- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2001

European and Asian governments have denied financial links to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network as the United States stepped up pressure on foreign governments to cooperate in following bin Laden's money trail.
Responding to press reports or accusations from other nations of al Qaeda bases or bank accounts on their territory, Switzerland, Albania, Bosnia, Cyprus and Hong Kong said they had found no evidence of the terrorist group's presence within their borders.
Serbia yesterday also said bin Laden's followers have bases across the Balkans.
In meetings with nearly a dozen senior foreign officials this week, President Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell are asking for their help in creating a "big picture profile" of the financial infrastructure of al Qaeda, which is believed to be behind last week's attacks in New York and Washington.
The Bush administration has made "financial action" an integral part of its global campaign against terrorism, along with law enforcement, intelligence sharing and military activity.
Last week, the Treasury Department announced the creation of the Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Center, which, in the words of Jimmy Gurule, treasury undersecretary for enforcement, "will be an important tool in our quest to dismantle the terrorists' financial bases and shut down their funding capabilities and operations."
Banking officials in Switzerland and Hong Kong said yesterday there is no evidence their banks have accounts linked to bin Laden, identified by the administration as the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 strikes.
The Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) had asked individual banks in the city to check suspicious accounts as a "precautionary measure" after press reports that Hong Kong is one of the financial centers bin Laden uses as a base for his wealth.
"If such deposits were to be held in Hong Kong, it is likely they would be in the names of shell corporations or nominee names," said David Carse, the HKMA's deputy chief executive, in a statement. "If so, detection would not be straightforward."
The Belgrade government said several Balkan states harbor bin Laden followers.
"Bin Laden's organization have two bases in Bosnia-Herzegovina, two in Kosovo, and [it] is also present in Albania," said Interior Minister Dusan Mihailovic, according to the independent Beta news agency.
Albanian and Bosnian officials denied the Serbian accusations.
"Bin Laden's organization does not have bases in Albania," Interior Minister Ilir Gjoni told Agence France-Presse. "Albania is determined to participate with all means at its disposal in the international struggle against terrorism."
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Faisal also pledged support in the fight against terrorism during a meeting with Mr. Powell yesterday and said Saudi Arabia wants to be part of the global coalition, the State Department said.
Before the meeting, U.S. officials said they expected the Saudis to produce intelligence information on the Saudi-born bin Laden's residual contacts in the kingdom and on the flow of funds to bin Laden from Saudi sympathizers.
Terrorism analysts said Saudi Arabia is a good place to start tracking bin Laden's business activities.
"There is a great concern in the U.S. government that the Saudis have not been terribly constructive and openly tolerate fund raising for Islamist groups," said Neil Livingstone, a terrorism expert, who is also chairman and CEO of GlobalOptions, an international risk-management firm in Washington.
"The hunting of the money becomes absolutely essential to the investigation," he said. "The infrastructure of terrorism is very expensive because they need to move around the globe."
But Peter Bergen, a Washington-based journalist who is completing a book on bin Laden, said that following his money trail is "a feel-good measure with very little practical outcome, because you can't get people to commit suicide by giving them money."
American authorities believe bin Laden has three main funding sources: Islamic charities, his own inherited fortune estimated at $300 million and an extensive network of companies and bank accounts, including construction, farming, fishing and diamond businesses.
Testimony during the trial of suspects charged in the 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in East Africa revealed in February that bin Laden's associates with U.S. or European passports sought to buy goods in different countries and sell them in Sudan, where he was based in the early 1990s, at a profit.
The trial also examined numerous bank accounts connected to the terrorist suspect and al Qaeda in Sudan, London, Vienna and Dubai. The purpose of most of his businesses in Sudan was to win over the government and facilitate the training of his followers.
In addition, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt told The Washington Times last week that bin Laden is believed to have also been involved in the "opium trade."
* This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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