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Business

The Deep Roots Of Terror Money

Recent reports show the financial network of Osama bin Laden could be as impregnable as the complex of caves he might be hiding in

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Investigators say Osama bin Laden is sitting on a intricate and dizzying financial network

Long after the last of the Taliban is routed out of the mountains and Osama bin Laden is either captured or killed, the complex financial network of al Qaeda could live on.

At the very least, US investigators have discovered the money trail behind the terrorist network is winding and well-hidden, according to a recent report in the New York Times.

"A military success would not be sufficient without an attack on the financial infrastructure," Michael Zeldin, the former head of the money-laundering section at the Justice Department told the Times. "If that stays in place, then you may chase them from one geography to the next, you may be disruptive, but you haven't gotten to the root of the problem."

The "root" of the financial network, according to the report, is obscured by an intricate Somali financial network, operatives who have infiltrated legitimate international aid organizations and wealthy Arab businessmen sympathetic to al Qaeda's cause.

The yearly income of the group is expected to be in the millions, said German finance experts at a meeting for Germany's intelligence agency last month. Bin Laden's worth alone is estimated to be anything from $25 to $200 million.

Tracking the money is dizzying. Investigations since Sept. 11 have shown traces of the finance network in international aid organizations and constructinon companies in Sudan.

Investigators are still trying to discover where the $500,000 it cost to undertake the Sept. 11 attacks came from.

A greater challenge for investigators seems to be cracking hawalas, an international financial network that leaves behind almost no paper trail. Earlier this month, President George Bush blocked the accounts of Al Barakaat, a suspected militant Muslim group, that runs a collection of hawalas.

Other sources of terrorist money have been non-profit organizations in areas such as Bosnia that operate as fronts for money laundering operations. The New York Times reported that officials have been confronting international aid organizations with the accusations that terrorist operatives have managed to divert some of their

So far the FBI has seized more than 178,000 financial documents, most from foreign countries, according to the report. They have yet to read the documents from Germany, where the majority of the planning took place.

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