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

Blood from Stones

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Book that ties al-Qaeda to diamond trade
is perhaps too ambitious

By Steve Mcgonigle - The Dallas Morning News

(KRT) - "Blood From Stones: The Secret Financial Network of Terror"
by Douglas Farah; Broadway Books ($24.95)

How terrorist organizations raise and move their money is a continuing source of befuddlement to law enforcement agencies. Douglas Farah deserves plaudits for even trying to make sense of this crucial but dizzyingly complex subject in his new book, "Blood From Stones."

It's too bad that his ambitious effort falls short of clarity.

Instead of a definitive analysis of terrorist financing, the veteran Washington Post investigative reporter provides a scrapbook of schemes employed by al-Qaeda and other Middle-Eastern terrorist groups to fund their operations.

The core of the book is how al-Qaeda tried to hide cash assets from prying governments such as that of the United States by buying millions of dollars in "blood diamonds" from rebels in the West African nation of Sierra Leone.

Profits from selling the cut-rate diamonds allowed al-Qaeda to purchase arms and to finance its infrastructure through an international commodities brokerage.

Farah, then a correspondent based in Ivory Coast, broke the story in November 2001 after a tip from a Liberian government insider. Subsequent death threats forced Farah and his family to flee Africa.

U.S. intelligence officials - those supposed to track al-Qaeda's financial assets so they can be confiscated - denounced the account as fantasy. But the story found legs in the U.S. Congress, which continues to investigate.

The thoroughness of Farah's reporting on al-Qaeda's connection to the underground diamond trade makes for a compelling narrative enlivened by shady characters and international intrigues. His findings also underscore the negligence and bungling of U.S. authorities even after the 9-11 attacks supposedly raised identifying and cutting off terrorist funding to a top priority.

Echoing recent criticisms by Richard Clarke, a former White House counterterrorism czar, Farah contends the United States lags far behind in pursuing terrorist dollars because of too many years spent paying lip service.

If only Farah had resisted the impulse to cast a wider net.

His attempt in the book's second half to lay out the financial strategies of Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and the Muslim Brotherhood come across as less original research and more compilation of previously disclosed facts.

For example, his descriptions of activities of the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, an alleged financial arm of Hamas, cover no new ground beyond unattributed reports that the Clinton administration decided not to shut the foundation in the late 1990s because of civil rights concerns.

He adds little to his own reporting on Operation Green Quest, the multiagency task force created after 9-11 to crack down on the domestic financial activities of al-Qaeda, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups.

The entire second half of the book reads like a hodgepodge of loosely connected and thinly researched stories tacked on to one another to add heft.

One wonders why Farah's editors decided that his original cash-for-diamonds revelation was not enough.

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