WASHINGTON, Feb. 11 (UPI) # The Federal Bureau of Investigation has discovered a list of the top financial backers of al Qaida during a raid of a Muslim charity in Sarajevo, according to court documents obtained by United Press International.
The reference to the list is the first public indication that U.S. authorities have specific information as to the identities of the financiers of Osama bin Laden’s terror network, but it is unclear what, if any, action has been taken against the persons named in the document.
The handwritten list # referred to within al Qaida as “The Golden Chain” # details 20 wealthy donors to al Qaida followed by the specific recipient of the funding. Osama bin Laden’s name appears next to seven of the entries, including at least one donation made by the “bin Laden brothers,” according to the court document.
The bin Laden family controls a huge conglomerate of corporate interests ranging from real estate to heavy construction and is considered one of the wealthiest and most prestigious families in Saudi Arabia. The family claims to have disowned Osama bin Laden in the early 1990s when he changed his focus from supporting rebels in Afghanistan against its communist government and Soviet backers to worldwide campaign against the United States and Israel. The U.S. government has repeatedly stated that the bin Laden family has assisted in the efforts to contain and destroy the al Qaida network and the family itself denies supporting Osama’s terror campaign.
But the discovery of this document in Sarajevo calls into question whether al Qaida has received support from one of Osama’s scores of wealthy brothers.
The revelation that the United States has such a list # which would be an invaluable tool for tracking and eventually staunching the flow of money to the terror organization # came in a sealed proffer made by federal prosecutors in the case against Enaam M. Arnaout, the director of Benevolence International Foundation. Arnaout had been charged with multiple counts of racketeering, conspiracy, money laundering and aiding al Qaida before pleading guilty Monday to a single racketeering count.
The proffer was ordered unsealed Tuesday after the plea agreement was reached, although several of the exhibits remain sealed unless they are introduced as evidence at Arnaout’s sentencing.
In an ultimately unsuccessful effort to introduce hearsay evidence against Arnaout, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois filed a 51-page document detailing what prosecutors considered to be clear evidence closely linking BIF to al Qaida. Judge Suzanne Conlon ultimately rejected the argument that the much of the evidence should be admitted at trial.
In March 2002, authorities in Bosnia raided the offices of the BIF in Sarajevo and Zenica at the behest of the U.S. authorities. There have been longstanding concerns in the European and U.S. intelligence services that several charities that operated in Bosnia during and after that country’s civil war were being used as a cover for al Qaida activities.
The raids discovered information linking BIF to al Qaida, according to Arnaout’s indictment, law enforcement officials and intelligence documents prepared by Bosnian intelligence agencies and also supplied to United Press International.
“The BIF had in its Sarajevo office a computer file labeled ‘Tareekh Osama,’ or ‘Osama’s History,'” the filing says.
“BIF possessed in a file a handwritten draft list of the people referred to within al Qaida as the ‘Golden Chain,’ wealthy donors to mujahedin efforts, Ex. 5,” the filing continues. “At the top of the list is a Koranic verse stating: ‘And spend for god’s cause.’ The list contains 20 names, and after each name is a parenthetical, likely indicating the person who received the money from the specified donor. ‘Usama’ appears after seven of the listings, including the listing ‘Bin Laden Brothers.’ ‘Baterji’, LBI and BIF’s founder, appears after six of the listings. Only three other persons are listed in the parentheses.”
“Baterji” appears to refer to Adel Batterjee, a wealthy businessman from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, who founded BIF and its predecessor organization Lajnatt Al-Birr Al-Islamiah, or LBI.
A class action lawsuit filed by families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York and Washington have named Batterjee as a defendant, but he has not been located.
One lawyer associated with Arnaout’s case said that despite Batterjee being a fairly famous businessman, he had repeatedly failed to locate him.
“This guy is considered a famous figure in Jeddah,” the lawyer said. “For such a captain of industry, I find it strange that in a year of trying I haven’t been able to find him once.”
The proffer document filed by the government also expands on charges made in the indictment against Arnaout that he supplied equipment and money to Islamic military groups in Chechnya and the Sudan with donations to BIF intended for humanitarian purposes. These charges were dropped as part of the plea agreement.
The proffer also alleges that BIF employees repeatedly traveled on behalf of al Qaida on fundraising trips to develop donors for al Qaida. In one such incident described by the government, a BIF employee traveled to Saudi Arabia to meet with Batterjee, but was detained by intelligence services. After his release, the proffer claims, the BIF employee immediately flew to Sudan and met with bin Laden.
Through his attorney, Arnaout continues to deny ever having participated in al Qaida activities, although prosecutors contend they will prove the connection when Arnaout is sentenced. No hearing on sentencing has been set.