More Assets Frozen in Terrorism Fight; Treasury Adds 39 Organiza
by David S. Hilzenrath and John Mintz
October 14, 2001
The U.S. government on Friday widened its campaign to cut off the al Qaeda terrorist network's funds, ordering financial institutions to freeze the assets of 39 more people and organizations.
The Treasury Department's list provided new detail on how Osama bin Laden's global terrorist network uses businesses and Islamic charities as fronts to move people, money and weapons. It names Yemeni honey shops, a Pakistani physician, a prominent Muslim charity and one of bin Laden's in-laws, identified as the head of his financial network.
"Today we add another brick to the international wall we are building against the funding of terrorist acts around the world," Jimmy Gurule, Treasury's undersecretary for enforcement, said at a news conference. Friday's list, which broadened President Bush's Sept. 24 order freezing the assets of 27 people and groups, includes 18 of the people the president identified earlier this week as the "most wanted" terrorists. Five others, identified as bin Laden aides, were named by the United Nations in March under a Security Council resolution urging countries to freeze terrorist assets.
The list was the product of tense debate within the U.S. government, which is torn by potentially conflicting priorities: stopping the flow of money, protecting intelligence sources and methods, and avoiding affronts to key allies such as Saudi Arabia.
"International politics and domestic politics plays havoc with this whole list," said Steven Emerson, a terrorism expert in close contact with government officials. There has been "tremendous resistance" from the State Department, he added.
Government officials said federal agencies have argued for weeks about whether to publicly describe the Rabita Trust, a Muslim charity closely tied to the Saudi and Pakistani governments, as being affiliated with bin Laden. Ultimately, the Treasury Department listed the Rabita Trust, which top Pakistani officials helped establish to resettle refugees from Bangladesh. Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has had an official affiliation with the trust.
The diplomatic sensitivity of Musharraf's tie to the Rabita Trust was evident in the State Department's handling of news inquiries about his role. Department officials initially drafted a standard response noting Musharraf's involvement and making clear he was a well-respected figure with no knowledge of what it called al Qaeda's "infiltration" of the trust. But officials later dropped any reference to Musharraf from its prepared response.
A State Department official said the Rabita Trust is "a highly regarded Islamic trust with several prominent board members."
"Our feeling is that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda deliberately infiltrated the Rabita Trust and corrupted a reputable organization," the official said, adding, "We don't think the prominent people who have their names on it were aware of the infiltration."
Pakistani news accounts say the Rabita Trust is affiliated with a much larger and better-known charity, usually called Rabita Alam-e-Islami, or the Muslim World League. It is based in the holy city of Mecca and has a multibillion-dollar budget financed by many wealthy Saudis.
Mustafa Alani, a British expert on Islamic groups, expressed shock that the U.S. government listed the Rabita Trust, given its ties to a revered, decades-old charity. "I am surprised, to say the least," he said. "This could turn into a witch hunt. This will make many Islamic foundations very nervous."
The Treasury said the Rabita Trust's secretary-general is Wa'el Hamza Jalaidan, whom it described as "logistics chief" and co-founder of Bin Laden's organization. Jalaidan lived in Arizona in the early 1980s and headed an Islamic center there before joining bin Laden in the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan, terrorism expert Emerson said.
Federal officials also argued about whether to list the Saudi-based Muwafaq Foundation, or Blessed Relief, knowledgeable sources said. They said the compromise was to list its head, Yasin al-Qadi, but not the group itself. "Muwafaq is an al Qaeda front that receives funding from wealthy Saudi businessmen," the Treasury Department said in a statement. "Saudi businessmen have been transferring millions of dollars to bin Laden through Blessed Relief."
Guy Martin, a British lawyer representing several top executives of Muwafaq, said the foundation has been defunct since 1996. He denied that it or its associates ever had any ties to extremists. "Its objective was the relief of suffering from famine and war," he said. He added that "there is no link between terrorists and Mr. al-Qadi," who is one of his clients.
The Treasury Department also said the Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan "is considered the main al Qaeda station house in Europe," used "to facilitate the movement of weapons, men and money across the world." In a trial earlier this year, the institute was "directly connected" to the bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa, it noted. However, the institute's funds were not ordered frozen. The government said one al Qaeda operative on the list worked through Human Concern International, a "front organization" based in Canada. The group's lawyer, Marc Duguay, denied it has ties to Bin Laden, adding that the individual in question left Human Concern International in 1995.
Friday's list also named a Pakistani money trader, citing him as a major hawala dealer. Government officials have said bin Laden uses the hawala system, an underground, virtually paperless system of transferring money around the world.
Officials said that in deciding which individuals and groups to name, Justice Department lawyers excluded some, arguing the evidence implicating them might not hold up in court. Intelligence officials have refused to add some names, saying that to do so might expose their sources and methods. And State Department officials measure "the impact on the coalition" of nations President Bush is assembling in his anti-terrorism efforts, one official said.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, Treasury officials said, more than $ 24 million has been frozen worldwide, including $ 4 million in the United States.
The Treasury said Thursday that the Bahamas "blocked accounts connected to the recent terrorist attacks." But U.S. officials wouldn't say how much money was involved.
The Bahamian ambassador to the United States, Joshua Sears, said a $ 20 million trust was frozen because a beneficiary seems to match a name on the U.N. list. Another $ 12 million was frozen, said Julian W. Francis, governor of the Central Bank of the Bahamas, because the names of two intended recipients aroused suspicion.
Meanwhile, officials unsealed an indictment in Phoenix Friday against Faisal Michael al Salmi, a Tempe, Ariz., man accused of giving false statements to the FBI about his links to Hani Hanjour, the suspected pilot of the jet that crashed into the Pentagon.
Al Salmi denied knowing Hanjour, but prosecutors allege that Al Salmi talked to Hanjour several times, including once "when they spoke of a mutual interest in aviation," according to the indictment.