Mon, Jul 26, 2004 - Page 7 News List

`Money trail' for Sept. 11 reveals little

COLD CASH The Sept. 11 commission's report says Osama bin Laden isn't really so rich, and corrupt Saudi charities were the source of much of the terrorists' funds


Despite nearly three years of digging through the "money trail" in the Sept. 11 attacks, investigators are still largely in the dark about who financed the deadly assault on the US.

The massive report of the national commission probing the attacks indicates that the FBI, CIA and numerous US and foreign intelligence agencies failed to get a definitive answer to the source of funding.

"To date, the US government has not been able to determine the origin of the money used for the Sept. 11 attacks," the report said.

"The origin of the funds remains unknown, although we have a general idea of how al-Qaeda financed itself during the period leading up to Sept. 11," the report said.

The report does shed some light on the finances of al-Qaeda and the resources of its leader, Osama bin Laden, suggesting his personal fortune was not as great as some had believed.

Much of the information about the finances comes from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the former al-Qaeda commander who orchestrated the attacks and arranged the financing, but who has refused to divulge the source of the funds.


Referred to as KSM in the report, Mohammed was captured in Pakistan last year. The report traces the funding through several sources around the world, including Dubai, Germany and Pakistan, and back to KSM, but no further.

The hijackers and al-Qaeda spent a relatively modest sum of US$400,000 to US$500,000 to plan and conduct the devastating attack, the commission report said. About US$270,000 of that was spent in the US.

The investigation uncovered "no credible evidence that any person in the United States gave the hijackers substantial financial assistance," the report said.

"Similarly, we have seen no evidence that any foreign government -- or foreign government official -- supplied any funding," the report said.

The report noted that al-Qaeda spent an estimated US$30 million a year before the 2001 attacks.

This was probably not money coming directly from bin Laden, the report concluded, saying some officials had mistakenly believed the exiled Saudi national inherited some US$300 million when his father died.

In fact, the report said, bin Laden from 1970 through 1994 received about US$1 million per year -- "a significant sum, to be sure, but not US$300 million fortune that could be used to fund jihad," the report said.

The Saudi government eventually sold bin Laden's share of his family business and froze the assets as part of a 1990s crackdown, the report said, effectively divesting him of a large fortune.

The report said bin Laden's business activities in Sudan probably provided little income, and that Sudan seized his assets when he left in 1996.

wealthy saudis

In Afghanistan, bin Laden "relied on the Taliban until he was able to reinvigorate his fundraising efforts by drawing on ties to wealthy Saudi individuals that he had established during the Afghan war in the 1980s," the report said.

The commission concluded that the bulk of al-Qaeda's money came from "corrupt" Islamic charities and wealthy individuals in the Gulf region, particularly in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi officials were pleased to point out that the report debunks the theory its government was involved in financing al-Qaeda or the Sept. 11 attacks. But the report does maintain that considerable funding came from people in Saudi Arabia.

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