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Investigators Seek To Break Up Al-Qaeda's Financial Structure

NCJ Number
Jane's Intelligence Review Volume: 13 Issue: 11 Dated: November 2001 Pages: 8-11
Trifin J. Roule; Jeremy Kinsell; Brian Joyce
Date Published
November 2001
4 pages
The September 11 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center were significantly assisted by the financial flexibility of Osama Bin Laden's network of terrorists, known as Al-Qaeda (the Base); this article examines the nature of this financial structure and how governments can disrupt Al-Qaeda's activities by impeding its flow of funds.
In many ways, the financial arm of Al-Qaeda operates like a foundation -- with high-ranking members selecting suitable applicants, such as a newly established Al-Qaeda cell or a like-minded radical Islamist group -- and then providing financial assistance for terrorist activities. A number of legal and illegal activities are used to raise funds to support the Al-Qaeda movement. Legal financial sources include small businesses, such as farms and fisheries, and large companies, including construction and investment companies. Bin Laden has also been linked to Ariana Afghan Airlines, the Afghan national airline, along with a major Gum Arabic concern, which has allegedly employed a number of terrorists and facilitated their travel abroad in preparation for the East Africa embassy bombings. Front companies have also been connected to Bin Laden on nearly every continent, and financial support is received from dozens of Islamic charities and radical mosques that channel funds to terrorist groups. Further, millions of dollars annually are obtained through the production and distribution of opium. Also, intelligence agencies suspect businessmen pay Bin Laden extortion money to avoid attacks by Al-Qaeda on their business interests throughout the Middle East. The Al-Qaeda network also receives passive and active support from several states in the region. The profits from the multitude of legal and illegal financial activities are allegedly laundered through long-established money-laundering centers, such as Egypt, the Philippines, and the United Arab Emirates, which have strong links to financial centers in Europe, Asia, and North America. The Bush administration took its first steps toward closing down the Al-Qaeda financial network by significantly increasing the budget of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, a division of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, which enforces economic and trade sanctions against targeted foreign countries and terrorist organizations. This increased funding will permit the immediate development of a terrorist finance database that includes related criminal activities that support terrorist groups, such as money laundering and arms trafficking. The database will be used to link and track terrorist groups around the world. An executive order released on September 24 froze the assets of 27 entities, including terrorist groups, charities, and individuals linked to Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. This list, however, represents only a fraction of the hundreds of entities, including media outlets, financial institutions, and front companies, currently under investigation. This article reviews other international efforts to undermine the terrorists' financial network. The final section of the article identifies some of the impediments to Western efforts to erode the financial base of the Al-Qaeda network. A chart illustrates the various ways in which Al-Qaeda has raised and distributed funds; and another chart summarizes the financial initiatives against Al-Qaeda by various countries since September 11.