"My husband is not a terrorist"

The government links U.S. businesses to Osama bin Laden and freezes their assets, leaving one woman to defend her husband -- and herself.

Published November 9, 2001 1:05AM (EST)

Garad Jama can't come to the phone.

He's overseas, his wife tells me. She can't tell me where, she says. Can I call back Sunday? That's when he'll be back.

I can't, I tell her. I need to talk to him today. President Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill have named him as part of the al-Qaida financial network.

They held a press conference Wednesday afternoon at the Treasury Department's financial crimes enforcement network offices in Tyson's Corner, Va., and President Bush himself said that Jama -- a 27-year-old Somali immigrant and owner of a business called Amal Express in Minneapolis, Minn. -- is one of "62 individuals and organizations connected with two terrorist-supporting financial networks, the Al Taqwa and the Al-Barakaat." As a result, all the people and businesses named on the list had their finances frozen, and are prohibited from further financial transactions under a sweeping executive order signed by Bush Sept. 14.

The charges against her husband are not true, Fartune Jama, 28, says. "My husband services money to refugee people in Somalia," she says. "My husband is not a terrorist. He's a citizen of the United States."

She says her husband is visiting family in the United Arab Emirates, which also happens to be one of the primary locations of these financial centers, according to the Treasury Department.

"He is not guilty," she says, adding that neither is she. And she might have her own reason to be afraid, since she is also named -- indirectly -- on the Treasury Department's "Designation and Blocking Memorandum," listing her maiden name -- Fartune Ahmed Wasrsame -- as one of her husband's aliases. "That's my old name," she says. She says that no one from the government has contacted her.

Adding to the confusion, when U.S. Customs agents went to Jama's office Wednesday looking for him, the signs identified the business as being the location of Amal Express. But officials were looking for the Aaran Money Wire Service and the Somali International Relief Organization. Customs agents shut down the offices.

Officials from the Treasury and Justice departments did not return calls for comment.

Fartune says that her husband runs a hawala (Arabic for "trust"), part of an informal and unregulated money-wiring system thousands of years old. An individual can give the halawa broker money, plus a fee, and request that the same amount be received by another individual served by another hawala in another location. Officials say that terrorists often make use of hawalas -- which are prominent in the Middle East and East Asia -- because of the anonymity they provide. The deal is agreed to between halawa brokers -- often with the use of a code word -- and when it is completed all records are disposed of.

A 1999 study by the Treasury Department identified hawalas as having been used by terrorists to fund terrorism in India, and as the principal means of money-laundering from East Asian heroin trafficking.

According to Bush, Jama's hawala was part of a network, Al-Barakaat, that "is a group of money-wiring and communication companies owned by a friend and supporter of Osama bin Laden." Wednesday's action targeted 46 entities affiliated with Al-Barakaat and Al Taqua, an association of offshore banks and financial management firms that the government says have helped al-Qaida shift money around the world.

Nine of these organizations are in the United States, five in Minnesota. Aaran Money Wire Services Inc., and the Somali International Relief Organization are two of them. Sixteen individuals are on Wednesday's list, two of whom were identified as having United States addresses. Jama is one of these individuals.

Al-Barakaat and Al Taqua, Bush said, "raise funds for al-Qaida." The two networks manage, invest and distribute those funds, arranging shipments of weapons and "provid(ing) terrorist supporters with Internet service, secure telephone communications and other ways of sending messages and sharing information.

"They present themselves as legitimate businesses," Bush said, "but they skim money from every transaction for the benefit of terrorist organizations. They enable the proceeds of crime in one country to be transferred to pay for terrorist acts in another."

Wednesday morning, the United States attorney in Boston charged two individuals in Dorchester, Mass. -- Mohamed M. Hussein and Liban M. Hussein -- with operating an illegal foreign money transmittal business. Liban Hussein's name appears on Wednesday's list, though he has not yet been arrested; Mohamed Hussein was arrested.

Search warrants were issued for Al-Barakaat-related facilities in Massachusetts, Ohio and Virginia. The assets of the nine American entities and the two individuals were frozen. Customs agents seized evidence at all nine locations -- which were in Seattle, Wash., and Columbus, Ohio, in addition to Dorchester and Minneapolis.

"Our criminal investigation of Al-Barakaat-related activities and entities is national in scope and it is ongoing," Ashcroft said. The 62 new names will join the list of 88 other organizations and people with ties to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups, according to the U.S. government.

But Fartune Jama protests the charge. She and her husband have no connection to al-Qaida, she says. "Bin Laden is not Somalia, he's Arabia," she says. "My man, he's from Somalia." People come to him and ask, "'What can I do -- my mom is hungry,' that's why he helps the people, send 100 dollar or 200 dollar." Bin Laden is a Saudi, but he has a distinct Somali connection. He has bragged in the past that he trained and provided arms for the Somali fighters under warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid who were involved in the Oct. 3, 1993, battle in Mogadishu, Somalia, that left 18 U.S. Army Ranger and Delta Force soldiers dead and 84 wounded.

Is it possible that someone took advantage of your husband's hawala? I ask. "I know what you're saying, but my husband is good man," she responds." I don't think so, I don't think he helps terrorist."

Bush disagrees. "The entry point for these networks may be a small storefront operation," he said Wednesday. "But follow the network to its center and you discover wealthy banks and sophisticated technology, all at the service of mass murderers. By shutting these networks down, we disrupt the murderers' work."

There already were at least two Minnesota connections to al-Qaida. Before Sept. 11, Zacarias Moussaoui, a Frenchman of Moroccan descent, aroused the suspicion of a Minnesota flight instructor when Moussaoui expressed an interest in learning to fly a commercial airliner but had no interest in learning how to take off or land the plane. Arrested Aug. 17 and charged with immigration violations, Moussaoui has been referred to by Vice President Dick Cheney as "the 20th hijacker," and some reports say he is likely to be indicted soon.

But officials have said that the $15,000 Moussaoui was wired from Germany came via Western Union, and not some shadowy storefront business.

In October, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that some members of the Twin Cities' burgeoning Somali community may have donated cash to Al-Itihaad al-Islamiya believing the organization a charity. The organization has ties to bin Laden and was on a Sept. 24 government list of groups whose assets would be frozen because they have ties to al-Qaida.

Al-Itihaad al-Islamiya, which means "Unity of Islam," is an Islamic fundamentalist group formed in 1991 in Somalia to establish a fundamentalist Islamic Somalia. It has branches that engage in both charity and terrorism -- including bombing an Ethiopian restaurant and two hotels, and the assassination attempt of an Ethiopian cabinet minister.

Fartune Jama says that she and her husband came to the country from Somalia in 1992, moved to Minnesota a year after that, and gained citizenship in 1999. They have two children, a 5-year-old boy and a 7-year-old girl. The Jamas are Muslim, and they are American, and they oppose bin Laden, she insists.

"Sept. 11, I see on the TV and I'm very sad, I'm very sad all the time," she says. She supports the war against the Taliban and al-Qaida. "The U.S. is doing the right thing," she says. "Bin Laden killed a lot of people who are innocent in America."

Fartune Jama grows weary of my questions. She changes the day that her husband will return -- it will now be Saturday, she says. Or maybe Friday. She gives me the name of an attorney, David Sullivan.

Sullivan says he knew Garad Jama under the other alias the Treasury Department has listed for him -- Garad Nor. Sullivan tells me he represented Jama in some run-of-the-mill business transactions. He was "surprised" when he heard that Jama had been tied to al-Qaida, but is going to "refrain from saying anything more since I know very little. I expect he's going to be trying to contact another attorney."

Within an hour, Sullivan calls me back with the name and number of Jama's new attorney -- a name and number that Fartune doesn't have. Rick Petry, a criminal defense attorney with the Minneapolis firm of Frederikson & Byron, says that he can't tell me much. Petry was referred to Jama, but he won't say who referred him or confirm that Jama's in the United Arab Emirates. "I have spoken to him," Petry says, "And I will be speaking to him in the next little while. But I don't know enough about this to be able to have an intelligent conversation about it. I don't know that [Jama] has even been charged with anything."

By Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

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