market. Other efforts include the launching, at the initiative of African diamond-producing countries, of an inclusive, worldwide consultation process of Governments, industry and civil society, referred to as the Kimberly Process, to devise an effective response to the problem of conflict diamonds.
Eliminating Conflict Diamonds In July 2000, the global diamond industry made clear to the international community its zero tolerance policy towards conflict diamonds. Dedicated to eradicating the trade in conflict diamonds, it worked closely with the United Nations, governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Global Witness and Partnership Africa Canada to create the Kimberley Process Certification System. This system was formally adopted in 2003 and guards against conflict diamonds entering the legitimate diamond supply chain.
The diamond industry also adopted a voluntary System of Warranties to assure consumers that their diamonds are from sources free of conflict. Today 74 governments have enshrined into their national law the Kimberley Process Certification System, and now more than 99% of the world’s diamonds are from conflict free sources. However, even one conflict diamond is one too many. The diamond industry continues to work with governments, NGOs and the UN to strengthen the Kimberley Process and the System of Warranties.
While diamonds have been used to fund conflict, the problem is not the diamonds themselves but the rebels who exploit diamonds (along with other natural resources) to achieve their illicit goals. The vast majority of diamonds come from countries at peace. These countries have been able to invest the revenue from diamonds into the development of infrastructure, schools and hospitals for the good of the communities in which diamonds are found.\
These countries include Australia, Botswana, Canada, Namibia, Russia, South Africa and Tanzania. Today, more than 99% of the world’s diamonds are now from conflict free ources and are officially traded under the UN mandated Kimberley Process. “Diamonds are a unique resource, evoking beauty and eternal love. In recent years, pictures of maimed children have threatened to overwhelm these traditional positive images, when rebel groups in Africa used diamonds to finance their wars and unspeakable brutalities against civilian populations. Aroused by these conflicts, the international community mobilized to ensure people living in countries with abundant diamond deposits receive the benefits of their patrimony.
Outraged in the late 1990’s that proceeds from diamond sales financed arms purchases and prolonged insurrections, in Sierra Leone and Angola, which were some of the most brutal of the past decade, the international community acted. By 2003 the international community through the participants in the Kimberley Process, bringing together industry, governments and civil society, mobilized governments to ban trade in rough diamonds funding African conflicts.
Called the “Kimberley Process Certification Scheme” the ban ended those African conflicts financed by “blood” diamonds. Based on the respect for human dignity, the negotiators found the following common interests to win support for an international ban on trade in rough diamonds used to finance war and rebellion: First, in memory of those who died in Sierra Leone, in Angola, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other African countries in conflicts fueled by rough “Conflict’ Diamonds;” Second, to end the killing in on-going conflicts in Africa;
Third, to save the children of Africa whose lives would be threatened by future conflicts fueled by conflict diamonds; Fourth, to ensure those countries which depend on diamonds for their development and economic well-being will benefit from their patrimony; and Fifth, to assure consumers the diamonds they wish to enjoy are without the taint of conflict. Through the worldwide implementation of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme we have begun to fulfill the international community’s obligation to those who have suffered in Africa’s wars by banning the trade in conflict diamonds.
We have eliminated conflict diamond financing in Sierra Leone and are committed to bring the proceeds from the diamond trade to benefit the people of Sierra Leone, Angola and Liberia as well as all other diamond producing countries such as Botswana to help themselves support economic development of their countries. ” – Ambassador J. D. Bindenagel, Former U. S. Special Negotiator for Conflict Diamonds The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme The Kimberley Process aims to document and track all rough diamonds entering a participating country.
The shippers are expected to place the stones in tamper proof crates and provide sufficient details about their origin to prove the diamonds did not originate from a conflict zone. As the process involves the co-operation of dozens of governments and non-governmental agencies it is not fully operational and will take time to achieve its goals. The Kimberley Process also ignores cutting and polishing centers as an entry point for conflict diamonds to enter general circulation.
Global Witness documents how inadequate government regulation over cutting and polishing factories can allow conflict or illicit diamonds to enter legitimate channels of trade. Because the Kimberley Process only oversees diamond mines and has no oversight in cutting and polishing facilities, child labor and other documented human rights violations in manufacturing centers remain unregulated. The Kimberley Process is still undergoing improvements to strengthen its system of oversight.
Meanwhile, violent groups across the world continue to exploit the loose controls of the Kimberley Process to traffic illicit diamonds for profit. In its October 2007 report, Global Witness estimates that an illegal trade in rough diamonds worth $10. 2 million may be taking place between Kimberley Process participant and non-participant countries How Consumers Can Help Stop Blood Diamond Trade No one buying a diamond would want to know that their purchase was helping and encouraging brutal and violent acts.
Retailers cannot always guarantee that the diamond they sell is conflict-free, but if consumers begin to demand proof that the diamond is conflict-free, this will send a powerful message to the world wide industry. Certificates of origin are now supplied with many of the diamonds that come from the Yukon in Canada. This certificate lets the buyer know that there is no possibility of their purchase being a conflict diamond. Igloo Diamonds from Canada are an ethical choice as they forward a portion of money from sales towards landmine clearing in Mozambique.
Kimberley diamonds from Australia are also conflict free. Always ask the retailer about their blood diamond policy and if they are not clear on the source of their stones, it’s best to purchase a diamond elsewhere. Change will not happen overnight, but it will eventually happen if consumers are persistent in efforts to make the ethical choice and only buy ethically-mined, conflict-free diamonds. The Role of Conflict Diamonds and Failed States in the Terrorist Financial Structure
For terrorist organizations, diamonds are viewed as an ideal currency, due to the traditional closed nature of the diamond industry. The difficulty in tracking and monitoring diamonds makes it very easy to slip a blood diamond into a lot of legitimate diamonds, and by the time the situation has been realized, the diamonds have already vanished. Several trade associations have begun to respond to consumer pressure regarding blood diamonds, implementing better tracking and control. Although access to diamond mines is restricted, determined individuals can smuggle diamonds out for sale.
These individuals commonly deal the rough diamonds to violent organizations, who pay a small sum for the smuggled diamonds and then resell them to other organizations or groups who can successfully move the diamonds out of the country. The resulting stone is known as a blood diamond because the funds acquired from the sale usually go to the purchase of weapons. Sometimes a blood diamond may be traded directly for weapons, to reduce the traceability of the transaction. In other cases, the diamonds may be exchanged for currency of various nations, often deposited into bank accounts outside the nation of origin.
Because of the immense coordination involved, it has been suspected that several national governments, including the government of Liberia, are involved in the blood diamond trade. In 1998, following the al Qaeda attacks on the U. S. Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, the Clinton administration froze some $240 million in assets belonging to Afghanistan’s Taliban government and Osama bin Laden, the rogue regime’s guest. That caught both the Taliban and al Qaeda by surprise because they apparently did not realize the money, mostly held as gold reserves in the United States, could be targeted.
Because it was so costly a miscalculation and because al Qaeda constantly reviews both successful and failed operations to find and correct their own vulnerabilities, a far-reaching review of the terrorist financial structure was undertaken. Adapting to the U. S. response and determined not to be caught in the same position again, al Qaeda began a systematic withdrawal of its funds from the formal banking sector, where its assets were vulnerable and traceable. Instead, the decision was made to begin shifting money into commodities that would hold their value over time.
Chief among these were diamonds and tanzanite. Diamonds and tanzanite offered an additional advantage for terrorists. The infrastructure needed to acquire and trade in the gemstones was easy to set up because the commodities were available in states that exercise little control over much of their national territory. Tanzanite is only found in a small corner of Tanzania, where the government has virtually no presence. And the diamond trade al Qaeda tapped into in West Africa was centered in Liberia, where the corrupt regime of Charles Taylor also controlled diamonds mined by his allies in neighboring Sierra Leone.
In Sierra Leone the diamond fields were under the control of the notoriously brutal rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). The RUF earned international notoriety for its signature atrocities of hacking off the arms, legs and ears of civilians, including children as young as 2 years old; mass rape; and the abduction of thousands of children who were forced to become fighters. Al Qaeda already had long-standing ties to the gemstone trade. Documents and testimony presented during 2000 the trials of Wadih el Hage and Mohammed Sadeek Odeh show that al Qaeda, even before the U. S. mbassy bombings, was dealing extensively in diamonds, tanzanite, amethyst, rubies and sapphires, mostly as money making ventures.
According the trial transcripts, senior al Qaeda leaders were deeply concerned about the possibility that an al Qaeda operative was carrying a large quantity of stones when he drowned while crossing a lake. After the Embassy bombings, the use of gemstones accelerated rapidly, but with an added purpose. Rather than being viewed solely as a business venture, gemstones, and diamonds in particular, were used as a way to store the value of al Qaeda’s financial resources outside the formal financial sector.
A premium was no longer placed on turning a profit, but rather acquiring as many stones a possible with money that was being siphoned out of banks and businesses. The al Qaeda leadership, through Mohammed Ahmed Mohammed, one of its senior financial operators, contacted an old al Qaeda friend who had fought with the mujahaddeen and now ran most of the illicit or “blood diamond” trade for West Africa, Ibrahim Bah. Bah is a Senegalese who trained in Libya under Moamar Gaddafi, then went to fight in Afghanistan in early 1980s.
After about two years there, he briefly returned to Libya before joining Hezbollah fighters combating Israeli forces. Finally, he returned to Libya in the late 1980s, just in time to train and become friends with the long list of Libyan-backed leaders who would wreak havoc on West Africa: Charles Taylor of Liberia; Foday Sankoh, founder of the RUF in neighboring Sierra Leone; Blaise Compaore, now president of Burkina Faso, who assassinated his best friend, Thomas Sankara, in order to assume the presidency. The contacts between Bah and al Qaeda began in 1998, just weeks after the Embassy bombing and continued until after 9/11.
But what is important and instructive are the conditions, ideal for terrorists, that allowed the relationship to prosper. Bah had access to diamonds mined by the RUF, among the most prized in the world. He was also a key player in Liberia, a corrupt state that, while retaining the valuable trappings of nationhood, was, in fact, a functioning criminal enterprise. Among the benefits accrued to the Taylor regime despite its criminal status were the right to issue internationally-recognized diplomatic passports, the ability to register aircraft and ships, control of the formal entry points, and access to a central bank.
Bah’s close relationship with Taylor and the Liberian security apparatus guaranteed that his guests, while wanted as terrorists elsewhere in the world, could come and go unmolested to Monrovia. Armed thugs from the presidential guard escorted Mohammed and later al Qaeda visitors to and from the airport, allowing them to circumvent immigration formalities and lessening the paper trail. As long as Taylor was apprised of the situation and was able to take his percentage of each deal, neither Bah nor his guests had anything to fear.
Bah also had access to the official state apparatus of neighboring Burkina Faso, due to his long-standing personal and business relationships with president Blaise Compaore. Compaore also had close ties to Taylor. Compaore and Burkina Faso offered a valuable asset that Liberia, under an U. N. -mandated arms embargo, could not: the ability to produce internationally-recognized end-user certificates for the purchase of large quantities of weapons from around the world. For many years Bah, with Compaore’s knowledge and blessing, coordinated arms shipments for Taylor and the RUF through Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou.
Al Qaeda was not the only terrorist or criminal group to operate under the protection of Taylor, Compaore and Bah. Victor Bout, one of the world’s largest illicit weapons dealers, registered his fleet of aircraft in Liberia because he could do so with no questions asked and no inspections required. With those aircraft, he shipped tons of weapons-including combat helicopters, surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft guns–to Taylor and the RUF through Burkina Faso. At the same time, Bout was supplying UNITA rebels in Angola and several sides of the civil war that was shattering the Democratic Republic of Congo.
He often accepted diamonds as payment for his weapons. There is an intriguing link between Bout and al Qaeda. U. S. and U. N. investigators found that, while supplying African wars with weapons, Bout was also providing goods and services to the Taliban and al Qaeda. From his base in the United Arab Emirates, Bout and a partner, a member of the royal family, flew weapons, medicines and other commodities to the outlaw regime and its supporters. Another world-class criminal, Lenoid Menin of an important Russian organized crime family, also set up shop in Monrovia, buying diamonds and exploiting timber.
Protected by the Taylor’s son Chuckie, Menin also delivered weapons in exchange for the chance to reap millions of dollars in illegal profits. Despite an international arrest warrant, Bout lives peacefully in Moscow. Menin also remains free. Terrorists and criminals chose their commodity well. Diamonds, like tanzanite and other gemstones, carry a high value in small bulk, yet are easily convertible to cash in an industry that is largely willing to ignore the origin of the stone. The stones cannot be detected by dogs and set off no metal detectors at airports, making them easy to transport.
Sales of small amounts are impossible to detect on the world market. They cause no undue fluctuations. For years, Bah and others had made extensive use of grey market networks in Antwerp and elsewhere to sell millions of dollars worth of diamonds, with part of the proceeds going to personal enrichment and part going to keep the RUF and Taylor armed and at war. By early 2001, al Qaeda was moving more aggressively into the diamond trade with the clear intent of putting their assets beyond the reach of international investigators.
Two top al Qaeda operatives who were believed to have been heavily involved in the U. S. embassy bombings and other high profile attacks–Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed–were dispatched to Monrovia to set up greatly expedited mining operations, offering to buy all the diamonds the RUF could produce. They lived in a safe house tucked between buildings housing Libyan diplomats and security forces in downtown Monrovia. In this effort, al Qaeda leaders, while devoutly Sunni Muslims, showed their willingness and ability to work across religious divides.
In order to move the diamonds quickly, the al Qaeda operatives turned to Aziz Nassour, a Lebanese diamond merchant with decades of experience in the blood diamond trade. Nassour is a devout Shi’ite Muslim and a supporter of Lebanon’s Amal militia. Nassour, who was a close business associate of Mobuto Sese Seko in the former Zaire and owner of a host of diamond companies in Antwerp with overlapping directorates, met with the RUF high command in Monrovia in July 2001, promising to buy all the diamonds they could produce. The rebels promised to step up production to the maximum.
Several factors contributed to the RUF being able to dig out the stones at unprecedented levels. Since the RUF had driven most of the civilians out of the diamond mining areas after taking over the region in 1997, production was limited to what the rebels themselves could mine. But things were changing at the same time al Qaeda was scrambling to acquire the stones. Because a fragile U. N. -backed peace process was taking hold and the RUF was gradually disarming, the rebels were able to move their cadres directly from the demobilization camps to mining.
And, because the war was winding down, miners who had stayed out of the diamond-mining region for fear of the RUF poured into the area as U. N. peacekeepers offered a modicum of security for their labor. Nassour’s monopoly also created a shortage among traditional RUF clients, one of the tip-offs that something unusual was happening. Diamond buyers who normally bought stones from the RUF were unable to buy diamonds during the summer of 2001 because some unknown buyers were paying 10 percent to 15 percent more than the market rate.
They said that premium, being paid by their competitor, made it virtually impossible for them to buy high quality stones. The lack of diamonds was severe enough to prompt U. S. Ambassador Joseph Melrose to write a cable to Washington about it, although he did not have an explanation for the unusual market happenings. The cable received no response from headquarters. At the same time, according to Belgian diamond experts, despite the fact that in the summer of 2001 more diamonds were being mined than at any time in the ast decade, the stones didn’t show up in Antwerp or any of the other world markets.
That showed, one investigator said, that “someone bought and is hoarding a large stock of diamonds, worth many millions of dollars. ” The paradigm shift in terrorist financing, although similar methods have been used for decades by Hezbollah and other Middle Eastern groups, was missed entirely by Western intelligence agencies. The CIA lost almost all of its operatives in West Africa after the Cold War, leaving the agency with virtually no resources on the ground.
French and Belgian intelligence, active in their former colonies in West Africa, knew of the Middle Eastern connection to diamond sales over the past two decades–principally to Hezbollah and Amal militia supporters–but viewed them as relatively harmless. In the 1980s, the Israelis, aware of the financial boon diamonds provided to its enemies, sent in a large number of its own diamond dealers in an attempt to cut into the trade. Remarkably, by the end of the 1990s, Israeli and known Hezbollah and Amal dealers were doing business with each other across Africa.
Because of the lack of understanding of the terrorists’ use of commodities, the U. S. government, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, did not look for terrorist funds where they were hidden. The initial hunt for al Qaeda funds focused almost exclusively on trying to freeze the few assets that remained in Western banks and were traceable to terrorist funding. The initial reporting on terrorist ties to gemstones, by me on diamonds and Bobby Block of the Wall Street Journal on tanzanite in particular, were met initially with deep skepticism in the U. S. intelligence community.
This largely continues today. Because it had such a limited understanding of al Qaeda’s financial structure before the Sept. 11 attacks, the government was slow to recognize and begin to act on the host of non-traditional financial methods used by terrorists. These include the use of charities, the hawala system of transferring assets and the vital role that gold plays for these groups. Some U. S. intelligence agencies remain reluctant to acknowledge even the possibility that al Qaeda moved significant assets into commodities, especially gem stones, despite the growing evidence, beyond necdotal evidence and eyewitness testimony to support the veracity of the reporting.
Much of the evidence has been uncovered by European law enforcement and intelligence officials who have followed leads the U. S. has chosen not to. The Swiss attorney general, in a recent interview, said it was now accepted, conventional wisdom among European investigators and intelligence agencies that al Qaeda had put most of its wealth, estimated by U. N. experts to be between $30 million and $300 million, into commodities for safekeeping.
The Belgians in particular have uncovered a wealth of information on the diamond nexus to al Qaeda, flowing through Antwerp. Other eye witnesses, unavailable when I did my initial reporting, have come forward to confirm the presence of the al Qaeda operatives in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Most significantly, the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone has uncovered witnesses and other evidence that not only corroborated my initial findings, but placed other senior al Qaeda operatives in Monrovia at the same time. For reasons that remain unclear, U. S. fficials have given little importance to the findings.
The terrorist ties to the diamond and tanzanite trade were uncovered by reporters on the ground in Africa. Given the lack of human resources the CIA and other intelligence-gathering agencies have on the ground in West and Central Africa particularly it is not at all surprising the activities were undetected. Perhaps more than any other region, Africa was abandoned by U. S. intelligence services following the Cold War, often leaving a single station chief to cover two or even three countries with almost no support personnel.
Given the dearth of assets on the ground and the fact that so little of the illicit trade is detectable through electronic intercepts or other high-tech tools, it seems to me highly probable that similar transactions, by al Qaeda and other terrorist groups have transpired in other countries. Countries across Africa, from the Central African Republic to the Congo and Chad offer many of the same conditions that Liberia and Sierra Leone have offered: the trappings of a state but in reality states rife with corruption, coupled with an almost complete lack of investigative capabilities and no tradition f confronting criminal elements.
There is strong anecdotal evidence that al Qaeda bought gems in Congo-Kinshasa and Angola as well as Sierra Leone and Liberia. The DRC, with its host of different armies dividing up the country for the purpose of looting, coupled with a long history of a rapacious state and corruption, is long known to be a major financial center for Hezbollah and other armed groups. Private armies control vast swaths of the extensive nation, and neither the central government nor intelligence agencies have any clear idea of what transpires outside of the capital.
For example, there are direct, twice-weekly flights from the diamond-mining center of Mbujy-Mayi in southern DRC to Dubai. The flights pass through no customs regimen, file no flight manifests and are uninspected on both ends of the flight. In Angola, Jonas Savimbi maintained strong ties to Compaore in Burkina Faso and the corrupt dictatorship in Togo, often using diamonds as a medium of exchange for weapons.
The only serious investigations into the activities and their possible ties to terrorist organizations have been carried out by the United Nations panels of experts and a handful of private, nongovernmental organizations. Neither the host states nor counter-terrorism bodies from other countries have dedicated significant resources to unraveling the diamond trade there. Until resources and attention are brought to bear in this area, al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations will continue to use diamonds and other commodities to finance their actions.