Pubdate: Tue, 03 Sep 2002
Source: Hartford Courant (CT)
Copyright: 2002 The Hartford Courant
Author: Douglas Farah, Washington Post
Bookmark: (Terrorism)


The al Qaeda and the Taliban have quietly shipped large quantities of
gold out of Pakistan to Sudan in recent weeks, traveling through the
United Arab Emirates and Iran, according to European, Pakistani and
U.S. investigators.

The sources said several shipments of boxes of gold, usually disguised
as other products, were taken by small boat from the Pakistani port of
Karachi to either Iran or Dubai, and from there mixed with other goods
and flown by chartered airplanes to Khartoum, the Sudanese capital.

Although it is unclear how much gold has been moved, U.S. and European
officials said the quantity was significant and was an important
indicator that the al Qaeda network and members of Afghanistan's
deposed Taliban militia still had access to large financial reserves.

European and U.S. intelligence officials said the movement of gold
also highlighted three significant developments in the war on
terrorism. The gold transfers mark the growing role of Iranian
intelligence units, allied with the country's hard-line clerics, in
aiding al Qaeda; the potential re-emergence of Sudan as a financial
center for the organization; and the ability of the terrorist group to
come up with new revenue despite the global crackdown on its finances.

The sources said Sudan may have been chosen because Osama bin Laden,
the Saudi-born al Qaeda leader, and other members of the network are
familiar with the country and retain business contacts there. They
said traditional havens for al Qaeda money on the Arabian peninsula,
such as Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, were under intense
international scrutiny, while transactions in Sudan could more easily
pass unnoticed.

Gold has for years been the preferred financial instrument of the
Taliban and al Qaeda. Most of the Taliban treasury was kept in gold
when the militia ruled Afghanistan, and taxes were often collected in
gold. Just before the Taliban and al Qaeda were driven from
Afghanistan last year, they shipped large amounts of gold to Dubai,
and from there to other safe havens, according to U.S., European and
Arab officials.

Senior U.S. intelligence officials said they are investigating the
information about the new gold shipments and had opened a case on the
matter but had no further comment. "We know they are looking at new
sources of revenue and are finding new ways to raise and move funds to
where they are accessible," a U.S. official said. "The bankers are the
ones that move the money and the bankers are not sitting in caves in

European and U.S. sources said they became aware of the shipments
after they occurred, and have asked the Sudanese government to take
measures to halt the flow. A spokesman for the Sudanese Embassy in
Washington said he had no official information about the shipments and
found the information "hard to believe."

"Sudan is not going to allow anything like this to come in knowingly,"
the official said. "We are concerned about terrorism. We are on a high
level of alert since Sept. 11."

But European intelligence sources said one hub of bin Laden's
organization continues to be Sudan, where he lived from 1991 to 1996,
when he was forced to move to Afghanistan.

Although the United States and other countries have praised Sudan for
its cooperation in the war on terrorism, European and U.S. officials
say that bin Laden, who invested tens of millions of dollars in the
country when it harbored him, continues to have economic interests
there. While living in Sudan, bin Laden operated a large construction
business, bought extensive land holdings and helped found a bank.

A senior European intelligence official said evidence is growing that
Khartoum was again serving "as a sort of hub" for al Qaeda business
transactions. "He has banking contacts there, he has business contacts
there and he is intimately familiar with the political and
intelligence structure there," the official said. "He never fully left
Sudan despite moving to Afghanistan."

The gold appears to be the fruit of what one Pakistani businessman
knowledgeable of Taliban financing called a "commodity for commodity
exchange," with the Taliban and al Qaeda trading opium and heroin for
gold. When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, according to Pakistani
intelligence officials, it actively engaged in opium and heroin
production, and allowed al Qaeda to raise funds through taxing the
cultivation of poppy, the raw material for heroin.

European terrorism experts said they were particularly troubled by
indications that Iranian intelligence officials were taking an active
role in moving the gold. The sources said there were credible reports
that some of the gold was flown on Iranian airplanes to Sudan.

"Iran is not a monolith. There are different groups, and some seem to
be directly helping these transfers," one official said. "It doesn't
mean it is a decision of the government, but they do not have full
control over what the security agencies do."

Arab intelligence sources have reported that Iran is sheltering senior
al Qaeda military and financial leaders in hotels and guest houses in
the Afghan border cities of Mashhad and Zabol. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake