- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2002

Announcing the first joint strike in the war on terrorist financing networks yesterday, the U.S. and Saudi Arabian governments froze the assets of a major Saudi-based Islamic charity in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Somalia.
Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill hailed the move against the branches of the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation as proof that the effort to close the money pipeline for terrorists was gaining momentum, six months to the day after the strikes against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"Organizations that pervert the name of charity are an affront to us all, and we will find them, expose them and shut them down," Mr. O'Neill said yesterday.
While the U.S. government and a number of allies have taken action against banks and other organizations suspected of financing terrorists and laundering funds, Treasury officials said the action against al-Haramain was the first coordinated move by two governments to designate an individual organization as a financier of terrorism.
Bush administration officials were also eager to trumpet the role of Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Osama bin Laden and many of the September 11 terrorists, as well as a spiritual and financial leader of the Islamic world.
Mr. O'Neill traveled last week to Riyadh and a number of other Arab capitals to push for greater action to close terrorist money networks. Several Saudi-based charity organizations, including the Saudi High Commission for Aid to Bosnia, Mercy International Relief Organization and the Al Wafa Humanitarian Organization have been accused of links to terrorist strikes in the United States, Europe and Africa.
According to a new analysis by Matthew Levitt, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, "Saudi officials have at a minimum a clear pattern of looking the other way when funds are known to support extremist purposes."
The O'Neill mission also sparked some anger in Arab capitals, where the U.S. government was asked to supply stronger proof of the case against established businesses and charities.
The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, a Texas-based Muslim charity, last week sued the Bush administration over its decision last year to freeze the group's assets over suspected links to terrorism.
Mr. O'Neill said yesterday the U.S. government took great care before moving against organizations and individuals. He said there was "substantial evidence" behind the government's decision to move against the Texas organization.
Al-Haramain is a private Riyadh-based charity that provides food, medical aid and supplies to the needy, as well as funds for religious instruction and mosque construction in 54 countries around the world, including the United States. The Saudi government used al-Haramain as a conduit for reconstruction aid to Afghanistan.
According to the organization's Web site (www.alharamain.org), the charity spent nearly $57 million on projects in its most recent fiscal year nearly triple the year before.
Mr. O'Neill said that while investigators had no evidence that the Saudi headquarters was involved in financing terrorism, the Bosnian office had ties to the Egyptian terrorist group al-Gama at al-Islamiyya.
The Treasury Department said the charity's Somalia branch employed members of Al-Itihaad al-Islamiya, a Somalian terrorist group, providing them with salaries through a bank identified as the principal source of funding and financial intelligence for Osama bin Laden.
U.S. investigators said the Somalian operation channeled donations intended for orphanage and mosque construction to the terrorist group.
Mr. O'Neill gave few details of the operation to freeze the assets of the two subsidiaries. He said Bosnian and Somalian officials had moved to shut down the groups Friday, and it was not clear whether any arrests had been made.
Since September 11, the Bush administration has created three new agencies to track and choke off terrorist financial networks, including the new Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Center.
According to the Treasury Department, some 150 countries to date have issued orders freezing terrorist assets, and others have appealed to the U.S. government for technical advice on how to improve their ability to block terrorist funding.
Since the New York and Pentagon attacks, the U.S. government and its allies have blocked a total of $104 million in financial assets linked to bin Laden and the al Qaeda terrorist network, according to Treasury Department figures. The U.S. government has now listed about 191 individuals and financial organizations that have had their assets frozen.
But the Treasury secretary said yesterday it was hard to gauge the progress made in drying up funding sources for terrorist groups.
"The honest answer is that we don't really know how much money is flowing around the world to support terrorist organizations," Mr. O'Neill said.
"It's a mistake to underestimate the ingenuity of the terrorist community to find new ways to do their dirty business."


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