U.S. Seeks to Cut Off Additional Al-Qaida Financial Links

Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill announced that authorities have blocked $24 million in terrorist assets in the U.S. belonging to at least nine organizations and two individuals.

According to O’Neill, 112 nations are working together to block another $43 million in assets in Somalia, Liechtenstein, the Bahamas, Sweden, Canada, Austria, Italy, and the United Arab Emirates.

The president said that the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have joined the G-8 countries—The United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and Japan, and the United States—in supporting U.S. efforts to block terrorist funding. He also said that countries who do not cooperate with this effort would suffer consequences.

President Bush highlighted two major international financial networks, Al Taqua and Al-Barakaat, which authorities accuse of funding Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida organization.

Many affiliate companies of Al Taqua and Al-Barakaat operate unlicensed money exchanges, known as hawalas, alleged to funnel money to terrorist groups without leaving a paper trail.

Authorities suspect that the hawalas served as a covert communications network for terrorists—including al-Qaida— and raised funds for bin Laden’s network.

Al-Barakaat has various telecommunication businesses and affiliates in several countries, including the U.S.. Al-Barakaat businesses, such as several money wire services, were halted in Minn., Mass., Ohio, and Wash.

Al Taqua operates as a philanthropic organization, including hawalas, which authorities say diverts money, supplies, and weapons to bin Laden’s network and another Egyptian fundamentalist group. Al Taqua was established several years ago by Muslim Brotherhood to provide banking services that follow the Islamic prohibition on charging interest. Authorities have frozen the assets of Al Taqua’s companies and banks in Switzerland and the Bahamas.

The U.S. has frozen accounts belonging to Al Taqua co-founders Youssef M. Nada and Ali Himat, and assets of Al Taqua business partners, who reside in Switzerland and Somalia.

Early Wednesday, Italian police searched the cofounders’ homes in Campione D’Italia, a small Italian enclave in Switzerland. Swiss police detained Nada and Hamat for questioning in Lugano, Switzerland.

Meanwhile, U.S. Customs Service authorities and police executed official warrants in Seattle, Boston, Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., and Columbus, to shut down and search businesses run by the two global financial networks.

In Columbus, police shut down a strip mall partly owned by Barakaat Enterprises. In Seattle, over 12 U.S. Customs agents searched the offices of Barakaat Wire Transfer, an alleged hawala, and detained one man.

In Boston, U.S. Customs authorities charged Mohamed M. Hussein and Liban M. Hussein with running an unregistered hawala, Barakaat North America Inc., intended to funnel money to terrorist groups. The hawala moved more than $2 million through U.S. registered banks between January and September 2001, according to the Treasury Department. Police detained Mohamed Hussein.

Under the new anti-terrorism legislation signed last week, all hawalas must register with the Treasury Department by the end of the year.