State Journal-Register
 
Nov 09, 2001

Senators want legislation to cut off diamond trade linked to al-Qaida

DORI MEINERT
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - A bipartisan group of senators, including Dick Durbin of Springfield, urged Congress Thursday to pass legislation that would help cut off the illegal diamond trade that allegedly earns millions of dollars for Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network.

A day after the Bush administration announced a renewed attempt to freeze the terrorists' financial assets, the senators said the federal government also should stem the sale of "conflict diamonds." 

Months ago, they introduced a bill that would create a system to track diamonds soon after they are mined and to certify their origin in order
to keep the illegal diamonds out of the marketplace. 

In the House, a similar bill is expected to be approved next week.

Although the United Nations is working on a worldwide certification system, the United States' support is critical because it buys 65 percent of the world's diamonds.

"The diamond has been an age-old symbol of love. Unfortunately, now it is becoming a part of the international currency of terrorism," Durbin said at a press conference in the Capitol.

"If we are going to cut off funds used by terrorists to carry out their attacks, we can't ignore the millions of dollars they earn from the illegal diamond trade," Durbin said. "That means ensuring that no diamond can make it from the bloody hands of a Sierra Leone rebel to the jewelry case at the local mall."

The Washington Post last week reported that bin Laden's terrorist organization has collected millions of dollars in the past three years from the illegal sale of diamonds mined by rebels in Sierra Leone. 

The rebels, who became infamous during Sierra Leone's civil war for cutting off the limbs of civilians and kidnapping children and forcing them to fight, mined the diamonds and sold them for a fraction of their market price to al-Qaida representatives.

While the diamond industry at first opposed any such certification program, it recently has worked with lawmakers to come up with an acceptable system.