When is a terrorism figure no longer one?
With much fanfare in August 2002, the Bush administration formally designated prominent Italy-based businessman Ahmed Idris Nasreddin as a top financier of terrorism, saying he was a key moneyman for Al Qaeda’s international network.
The United Nations quickly followed suit, requiring its 190 member nations to freeze the assets of Nasreddin and his vast web of business holdings, and to prohibit any individuals or entities in those countries from having any dealings with them.
Two weeks ago, the administration quietly took Nasreddin and a dozen of his financial companies and other holdings off the official blacklist, and the United Nations immediately did the same. Neither agency publicly announced the decision or explained why they were doing so; they simply published the delisting in an updated list of enforcement actions.
Some experts on terrorism financing found the decision puzzling. “You cannot for five years refer to someone as an international terrorist financier, seize all their funds, tell the world that this is a major-league bad guy, and then suddenly change your mind without public explanation,” said lawyer Jonathan M. Winer, a former deputy assistant secretary of State for international law enforcement. He represents clients in terrorism financing cases involving sanctions.
“In order to have credibility, you have to explain to the world what has happened, and you have to justify both decisions,” Winer said. “Was the initial decision a mistake? And if it wasn’t, how do you justify the new decision? It screams out for a full explanation, and none has been provided.”
United Nations officials in New York did not return calls and e-mails seeking comment. The Treasury Department declined to discuss the case in detail Tuesday, but issued a statement that suggested it believed that both the initial designation of Nasreddin and his recent “de-listing” were appropriate.
The department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control “reviewed all of the information in its possession, including the information upon which Mr. Nasreddin’s original designation was based, additional information, and Mr. Nasreddin’s submissions in support of his delisting petition,” the statement said.
Treasury also said that “a primary basis” for Nasreddin’s earlier designation was his support for Youssef Nada, co-founder and co-director with Nasreddin of the prominent Bank al Taqwa, and Nasreddin’s support for the bank itself. The bank and Nada, who according to the Treasury Department holds a controlling interest, were first designated as financiers of terrorism in November 2001 by the Bush administration and United Nations. They remain on the blacklist.
But now, the department said, Nasreddin “no longer fits the criteria for designation” because he has submitted signed statements to the Office of Foreign Assets Control certifying that he has terminated any business relationships with Nada, Bank al Taqwa, “and any other designated individuals and entities, and that he will have no such dealings in the future.”
“In the event that Mr. Nasreddin recommences his support for designated terrorist entities, OFAC will not hesitate to re-designate him,” the Treasury statement said.
A senior Treasury official said that Nasreddin’s case was not unusual and that other designated terrorist entities and individuals had appealed and won by going through “a very fact- intensive inquiry.”
“People are definitely able to get off [the list], and we’ve done a whole bunch of delistings where the circumstances warrant,” said the Treasury official, who spoke on a condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the designation process.
Nasreddin, 78, could not be reached for comment, but in the past he has denied any connection to terrorism financing.
In official designation papers in 2002, the Treasury Department said it was joining the Italian government in blacklisting Nasreddin, based on evidence gathered by both countries and several other nations.
Nasreddin provided direct support for Nada and Bank al Taqwa, according to the Treasury Department, which also alleged that the bank and other parts of the broader financial group had “long acted as financial advisors to Al Qaeda” through its offices in Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Italy and the Caribbean.
Victor D. Comras, a former State Department official who participated in the global designation of Nasreddin and Nada when he belonged to the United Nations Al Qaeda Monitoring Group, said the statement by the Treasury Department raised more questions than it answered as to why one of the men was being taken off the blacklist after so many years. The decision itself will open the door for other alleged financiers of terrorism to demand that they be let off the hook as well, he said.
“They seem to be saying that he was a bad guy but that he has renounced being a bad guy,” said Comras, now an attorney and consultant on terrorism financing. “If that’s the criteria, wow, a lot of people will try to get off the list. All they have to do is say, We’re not doing it anymore.”