Thursday, May 05, 2005

Middle East Online: US warns Syria over militant financing

Middle East Online: US warns Syria over militant financing

Top US Treasury official demands Syria do more on curbing militant financing if it wants to retain access to hard currency.

Middle Eastern countries in particular are choking off extremists' sources of cash in response to pressure from Washington, said Under Secretary Stuart Levey of the Treasury's Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

"We are seeing terrorist groups avoiding formal financing channels and instead resorting to riskier and more cumbersome conduits like bulk cash smuggling," he said in testimony to two congressional sub-committees.

"And, most importantly, we have indications that terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and Hamas are feeling the pressure and are hurting for money," he said.

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, the US government targeted the financial networks used by extremist groups such as Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda organisation as a central plank of its "war on terrorism".

Levey said countries in the Middle East and further afield had acceded to US demands for a clampdown on both regular banking channels as well as on informal networks for raising cash, such as Islamic charities.

He recalled a February visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories as being fruitful.

Israeli authorities reported a "substantial reduction" of funds flowing to the Palestinian group Hamas, particularly from the Gulf region, he said.

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and Finance Minister Salam Fayad showed a "serious commitment on their part to cutting off the flow of funds to terrorism", the US official said.

But a planned leg of the tour in Syria was called off after Levey failed to receive assurances sought from the Damascus authorities.

US steps intended to denote the Commercial Bank of Syria, the country's main conduit to US currency, a "primary money laundering concern" have had a "remarkable impact on an obstructionist regime", the official said.

"In other respects, though, we have been nowhere near satisfied," he added.

Levey cited Syria's failure to return over 250 million dollars of Iraqi assets to the new government in Baghdad, and "the flow of funds and other support across the Syrian border to the Iraqi insurgency".

"We made clear that Syria would either take effective steps to address our long list of concerns, or we would cut it off from our financial system."

No comments: