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Vol 42 No 23

Published 23rd November 2001


Gems for the martyrs

Tanzanite is a purple-brown crystal that, when superheated, turns into a pretty blue gem. Tanzanite sales in the United States alone are reckoned to be worth more than US$400 million a year - but it is mined only in Tanzania, whose exports of uncut crystals were last year, officially, worth just $16 mn. Between the miners and the jewellers' shops are legions of brokers, traders, cutters, polishers, dealers and, obviously, smugglers. Some of them, according to Tanzanian and US officials, and some independent investigators, are agents of Usama bin Laden's Al Qaida Islamist network. Tanzanite, newly fashionable in the USA, is one of their gemstones of choice.

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