Friday, August 06, 2004

Progress on the Bout story? The Liberian angle

Multiple blogs report that the US Defence Department planned a raid into Liberia to capture the al-Qa'ida agent Khalfan Ghailani in November, 2001, but then cancelled it. Ghailani was eventually captured in Pakistan last week. Ghailani is said to have been sent to Liberia in 1999 to head AQ's diamond trading activities, (link), where he lived in the base of Charles Taylor's so-called Anti-Terrorist Unit. UN investigations suggested that he and several other senior jihadis met Taylor, and a US "intelligence source" informed the Boston Globe that Taylor personally received some US$ 1 million from them, apparently to buy his protection. Despite this, the 9/11 Commission controversially stated that al-Qa'ida did not fund itself by trading in diamonds. (See Doug Farah, here.) Further, the FBI stated in June, 2003 that there was no - no - al-Qa'ida presence in West Africa. Farah claims that the 2001 mission was scrapped at least in part due to the lack of anyone who spoke the local language. But who were they after if there was "no presence"? Why bother? Polytropos makes the obvious suggestion that the FBI had a good reason to keep the matter quiet in the spring of 2003 - after all, no-one wanted folk to think the terrorists weren't in Iraq after all.

Another important point about all this is the possibility of a Bout connection. Successive investigations have concluded that, throughout the late 1990s and early 00s, Taylor's regime and Viktor Bout's West African business were functionally integrated to the point where you could argue they were one and the same. Taylor's main industries - diamonds, timber and flags of convenience - fed into the airline system. (the rocks being exported by air and sold, partly paying the bill, and the open registry providing both a home for the planes and another source of money.) Bout's aircraft brought in the sinews of war that maintained Taylor in power - or, in a word, in control of diamond mining and shipping registration. In late medieval Europe, the cannon to knock down the barons' walls brought with them their tax revenues and hence the ability to pay for the cannon. An analogous military-economic-political system drives the wars of modern Africa. If, as many suspect, Taylor was protected for his past services to the CIA, the whole history of our time may have been blowback on a biblical scale. If...if..if. Whilst Bout was operating in Liberia, Ghailani and his comrades were too. That was the period when the Liberian shipping registry was sending large sums of money to Boutco San Air General Trading. It was also the period when Flying Dolphin was flying, not dolphins, but weapons to Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan.

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