The United States and its allies in the war against Osama bin Laden and his supporters have frozen more than $100 million in assets around the world since the Sept. 11 attacks, senior Treasury officials said Tuesday.
“Dollar by dollar, the world is closing in on Osama bin Laden,” said one Treasury official.
The $100 million is by far the largest total of frozen assets yet disclosed by officials in their effort to shut down the financial operations of Bin Laden, his Al Qaeda network and other terrorist organizations.
The Treasury officials, without providing a breakdown, said the money belongs to the Taliban, Bin Laden, Al Qaeda and other terrorist-linked organizations.
President Bush and his allies have stressed that cutting off the money flow is a key element in their fight against global terrorism.
On Tuesday, Germany announced that it had frozen 214 bank accounts that officials suspect are linked to terrorism, a day after Bush announced that $6 million has been frozen in accounts in the United States. The European Union called on other member countries Tuesday to freeze assets connected to terrorism suspects.
Separately, since July 1999, the U.S. government has frozen almost $255 million in assets in the United States belonging to the Taliban, Afghanistan’s ruling regime, which is sheltering Bin Laden.
Treasury officials also confirmed the Secret Service has begun tracking financial records at brokerage houses to determine if anyone illegally profited from knowing about the Sept. 11 attacks beforehand.
Meanwhile, Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft said Tuesday that members of the terrorist plot against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were active in Europe and traveled throughout the world as they planned the suicide hijackings.
Ashcroft again blamed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on Bin Laden, but stopped short of saying the exiled Saudi militant or Al Qaeda financed them from its headquarters in Afghanistan, as some intelligence officials have suggested.
The attorney general said U.S. investigators were trying to establish such financial connections, and that cooperative efforts with counter-terrorism authorities from other nations were beginning to pay off three weeks after the attacks.
Ashcroft made his remarks at a news conference with Canada’s top law enforcement official, Solicitor General Lawrence MacAulay, at which both pledged increased cooperation in the fight against terrorism. They discussed pending legislation in both countries to tighten security along the porous 4,000-mile-plus continental border between the United States and Canada, and other measures to crack down on terrorist activity.
In recent weeks, Ashcroft said, authorities have traced the threads of the conspiracy to all ends of the globe, and have concluded Al Qaeda operates in virtually every country. The plot against the U.S. targets, which killed nearly 6,000 people, underscored the expanse of Bin Laden’s network, he said.
“We believe the roots of this act of terrorism, this act of war, were in Afghanistan,” Ashcroft said. “And we believe that the branches of the activity not only found their way to the United States of America, but were present in substantial ways in Europe, and that the activities of the conspirators carried them to destinations virtually around the globe.”
Since Sept. 11, Ashcroft said, investigators have conducted 540 interviews and 383 searches, issued 4,407 subpoenas and arrested or detained more than 500 individuals. He said authorities in 25 other nations have arrested or detained about 150 additional people suspected of being linked to terrorism.
Since the attacks, the U.S. government also has developed evidence of 241 “serious” or “credible” threats, according to the Justice Department and the White House.
The Justice Department also released immigration charges filed against 13 foreign nationals wanted for questioning about the hijackings. They include several Egyptians, people from Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Yemen, and a Pakistani who entered the United States in April with a fraudulent passport. Their names and other details were omitted for privacy reasons.
In Germany, authorities said their investigation has uncovered no firm evidence connecting Bin Laden to the suspected hijackers, some of whom spent time in Hamburg.
Authorities in Berlin announced they had frozen $3.8 million in assets held in bank accounts across the country on suspicion the resources or owners had links to terrorism.
At least 12 accounts had been sealed before the Sept. 24 executive order by President Bush that identified 27 individuals, movements and companies allegedly associated with terrorism, and requested that their assets be frozen.
Spokesman Frank Bonaldo of the German Economics Ministry said at least two of the accounts were closed in recent days in response to the order: one belonging to Syrian-born Hamburg businessman Mamoun Darkazanli and the other to an undisclosed individual under investigation in the ongoing probe of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Darkazanli was among the 27 alleged financiers of international terrorism identified by the White House. However, he told The Times in an interview after the list was released that he had no links to Bin Laden.
Darkazanli’s name was on a joint account opened with known Bin Laden accomplice Mamdouh Mamoud Salim in 1996. But Darkazanli, a naturalized German, said that account was opened solely as a favor to mutual friends of his and Salim’s. He also said he had no links to any of the Hamburg-based suspects among the suicide hijackers.
Meanwhile, in Brussels, European Union officials urged member nations that have not already done so to freeze assets associated with terrorism suspects. Britain, France, Germany and Luxembourg have already taken action, but the other 11 member states have yet to disclose their responses to Bush’s executive order.
Some countries in the EU had frozen accounts in July in response to calls for immobilizing Bin Laden assets as authorities pursued the Saudi-born exile on previous charges.
Meyer reported from Washington and Williams from Berlin.