Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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The Intriguing Story of Abdallah Tabarak and Gemstones
There is an intriguing story that I have been following for a while, and carried superbly in today's Washington Post on Adullah Tabarak, Osama bin Laden's bodyguard who was mysteriously released from Guantanamo despite his significant role in al Qaeda. He was also, by his own admission, part of a "gemstone smuggling ring" that al Qaeda operated near Kandahar.

There is much that is strange about Tabarak's situation. He became the "emir" of Guantanamo, respected for taking the heat of bin Laden at Tora Bora by taking the leader's sat phone, making calls and luring away coalition forces, who followed him rather than bin Laden. Tabarak was captured. Bin Laden was not.

While in Guantanamo, Tabarak, according to European intelligence sources, called for hunger strikes that were almost universally obeyed. No one questioned his authority. His status was such that he was not allowed visits by the ICRC out of "military necessity," according to the U.S military.

Then suddenly Tabarak was released to Morocco, where he remains largely free. Why he was released by U.S. officials remains a mystery. Europeann al Qaeda experts are baffled by the move and the feeling that the U.S. community simply did not realize the value of Tabarak when they allowed him to go free.

One of the intriguing passages of Tabarak's testimony refers to his work in a "gemstone smuggling ring" while working in Kandahar. It operated from 1997-2001, exactly matching my stories on the diamond trade.

European intelligence sources said the stones included diamonds, emeralds and other precious stones. In the testimony of Tabarak that I have seen, there are few details, and no follow up questions after his statements on the gemstone operation. But it is interesting that the man who was bin Laden's trusted bodyguard was involved in the operation. Everyone else I identified in the operation were also among the senior leadership of al Qaeda. Hardly the profile of an unimportant operation that many still contend never took place.

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