Blood From Stones by Douglas Farah
A journey into the world of death, diamonds and arms trafficking in the footsteps of Al Qaeda and Charles Taylor, an indictment of the former Liberian dictator.
By Abdoulaye W. Dukulé
August 6, 2004
These are among many of the revelations readers come across in the recent investigative book written by veteran Washington Post reporter and former West Africa bureau Chief Douglas Farah. Since September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda has become the number one target of national and international security policies the world over, much more so than any one group has ever been. Since September 11, 2001, terrorism has dominated American politics more than any other issue and it is through this prism that America looks at the rest of the world. Many have come to consider September 11 as the date that prompted the world into the 21st Century, with a new world order as seen from Washington, DC. After the Cold War came the drug war and now it’s the decade of fight against terrorism, a fight in darkness against very elusive characters that pop up and disappear now and then, an unconventional warfare with a faceless enemy.
Blood From Stones tries to find an answer to the number one question intelligence services and law enforcement agencies have been battling with since 9/11: How do terrorist groups pay for their activities? The belief is that once their finance is crippled, terrorists would be out of the business. This would not be easy, because, as Mr. Farah writes, "the interlocking web of commodities, underground transfer systems, charities, and sympathetic bankers is still in place. The financial resources of al Qaeda are carefully hoarded and scattered around the world, but accessible." (Page 8).
In his meticulously researched book that reads like the best of spy novels, Douglas Farah goes deep inside the world of arms dealers, spies, dictators and child soldiers as well as international financiers to uncover the trail of blood money. Blood Diamonds is the story of how, in this 21st century, a group of political extremists using religion as the foundation of their ideology, work tirelessly to unleash terror on America and its allies.
From the Indian subcontinent to Dubai in the Arab Emirates to the diamond mines of Sierra Leone and the dark alleys of Monrovia, the reader moves about in a spiraling world of shadowy characters that live in a parallel world, where greed for money, political corruption and the hatred for America and its allies are all intertwined. What seems so distant and unconnected come together as a coherent mode of thinking and operation, with money being the underlying factor and anti-Americanism the fundamental belief.
For Farah, the trail starts in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire while he was having lunch with Cindor Reeves (CR) one of his Liberian contacts, a relative and agent of former dictator and president Charles Taylor of Liberia. Charles Taylor has been forced to resign after being indicted for war crimes by the United Nations Special War Crimes in Sierra Leone and is living in Calabar, Nigeria. CR took a look at pictures of Al Qaeda operatives in a magazine the writer was carrying and said that he had met two of the people. CR, who ran errands for Taylor, dealing with arms and diamonds, had met the two Al Qaeda members in Monrovia during a recent trip in the Liberian capital where they spent unspecified amount of money on diamonds. The men had stayed in a "safe house’ spent their time watching videos of young Palestinians blowing up themselves while killing Israelis and had posters of Bin Laden on the walls. To any reporter in the world, this was the "scoop" careers are made of: knowing someone who had met and spoken to two of the most wanted men on the list of international terrorists.
Through the narrator’s contact with CR, we get a close look at the Revolutionary United Front of Foday Sankoh at work in Sierra Leone, mining diamonds for Taylor and his al Qaeda clients. We also get to understand how Taylor operated in Liberia, how he ran a government, that Farahdecribes as "a functioning criminal enterprise." (Page 15) The writer spends much time describing Taylor relationships with RUF, an army that he created and launched on Sierra Leone as an extension of his gang. The readers come in contact with child soldiers who are drugged and brainwashed to the point of forgetting their own names and then unleashed on innocent populations in an orgy of blood and death. Characters like Ibrahim Bah, the Senegalese mercenary and confident of Taylor, Victor Bout, the enigmatic Russian arms dealer and the Kenyan Sanjivan Ruprah are all part of Taylor inner circle and at the top of the world most wanted arms traffickers. But they still walk free.
From Abidjan, the narrator travels to Liberia and later to Freetown in an attempt to get a better understanding of the financial links between Charles Taylor and Middle East terrorist groups. Farah finds out that Al Qaeda and Hezbollah have both been involved with the Liberian dictator in a diamond trade. The groups had cash raised from many sources and in order to put that cash into mainstream financial networks, they bought diamonds in Liberia which they sold in Europe and the US and therefore "laundered" their money the most legal way, in the diamond trade, where, as one Israeli who did business with a Hezbollah Palestinian diamond dealer, said, "nobody asks where a stone comes from." Diamonds were traded for guns and cash. Taylor took the cash and the RUF took the guns and Al Qaeda walked away with stones.
In this underworld of cash and death, the narrator saw
first hand the devastating effect of Charles Taylor’s policies.
Child soldiers, prostitution, cannibalism in the higher echelon of
Charles Taylor’s inner circle and stones that weep blood for
the backdrop to this story of terror and greed.
As the reader discovers, the terrorist network put together by Bin Laden transcends nationalities and every possible boundary human beings have erected between nations and people over the past thousands of years. Money, the most potent human factor in this age, flows from one end of the world to the other. People like Charles Taylor, using the most common denominator to all humans, greed, survive by serving as a middleman here and there, taking cash in one hand and delivering death with the other.
Characters that have filled columns in the past years
of Liberian history come alive, all orbiting around two men: Charles
Taylor, the bloodthirsty petty dictator of Monrovia and Ben Laden,
the elusive terrorist whose anger against his home country, Saudi
Arabia and the US, has created a new age in international relations.
People in the story seem to live in a world of their own and rules
of justice and law don’t seem to apply. National leaders lie
to protect known criminals while those watchdogs, in the intelligence
community, responsible for tracking down the criminals seem to not
want to catch them.
Unlike the drug cartel of the 1980s that relied mostly on one product drugs usually banned in many countries, terrorists, we learn, work through almost legal means, using a variety of sources and products difficult to trace and when traced, difficult to stop when uncovered. That makes things harder for law enforcement agencies trained to combat "crimes". Grocery coupons, infant meals and diamonds are not on the top of the list of "dangerous and illegal products" anywhere in the world.
The story here is many folds. The narrator finds himself leading on the one hand an investigation to piece together the source of the financial empire of the terrorists networks and paradoxically, he has to battle to convince the intelligence community about his findings.
The intelligence community, at least in the US, seems
to have been taken aback by the findings of the journalist. This becomes
a frustrating battle where bureaucrats who are used to think in the
box refuse to envision new modes of operation. First the contacts
to which the narrator first breaks the news of Taylor’s involvement
with international terrorism dismiss his charges. Later on, after
reaching an understanding about the relationships between al Qaeda,
mostly Sunni, and Hezbollah, mostly Shiite, he is almost accused of
heresy, because as the West understood it, "these two groups
are too far apart and cannot work together." It was certainly
this tendency to deny any sophisticated mode of operation on the part
of terrorists that allowed them to move freely millions of dollars
almost legally, entered the US legally and used American flight schools
to learn how to carry out the 9/11 massacres. The recent release of
the 9/11 Commission and its indictment of the various security institutions
somehow vindicate the theories of the author.
In the wake of the release of the 9/11 Commission Report, instances of the resistance on the part of an intelligence service built and trained to work in the Cold War dominated ideology to conceive new ways of dealing with dangers in the new world are very evident. The intelligence structure was outdated and was not prepared for 21st century challenges. Chasing communist spies or drug traffickers laundering money seem like a Boy Scout picnic compared to trying to dismantle Al Qaeda.
Beyond the close scrutiny of the financial web of the terrorist movement, the book allows the reader to understand how closely Charles Taylor controlled the Sierra Leone killing machine, the RUF. Through his agent Ibrahim Bah, a Senegalese fighter with experiences in the Afghanistan war, the RUF and Foday Sankoh were nothing more than puppets in the hands of the Liberian dictator. They mined diamonds for him, bought weapons from him and trained their fighters under his watch. The RUF was an extension of Taylor’s own rebel army, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) that had gained legitimacy in 1997 through elections in Liberia. Thus, the book leaves no doubt as to the role of Taylor in the atrocities, gun running and theft of national resources of Sierra Leone by the RUF.
The narrator makes the best case possible on linkages between diamonds and warfare in Africa. The same buyers of precious stones operated freely between the various killing fields on the continent, from Congo-Zaire and Angola in Southern Africa to Sierra Leone and Liberia, the same people, all linked to the same "rebels" operated, bought diamonds and gold or Tanzanite and sold arms to the likes of Foday Sankoh, Charles Taylor, Jonas Savimbi and Laurent Kabila, the syndicate of death who came to life in the shadow of failing regimes in those countries.
In a recent article written in The Boston Globe of August 4, 2004, Bryan Bender writes that Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani wanted in connection with the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Africa, was arrested in eastern Pakistan. Ghailani to the article had lived in Liberia under the protection of Taylor. The article further answers a question Mr. Farah kept asking: why, with all the evidence against him, the US did not go after Taylor? Many in Liberia knew the response: that Taylor had always been a paid CIA agent, spying mostly on Kaddafi for the Americans.
This book is a must read for anyone wishing to understand the intricate world of terrorism and money and gun running and especially, how diamond trade in Africa affected deadly conflicts that took millions of lives on the continent.