Bin Laden group shipping interests probed : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

The following was published in the September 28 2001 edition of Lloyds List

Bin Laden group shipping interests probed By David Osler

A CONCERTED worldwide effort was underway yesterday to track down merchant shipping controlled by Osama bin Laden's Islamic terrorist network. The al Qaeda group is thought to control up to 80 front companies in 50 countries worldwide, almost certainly including shipping concerns. Leading specialist corporate investigators have been hired to track them down, Lloyd's List has learnt. As they are private concerns investigators are likely to run up against the industry's infamous "corporate veil" arrangements.

However, some registers hint privately they will disregard client confidentiality if approached by legitimate intelligence services. The developments come after revelations that a Hamburg trader admitted acting as a translator when known bin Laden associates sought to buy a vessel.

Syrian-born Mamoun Darkazanli, who runs a company of the same name, said that he was acting on behalf of Wahid al Hage. Mr al Hage - sought by the US in connection with the East Africa embassy bombings -is seen as al Qaeda's quarter-master.

Potential operational benefits for terrorists in owning ships are obvious and considerable. Access to merchant vessels would give them sure-fire ways to smuggle personnel and equipment - and perhaps even biological or nuclear weapons - into any littoral state in the world. However, shipping security consultants stress that ships could not be used as de facto deadly weapons in the same way that hijacked airliners were deployed on September 11.

One oil major is known to have given a list of names of people believed to have links with bin Laden to a corporate investigation outfit. Researchers are now trawling registers for such details of shipping company ownership that are available to the public. Under the flag of convenience system, bin Laden vessels could be registered anywhere in the world, including countries that would not attract suspicion. But such is the secrecy maintained by many flags of convenience that establishing ownership may often prove extremely hard. "I would have thought it virtually impossible and, to be frank, I don't think our clients are expecting us to find anything," said one of those undertaking the project. "It is a needle in a haystack. But they will have done due diligence." But the head of one medium-size register promised that its books would be completely open to US security services if required. "If they came along and said, 'hey boys, what have you got?', then sure," he said. "Obviously." He went on: "If I look down our list, I know who they are. I know who they represent. Even with an obscure Greek owner, there is P&I involved, the banks are involved. They know who they are dealing with. I would have more areas of concern with the real big boys."

The largest flags of convenience registered thousands of ships and would therefore not know every owner personally, he contended. One prominent mercenary specialising in armed ship recovery jobs said: "I would be amazed if [al Qaeda] were not shipowners." In the first place, he pointed to the money laundering possibilities. "Ships represent major investment," he said. "You can hide several millions with a tanker." He then named one of the world's largest flags of convenience as a likely jurisdiction, owing to its strict secrecy regime. "They are not likely to put it anywhere [ownership details] can be got at," he said. "If the trail ends in [the leading FoC nation], how can you get further? The answer is, you can't."

Another shipping source suggested that investigations should focus on the Red Sea area. "A close look at Ethiopia and Sudan may well turn up some interesting results," he suggested. "Yemen, of course, will turn up even more interesting results since bin Laden has financial interests there."

-- Rich Marsh (, October 09, 2001

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