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UN: Experts Say Al-Qaeda Diverting Assets Via Internet, Commodities

United Nations, 23 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A United Nations expert group says the Al-Qaeda terrorist network may be transferring its funds via the Internet to avoid detection.

The expert group says in a report released yesterday that Al-Qaeda and its associates may be using the Internet not only for financial transactions but for communications, commands, and logistics. It says it has begun to look into ways to disrupt this abuse of the Internet but gave no details.

The report is the first issued by a monitoring group set up by the UN Security Council earlier this year to oversee sanctions against remnants of Afghanistan's former ruling Taliban and its allies in the Al-Qaeda terrorist group. The group is working in coordination with the Security Council's counterterrorism committee, which is overseeing the council's mandate on all UN members to cut off support for terrorists.

The monitoring group says that, in addition to the Internet, Al-Qaeda could be using other means to move its assets. UN spokesman Fred Eckhard discussed this at yesterday's briefing: "The report notes that Al-Qaeda and its associates appear to have diversified movements and security of their finances. The group encourages states to become parties to the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism."

The expert group says it is looking into reports that Al-Qaeda has converted parts of its assets into gold, diamonds, and other precious stones. It is urging states involved in the diamond trade to participate in the Kimberley Process, which aims to establish an international certification program for rough diamonds.

The International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, mentioned by the UN spokesman, came into force last month, and parties to it are expected to soon begin developing the legal framework to combat terrorist funding.

A Security Council resolution passed after the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States requires UN members to stop financial support for terrorists and help track them down. Implementing the convention would fulfill one of those requirements, and states have already taken moves to cut off funding for suspected terrorists.

The UN expert group, in its report yesterday, said that by the end of March, 144 countries had blocked more than $100 million in assets linked to terrorist groups. It said about half of this sum represents assets connected to Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda.

The group is also responsible for monitoring the arms embargo on Al- Qaeda and Taliban forces. It says recent reports of battles between these forces and the U.S.-led international military contingent in Afghanistan indicate ammunition and weapons continue to flow illicitly into the country.

It recommends that arms-producing countries observe another international instrument -- the Wassanaar Arrangement -- which sets export controls for conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies.

The UN monitoring group also said a number of countries bordering Afghanistan have changed their visa regimes to make it more difficult for supporters of Al-Qaeda and members of the former Taliban regime to enter their territory.

Kazakhstan, for example, said in a report to the council released yesterday that it has expelled 442 Afghan nationals and 40 Pakistani nationals in the past year. In one incident last November, Kazakhstan said it arrested five Afghan nationals who had forged French and Spanish passports. Two of those arrested are believed to be members of the Taliban.

The UN expert group charged with monitoring sanctions against Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces is chaired by former British military officer Michael Chandler. His previous duties with the United Nations included training police and border officials in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the late 1990s. His group's initial report is due to be discussed soon by the Security Council.