Global Policy Forum

Former Liberian Leader Allegedly Aided Al Qaeda


By Bryan Bender

Boston Globe
August 4, 2004

The senior Al Qaeda operative captured in Pakistan last week met Charles Taylor, who was president of Liberia at the time, in the years before and after Sept. 11, 2001, and received refuge from the former U.S. ally while planning further terrorist operations, according to U.S. intelligence officials and United Nations investigators. The officials and investigators also painted a picture of Liberia under Taylor as a haven for Al Qaeda, and raised new questions about why the United States waited so long to support Taylor's removal and continues to refrain from using its influence to bring him before a UN war crimes tribunal.

The Defense Department approved a special forces raid to capture Al Qaeda leaders under Taylor's protection in 2001, but called it off and never reactivated the plan, the U.S. officials said in recent interviews, on condition of anonymity. Meanwhile, senior leaders of Al Qaeda continued to receive Taylor's protection. On July 25, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was arrested in eastern Pakistan, along with more than a dozen other Qaeda operatives. He is being held in connection with the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa. But for at least three years beginning in the late 1990s, he lived in an army camp and hotels run by Taylor's government in Liberia. In addition, Taylor's forces harbored other suspected Al Qaeda leaders, including the MIT-educated biologist Aafia Siddiqui, U.S. officials and UN investigators said. Al Qaeda allegedly paid Taylor for protection and then joined him in the African diamond trade, raising millions of dollars for terrorist activities, according to UN war crimes documents.

Taylor, who was deposed last year, is living in exile in Nigeria under a deal brokered by the United States. The U.S. government has been under increasing pressure to help persuade Nigeria to turn Taylor over to the UN tribunal in Sierra Leone, which has indicted him in connection with atrocities in various West African nations. But the United States, which officials have said used Taylor as a CIA informant and backed his Revolutionary United Front in the mid-1990s, has so far refused. "It is clear that Al Qaeda had been in West Africa since September 1998 and maintained a continuous presence in the area through 2002," according to a new confidential report by the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone. The report was written by UN investigators preparing the case against Taylor. U.S. State Department officials were not immediately available for comment on Tuesday about the report or alleged connections between Al Qaeda and Taylor, who took power in a 1997 civil war. The Bush administration froze Taylor's assets on July 23.

Neither the United States nor Nigeria has commented on Liberia's alleged Al Qaeda links under Taylor. Nevertheless, the UN investigation also found that Ghailani, who was sent to Liberia in 1999 to help coordinate Al Qaeda investments in the diamond trade, met with Taylor along with three Al Qaeda leaders, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, and Sheik Ahmed Salim Swedan. All three are wanted in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and remain on the FBI's list of 22 most wanted terrorists. Ghailani and Mohammed arrived in Liberia in March 1999 from the Ivory Coast, according to the UN war-crimes investigator's report. They traveled to Monrovia as guests of Taylor and met with the Liberian dictator at his Congo Town residence. Both men remained in Liberia for several years, staying at a military camp near the border with Sierra Leone and in government-run hotels in Monrovia, according to the U.S. officials and the UN investigation.

The UN investigators outlined a series of alleged links between Al Qaeda leaders and Taylor's regime: Mohammed served as a driver in 2000 and 2001 for General Sam Bockarie, a senior Taylor commander. Al Qaeda's then-military commander, Mohammed Atef, met in early 2000 with General Issa Sesay, another Taylor commander. Atef is believed to have been killed in the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Siddiqui, the MIT-trained microbiologist who is also on the FBI's most-wanted list, arrived in Monrovia in June 2001 as a guest of one of Taylor's top lieutenants. She traveled there for a week, investigators said, to meet with Al Qaeda operatives to get a status report for her superiors in Pakistan on the terror group's diamond and gem trade. The men told their families in letters recovered by the police that they intended to blow themselves up in attacks on unspecified targets, according to Ansyaad Mbai, the top anti-terror official at the Security Ministry.

More Information on International Justice
More Information on Charles Taylor
More Information on the Special Court for Sierra Leone
More Information on Diamonds in Conflict


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