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11 January 2005

Coordinated Efforts Key to Fighting Terrorism, United States Says

Officials outline to United Nations U.S. efforts to freeze terrorist funds

By Judy Aita
Washington File United Nations Correspondent

United Nations -- Long-term, coordinated international efforts are extremely important in cutting the flow of funds to terrorist groups -- which now are becoming a loose collection of regional networks operating autonomously, U.S. officials say.

Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs E. Anthony Wayne and other officials met with members of the U.N. Security Council's al-Qaida Sanctions Committee January 10.  They discussed actions the United States has taken to freeze assets and to enact travel bans and arms embargoes on individuals and organizations placed on the U.N. sanctions list.

The officials urged U.N. member states to seek help in strengthening their sanctions regimes, setting up procedures, or enacting national laws on terrorist financing if they need such help. They also called on governments to concentrate on providing additional information on the more than 300 names currently on the sanctions list to help the private sector make the correct identification before freezing assets.

After the closed-door session, Wayne said, “You can have the best intelligence in the world, but if you don't have the cooperation of other governments where individuals are operating, you have a very hard time in stopping them from operating and transferring money."

"One of the very important effects of the U.N. resolutions is the obligation it has on governments around the world to cooperate," Wayne said.  "We've found that the vast, vast majority of governments are very sincere in wanting to apply those requirements."

Wayne told the committee, "[T]he United States is fully committed to implementing the sanctions imposed by the Security Council under Resolution 1267.  We view these measures as a critical component in the collective effort of nations to defeat the threat to international peace and security posed by terrorists linked to al-Qaida and the Taliban."

Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crime Juan Zarateadded that the information "shows us that the international efforts have been effective and the work of this committee is important and part of that effectiveness."

Approximately $147 million in terrorist-related assets worldwide have been frozen based on this process, Zarate said.

"We know that the designation process not only freezes assets but it cuts off channels of funding for al-Qaida.  It deters those who would otherwise support al-Qaida and other like-minded terrorist groups.  It notifies those who are not otherwise witting of their support that they are supporting an organization -- we've seen that very clearly in the case of non-profit organizations that have been abused by al-Qaida," he said.

The two officials said that at the start of a new year the committee should hear how important and successful the process has been.  They urged other governments to meet with the committee to share information on their efforts to freeze terrorist assets, as well as their efforts to identify other individuals and organizations that are supporting al-Qaida, the Taliban and other terrorist organizations.

It is not just a matter of exactly how much is kept from the terrorists, but also a matter of identifying others and cutting them off as well, Zarate said.

"It is not the amount of dollars you freeze on the day of the designation; it is, instead, financially isolating those who are supporting al-Qaida.  We think that is the relevance and real importance of this target financial regime.  We think it has been effective," the Treasury official said.

Nevertheless, with the success of the system has come a new problem, Zarate said.  Terrorist groups such as al-Qaida are now resorting to more informal ways of moving and raising money, such as using cash couriers to transfer money, and the committee must now begin to discuss ways to tackle those issues, he said.

The two officials discussed how the White House; the U.S. departments of Treasury, Justice, State, and Homeland Security; and law enforcement and intelligence communities work closely together at every stage of the process to identify, trace and pursue terrorists and their supporters and take actions under various laws to gather information and eventually freeze assets.

For example, the National Counterterrorism Center maintains a central classified U.S. government database of known and suspected international terrorists from which individuals are nominated for the U.N. sanctions list. The Terrorist Screening Center, administered by the FBI, reviews nominations and ensures that the identifying information meets the standards for inclusion.  The State Department's Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs and its regional bureaus lead the effort to coordinate bilaterally and multilaterally with other governments.

All the activity involved in identifying financing sources and blocking assets requires a sustained political will, a substantial commitment of resources, accountability for administering and enforcing sanctions, and constant and close communication across the U.S. government and with the private sectors, Zarate said.

Wayne also warned the committee that "there are growing indications that al-Qaida's ideology is spreading well beyond the Middle East."

Due to the global coalition against terrorism, al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden, and the Taliban have suffered significant losses, he said.  Key al-Qaida leaders in all operations areas -- logistics, planning, finance and training -- have been killed or captured.  The organizations' safe havens have been lost and finances squeezed.    "But al-Qaida is certainly not defeated," Wayne said.  "We are still at war."

The organization has been transformed into a loose collection of regional networks that operate more autonomously.  Islamic extremist groups like Ansar al-Islam and the Zarqawi network have picked up al-Qaida's standard and thousands of extremists around the world who have fought in conflicts in Kosovo, Kashmir, and elsewhere continue to be a ready source of recruits, the State Department official said.