WASHINGTON (AP) -- Investigators have exposed several pieces of Osama bin Laden's financial network in the past two months, from honey and diamond dealers to U.S. money-wiring outfits sending millions to Somalia.
But U.S. officials concede they have a long way to go to fully disrupt the secretive empire that finances bin Laden's worldwide terrorism operation.
"I think it is not possible to know yet how many more of these kinds of organizations may exist and what other inventive mechanisms may exist that we haven't discovered yet," Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said.
The government made a major move Wednesday toward blocking the money behind the terrorists suspected in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
President Bush announced the United States was targeting two organizations, largely underground currency exchanges known as hawalas, funneling large amounts of cash to bin Laden's al-Qaida network.
The organizations, Al Taqua and Al-Barakaat, operate in more than 40 countries, including the United States, and channel funds to al-Qaida through companies and nonprofits they run, the administration said.
Investigators believe tens of millions of dollars a year flow overseas through al-Barakaat. Much of that was sent by Somali residents of the United States to relatives, with the networks skimming money off for al-Quaida through exchange fees.
Investigators believe it works like this: Networks charge a fee to relay money, with one-fourth of the fee kept by the hawala broker who took the money in the United States and another quarter going to the receiving hawala dealer, in Somalia, for instance. The remainder, or half the fee, would be sent to the main company. That's the point where Treasury officials believe money gets funneled to al-Qaida.
A criminal complaint filed in Boston suggested some of the money leaving the United States went first to the United Arab Emirates. The money was wired in small increments below $10,000 to escape notice by banking regulators, officials said.
The operation was the first for Treasury's new Green Quest terrorist tracking unit.
That's not the only creative money-moving mechanism terrorism investigators have discovered.
Treasury last month identified three honey-related businesses in Yemen believed to be fronts secretly moving money for al-Qaida. The U.S. government previously linked the owner of one to the main al-Qaida base in Europe used to move money, weapons and the network's members.
Foreign officials also believe al-Qaida may be using the illegal African diamond trade to make and hide money. And some U.S. experts think bin Laden has profited from Afghanistan's opium trade.
Some believe the battle against terrorist financing may never end.
"I don't think you're ever going to know if you've destroyed it completely. It's not a physical target in the way a base is or a military target is," said Mark Lowenthal, an intelligence consultant and former staff director of the House Intelligence Committee.
"You have a twofold program: One, you have to continually track the money sources, and two, once you know about them you have to disrupt them. Once you find one, you have to know there's another one."
This week, 62 entities and people were added to a list of suspected terrorist associates targeted by the United States. The earlier list included 88 groups or people whose assets were being targeted because of their ties to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.
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