- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 19, 2002

U.S. Customs Service agents yesterday searched several businesses, banks, residences and a post office box in Michigan and Ohio in an ongoing investigation into the diversion of $50 million a year in cash to suspected terrorists in Yemen.
Customs Commissioner Robert C. Bonner said 21 separate search warrants were executed in Detroit, Dearborn and Hamtramck, Mich., and in Toledo, Ohio, following a nine-month undercover investigation, known as Operation Green Quest, into the unlicensed movement of cash from five money-transfer operations, or hawalas.
Six persons were arrested in Detroit and Dearborn during yesterday's raids. They were identified as Mohammed Aidaros Abdulla, David Nasser Ali, Foiad H. Mohamed, Gamil A. Al-Najar and Hussein A. Mohamed, all of Dearborn, and Abdulla H. Mohamad of Detroit.
Meanwhile, a leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas also was charged yesterday in Dallas, along with his wife, the vice president of a Texas computer company and four of that man's brothers, with violating the federal ban on financial dealings with terrorists.
They were accused of export violations, making false statements, dealing in the property of a designated terrorist, conspiracy and money-laundering.
Indictments in the Texas case were announced by Attorney General John Ashcroft, who said the six persons were accused of selling computers and computer parts to Libya and Syria, both designated state sponsors of terrorism.
"The war against terror is a war of accountants and auditors, as well as a war of weaponry and soldiers," Mr. Ashcroft said. "Today's charges against a senior leader of Hamas are the latest in an aggressive campaign to identify, disrupt and destroy the sources of funding that make terrorism possible."
The Hamas leader, Mousa Abu Marzook, was deported from the United States in 1997. Also charged was Ghassan Elashi, vice president of InfoCom Corp. in Richardson, Texas, who also is chairman of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, the largest Muslim charity in the United States.
The U.S. government designated the foundation a terrorist group and shut it down in 2001.
Marzook and his wife, Nadia Elashi, are believed to be in the Middle East. The others are now in U.S. custody. The four brothers worked for Mr. Elashi, investigators said.
In the Operation Green Quest probe, Mr. Bonner said Customs agents believe that as much as $50 million was routed annually to Yemen in violation of the USA Patriot Act, which requires that cash transfers be registered and reported.
A hawala is a money-transfer system that operates outside or parallel to traditional banking and other financial channels. The system predates Western banking and is based on trust and the extensive use of family relationships and regional affiliations. It is recognized as an easy way to hide illegal cash transfers.
"Illegal money transfer businesses, by their nature, are vulnerable to exploitation by criminal organizations, including terrorist groups," Mr. Bonner said. "For this reason, Operation Green Quest will continue to aggressively investigate and dismantle these illegal money transfer operations."
Undercover agents also confiscated five banks accounts and raided several businesses, including convenience stores, service stations and restaurants, where they seized financial documents, computers and other records.
Since its inception, the Operation Green Quest task force probe has resulted in 142 warrant or consent searches, 61 arrests, 43 indictments and the seizure of more than $8 million. In addition, the investigation has accounted for more than 650 seizures of smuggled currency and monetary instruments, totaling nearly $22 million.
On Tuesday, the task force raided businesses in Buffalo, N.Y., where three men were arrested on charges they illegally transferred more than $480,000 to Yemen. The men were identified as relatives of a man accused of belonging to an al Qaeda terrorist cell in the Buffalo suburb of Lackawanna.
Yemen, Osama bin Laden's ancestral homeland, has been a hotbed for al Qaeda and other Muslim extremist militants.

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