President Bush yesterday made good on his pledge to go after the terrorists who attacked the United States on September 11 the same way the government stopped the notorious mobster Al Capone in the 1930s by nabbing him on tax evasion.
Using a grab bag of authority, from the anti-terrorist law and executive orders enacted only weeks ago to decades-old statutes against money laundering and racketeering, the president seized the assets and blocked the trade of 62 organizations and individuals identified as supporting terrorism both here and abroad.
By keeping terrorists from accessing the money that funds their activities, the administration hopes to pre-empt future attacks on the United States and shut down currently planned operations all without firing a shot. It is getting support from 112 countries that also have vowed to prohibit the financing of terrorism and in recent weeks have blocked more than $43 million in terrorist assets.
The government seizes money and assets regularly in prosecuting cases against drug dealers and mobsters and even average Americans who don’t pay their taxes. The United States also has frozen the financial assets of nations such as Iran on grounds they perpetrated terrorism or other illegal acts.
Yesterday’s sweep and a similar order to seize the assets of 88 entities last month are the first broad use of such authorities in pursuit of the internationally operating terrorist groups believed to be behind the September 11 attacks.
“Al Taqwa and al-Barakaat are financiers of terrorism,” said Treasury Secretary Paul H. O’Neill of the two main targets of yesterday’s actions. “Those who underwrite violence bear equal culpability to those who perpetrate it. Feigned indifference, willful blindness and the appearance of normalcy and status in the world of business or commerce will no longer provide cover.”
Mr. O’Neill described the al-Barakaat companies, which operate in 40 countries with business ventures in telecommunications, construction and currency exchange, as “the money movers, the quartermasters of terror. They are a principal source of funding, intelligence and money transfers for [Osama] bin Laden.”
The al Taqwa group has long acted as financial advisers to bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist network, he said, with offices in Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Italy and the Caribbean.
“This is a painstaking process” that requires cooperation on a global scale, Mr. O’Neill said. The United States pushed through a United Nations resolution on Sept. 28 that requires all nations to deny safe haven to terrorists. And it is working through the Group of Eight and other international groups to pressure all nations to enact laws against terrorism and its financing.