Then President Charles Taylor received a US$1 million payment for arranging to harbor two al Qaeda operatives in Liberia soon after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, Global Witness said.
The men, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, both of whom were on the FBI's Most Wanted List of Terrorists, Global Witness said, were hidden at the Gbartala Base in Bong County.
Testifying Friday at the Economic Crimes Hearing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia (TRC), Patrick Alley, one of the directors of Global Witness said Al Qaeda's interest in Liberia and Sierra Leone goes back to the late 1990s, when the Taylor-backed RUF rebels were in control of the lucrative diamond fields of Sierra Leone.
Global Witness said in 1998, soon after the attacks on US missions in Africa, a senior al Qaeda financial officer, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, arrived in Monrovia. The group said that Abdullah was introduced to RUF leaders including Sam "Maskita" Bockarie, by Ibrahim Bah.
According to Mr. Alley, the same two al Qaeda operatives traveled to Liberia in March 1999 in order to establish a diamonds for arms deal and spent a few days scouting the RUF diamond fields in Sierra Leone, as well as meeting with Bockarie and giving him US$100,000 in cash for a parcel of diamonds.
"By January 2001, employees of Aziz Nassour, who is associated with the Antwerp based diamond trading company ASA Diam, had established control over RUF diamonds in exchange for arms, and his control continued until November 2001."
Mr. Alley said Nassour along with his business associate and cousin Samih Osailly, were named in international criminal investigations as being involved in dealing in diamonds for al Qaeda but all three men denied the allegations. But he said that Nassour, though denying any illegal wrongdoing, admitted to being involved in the diamond trade in Sierra Leone and elsewhere and also admitted to attempting to do other business deals with President Taylor.
"In fact Nassour and Taylor are quite well acquainted. Eyewitnesses put Nassour and Taylor together for a July 2001 meeting at Harper Port in Maryland County near the border with Cote d'I voire, where much of Liberia's illicit weaponry arrives. There Nassour allegedly gave Taylor US$200,00 to ensure his support for the ongoing diamond dealing," he said.
He said Global Witness research and investigations found that since 1993, al Qaeda was buying diamonds to make money and to commodify its assets, shifting them away from traditional bank accounts that are subjected to surveillance by financial authorities and are under threat of being frozen to less traceable commodities such as diamonds.
Under the theme: "Economic Crimes, Corruption and the Conflict in Liberia: Policy Options for an Emerging Democracy and sustainable peace," the weeklong hearing addressed the contribution of economic crimes to the conflict including corruption and the illicit exploitation of natural resources.
The hearing also discussed the correlation between the extractive industry and the fueling of the conflict and appropriate policies aimed at reversing the unauthorized exploitation of the natural resources by individuals, groups and the government for purposes external to the national good.
Pursuant to the TRC Act of 2005, the commission is mandated to investigate gross human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law as well as abuses that occurred, including massacres, sexual violations, murder, extra-judicial killings and economic crimes, such as the exploitation of natural or public resources to perpetuate armed conflicts during the period January 1979 to October 14, 2003.
The commission is mandated to determine whether these were isolated incidents or part of a systematic pattern; establishing the antecedents, circumstances, factors and context of such violations and abuses; and determining those responsible for the commission of the violations and abuses and their motives as well as their impact on victims.