Terror probe turns to Minneapolis

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Minneapolis Star Tribune. by Greg Gordon and Joy Powell

Federal agents raided and blocked the accounts of five Minneapolis money-transfer operations Wednesday as part of a worldwide effort to cut off financing for Osama Bin Ladin's terrrorist network.

President Bush said the Treasury Departmnent froze the assets of 62 organizations and individuals connnected to two global financial operaions. He pointed to "solid and credible evidence"of their ties to Bin Laden.

"The entry point for these networks may be a small storefront operation," Bush said. "But follow the nedtwork to its center,and you discover wealthy banks and sophisticated technology, all at the servide of mass murderers. By shutting the networks down, we disrupt their murderous work."

One of the organizations targeted was Al-Barakaat, which channels money to Somalia and has its biggest presence in Minneapolis. Investigators sealed Al-Barakaat offices in three other U.S. cities and made one arrest.

Al-Barakaat is a money-transfer network with operations in 40 countries. Treasury Department officials said they have evidence that the firm has skimmed a percentage of the money-transfer fees charged to customers and channeled it to Bin Laden's Al-Qaaida terrorist organization.

Twin Cities Somalis,estimated to comprise half of the nation's 100,000 resettled refugees from the war-torn East African nation, have relied on Al-Barakaat for years as a vehicle for sending money to im-poverished relatives back home. Al-Barakaat, with 60 offices in Somalia, is believed to be the largest of about 10 Minnesota "hawalas" - money-transfer companies that for the most part funtion informally outside of the banking system, moving small donations overseas for immigrants. Senior Treasury officials said Somali-Americans who used the firm's services probably did not know that it was supporting Al-Qaida.

-- John Littmann (johntl@mtn.org), November 08, 2001

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