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Diamonds fund terrorists, lawmakers say

Thursday, October 11, 2001

Testimony suggests that associates of bin Laden have engaged in diamond smuggling to raise money.
WASHINGTON -- Contrary to their image as merely "a girl's best friend," diamonds may be a terrorist's biggest fund-raiser, a pair of Ohio lawmakers told a House Ways and Means subcommittee Wednesday.
Sen. Mike DeWine and Rep. Tony Hall pointed to court documents indicating that not only are violent rebel factions in Africa bolstering their war chests through smuggled-diamond sales, but terrorist Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaida organization also might be benefiting from the illicit trade.
"I do not know the extent of Al-Qaida's activities, and do not want to be an alarmist," said Hall, a Dayton Democrat. "But I do know that diamonds -- the most concentrated source of wealth ever known to mankind -- should be put off limits to anyone bent on destruction, especially Osama bin Laden."
Quick ban wanted: DeWine and Hall are calling for swift passage of legislation to ban imports of the so-called "conflict diamonds." Jewelers and human rights advocates are also backing the bill.
But trade and State Department officials are urging restraint, wanting to make sure language in the legislation is consistent with World Trade Organization regulations and doesn't interfere with an international effort to cut conflict diamonds out of the global marketplace altogether.
To most Americans, diamonds are enduring symbols of love, but in places like Sierra Leone, the brilliant gems are "instruments of butchery and misery," said Deborah DeYoung, Hall's senior aide.
Adding ammunition to the cause is testimony given earlier this year by L'Houssaine Kherchtou, a witness in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing case, which suggests that associates of bin Laden have engaged in diamond smuggling to raise money for Al-Qaida.
Furthering anti-terror efforts: DeWine, a Cedarville Republican, argued that enacting the ban on conflict diamonds would serve as another weapon in the war on terrorism. "It certainly fits in with our overall anti-terrorist efforts," he said.
The legislation, which the Senate adopted last month as an amendment to a bill funding Commerce, Justice and State departments for 2002, requires that all diamonds imported into the United States must be sealed in a secure container that is marked with a certification code indicating the country of origin. Diamonds imported illegally will be confiscated, with proceeds being deposited into a fund for war victims.
Right now, it's virtually impossible to trace a diamond's journey from the point of purchase to its place of origin, said James Mendenhall, deputy general counsel for U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick.
After being mined, most rough diamonds pass through Belgium, where they are cut and polished, but cross numerous other borders prior to sale, Mendenhall said.