Investigators figure terrorists spent $500,000 to attack U.S.

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Investigators have accounted for more than $325,000 spent on the Sept. 11 attacks, concluding that money was transferred to the hijacking teams from suspected terrorist operatives in the United Arab Emirates and a handful of other countries.

Authorities who are winding down their investigation have traced the money through credit card receipts, ATM withdrawals and other transactions connected to the 19 hijackers and believe the rest of the expenditures for the $500,000 operation were made in cash.

The findings by investigators at the Treasury Department, Justice Department, FBI and other federal agencies mark the end of the first phase of the government’s exhaustive effort to chronicle the financial backing for the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history. Although the broad outlines of the money trail were clear within weeks of the attacks, investigators say it has taken months of painstaking analysis and interviews to flesh out the details.

Authorities now have turned their attention to the global web of individuals and organizations, especially overseas, suspected of providing money and financial cover for Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network and other alleged terrorists, whether or not they are connected to the Sept. 11 plot.

Investigators are also keenly interested in money that may have been given to families of the dead hijackers by charity groups tied to al-Qaida, officials said.

Investigators are still uncertain about the origins of the $500,000 used in the Sept. 11 plot, but U.S. intelligence officials say al-Qaida has raised money through means as varied as credit card fraud, diamond trafficking and the sale of honey.

The probe has confirmed investigators’ early belief that the financing scheme for the hijackings was remarkably disciplined and well organized, officials said. It relied largely on a steady influx of money through wire transfers from foreign bank accounts tied to bin Laden associates.

The central financial figure has been identified by U.S. prosecutors as Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, a fugitive who many investigators believe is al-Qaida’s finance chief. Al-Hawsawi — believed to have disappeared in Karachi, Pakistan, just before the attacks — allegedly transferred most of the money used to pay for the hijackers’ pilot training, living expenses and airline tickets in the United States, law enforcement officials said.

The financial hub of this arrangement was the United Arab Emirates, where loose banking regulations and a large population of Islamic militants provided easy cover for the transfers, they said.

But U.S. officials said financial systems in other countries — including Pakistan and Germany — were also used to funnel money to accounts controlled by suspected ringleader Mohamed Atta and other hijackers.

"In terms of the 19 or 20 individuals and the money they spent in the United States, we’ve wound down pretty well in terms of identifying the records we’re going to identify," a senior Justice Department official said. "In terms of a more global investigation, and putting together a more comprehensive profile of what happened in Germany and elsewhere, we’re just getting started."

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