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U.S.: Bush Launches Financial Strike Against Suspected Terrorists

U.S. President George W. Bush says anyone who does business with terrorists will not be permitted to do business with America. Bush issued an executive order yesterday that freezes the U.S. assets of suspected terrorists and prohibits transactions with groups linked to terrorism. Bush also continued the war against terrorism on the diplomatic front.

Washington, 25 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush has moved to cut off Osama bin Laden's money supply by freezing his financial assets in the United States.

Bush's order yesterday also froze the assets of a number of other individuals and organizations Washington believes are engaged in or support international terrorism. The president urged banks and financial institutions around the world to do the same or risk having the U.S. Treasury freeze their assets, too.

Bin Laden is suspected of masterminding the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington. The Saudi-born millionaire is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban militia, which controls most of the country.

"I have signed an executive order that immediately freezes United States financial assets of, and prohibits United States transactions with, 27 different entities. They include terrorist organizations, individual terrorist leaders, a corporation that serves as a front for terrorism, and several non-profit organizations."

Speaking at the White House yesterday, Bush acknowledged that bin Laden's U.S. assets are small. He said that is why it is important that other countries also prohibit financial dealings with him. Bush said:

"We have developed the international financial equivalent of law enforcement's 'Most Wanted' list. And it puts the financial world on notice: If you do business with terrorists, if you support or sponsor them, you will not do business with the United States of America."

Also yesterday, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft told Congress that the government needs greater powers to move against the financial resources of terrorists.

"We need the capacity for more than a freeze. We must be able to seize."

Ashcroft -- America's top law enforcement official -- told the House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee that U.S. authorities have now arrested or detained 352 people in connection with the attacks. He said authorities want to question almost 400 others who are still at large.

Ashcroft spoke almost two weeks after terrorists hijacked four U.S. jetliners and flew them into the World Trade Center twin towers in New York and the Pentagon outside Washington on 11 September. The fourth airliner crashed in Pennsylvania. In all almost 7,000 people are believed to have died.

U.S. President Bush says the war on terrorism will be waged on many fronts -- military, diplomatic, financial, and political. He said the campaign may last for years and that it will be costly.

Yesterday's executive order marked the first step of the financial element of this war. Bush also worked the diplomatic front, meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien at the White House. Canada housed and fed thousands of American air travelers stranded there after the terrorist attacks grounded air travel. Chretien said:

"This problem of terrorism is a problem that concerns all the nations of the world. And we are working together to build a coalition that will defeat that, because it will disrupt the societies around the world."

Bush spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin for nearly an hour over the weekend, their third conversation on the antiterror campaign. Bush had this assessment of their talks:

"Vladimir Putin clearly understands that the Cold War is over and that the United States and Russia can cooperate. We can cooperate with a new strategic arrangement. We can cooperate in the battle against terrorism."

Yesterday, Putin said Russia is willing to open its airspace to humanitarian flights that might result from possible U.S. military action in Afghanistan, where the suspected mastermind behind the U.S. attacks, Osama bin Laden, is believed to be hiding. He also said Russia will provide Afghan opposition forces with additional weapons and military equipment.