US moves against Islamic money exchanges in crackdown on al-Qaida finances

Wednesday, November 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Bush administration orchestrated raids on U.S. businesses Wednesday in a global crackdown on Osama bin Laden's financial network. Overseas, Swiss police arrested two Arab financiers and Liechtenstein authorities seized documents from a company linked to the terrorist.

Warrants were executed in Washington, Boston, Minneapolis, Seattle and Columbus, Ohio, as part of President Bush's campaign to dry up terrorist money supplies, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. It was one of the first uses of the Treasury Department's new Green Quest terrorist tracking efforts.

The United States also asked allies to freeze assets that aid bin Laden and his al-Qaida organization in at least nine countries. Some of them acted even before Bush announced the crackdown.

In all, the names of 62 entities and people were added to a list of suspected terrorist associates targeted by Bush in an executive order signed last month. The earlier list included 88 groups or people whose assets had been frozen.

Bush planned to announce the new cases at the Treasury Department later Wednesday.

Before his appearance, federal authorities in Columbus, Ohio, sealed off a money-transfer and check-cashing business on the administration target list. Barakaat Enterprise shares a small strip mall with a pizza shop and beauty salon, with private homes across the street.

A notice taped on the front window of the business said: ``All property contained in this building is blocked pursuant to an executive order of the president on Sept. 23 of this year under the authority of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.''

In Seattle, more than a dozen U.S. Customs Service agents raided a building containing the offices of Barakat Wire Transfer Co. and detained one man.

The new list of targeted entities, provided by the Treasury Department, covers groups and people affiliated with two suspected bin Laden financial networks _ Al Taqua and Al-Barakaat. Both are informal, largely unregulated financial networks _ sometimes called hawalas _ that authorities say funnel money to al-Qaida through companies and nonprofit organizations they operate.

The Al-Barakaat organization has ties in several countries, including the United States. The order cites affiliated organizations in Minnesota, Massachusetts, Ohio and Washington state.

The North American affiliates include:

_Aaran Money Wire Service Inc. of Minneapolis.

_Al-Barakaat Wiring Service of Minneapolis.

_Barakaat Boston of Dorchester, Mass.

_Barakaat Enterprise of Columbus, Ohio.

_Barakaat North America Inc. of Dorchester, Mass., and Ottawa, Ontario.

_Barakat Wire Transfer Co. of Seattle.

_Global Service International of Minneapolis.

_Somali International Relief Organization of Minneapolis.

In addition, the United States moved to freeze the assets of two people with American residences, Liban Hussein of Dorchester, Mass., and Gerad Jama of Minneapolis. Hussein also has a Canadian address.

The list targets assets in several countries, including Switzerland, Somalia, Liechtenstein, the Bahamas, Sweden, Canada, Austria, Italy and the United Arab Emirates. The administration is urging governments to freeze the assets in banks within their borders.

Swiss police detained two Arab financiers allegedly linked to bin Laden's terrorist network and an Egyptian fundamentalist group. Youssef M. Nada and Ali Himat were being held for questioning in Lugano, Switzerland, just across the border from their homes in Campione D'Italia, said Italian police Lt. Francesco Rapino.

Liechtenstein officials seized documents of a financial manager who represents Al Taqua in the country, said Lothar Hagen, spokesman for the national court, the highest judiciary in the Alpine principality of 32,000.

Police in Vienna, Austria, were investigating a company the United States says is linked to bin Laden.

In the Bahamas, however, officials said a bank cited by the United States had already been closed down but not because of ties to bin Laden.

Investigators believe bin Laden has used the Al Taqua and Al-Barakaat networks to funnel hard-to-trace dollars outside the traditional banking system. The companies, nonprofit groups and money exchanges also act as fronts _ buying material and supplies shipped off to terrorists.

The order clamps down on the assets of Al Taqua co-founders Nada and Himat. It also names Mansour-Fattouh of Zurich, Switzerland, and Hussein Abdullahi Kahie of Somalia.

Three companies also were named: Youssef M. Nada and Co.; Al Taqua Management Co. in Switzerland; and Al Taqua Bank in the Bahamas. Bahamian officials said the bank already had been shut down, but not because of any suspected ties to bin Laden.

Al Taqua was set up as an offshore enterprise several years ago by Muslim Brotherhood members and friendly businessmen to provide banking services to Muslims, a senior Brotherhood member said Wednesday. Islam's prohibition on charging interest has been the impetus for an Islamic banking system, parts of which are now being scrutinized by the United States.

A task force headed by Treasury, the CIA and the FBI has investigated the targeted Islamic money exchanges with an eye toward breaking them up and seizing their assets.

The investigation is part of Bush's effort to dry up terrorists' money supplies in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The United States considers bin Laden has chief suspect in the attacks.