Feds raid Cedar-Riverside companies

by Tim Sturrock and

Federal investigators searched and seized evidence from nine U.S. businesses Wednesday, including two Cedar-Riverside neighborhood wire services with suspected links to Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network.

Acting on “solid and credible evidence,” the U.S. Treasury Department blocked the assets of 62 individuals or organizations in United States suspected of supplying money to bin Laden, President George W. Bush said in a speech Wednesday.

The raids, led by agents from the U.S. Treasury Department, included members from U.S. Customs Service, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and Immigration and Naturalization Service. They drove U-Haul trucks to Global Services at 1929 5th St. S. and Amal Express on Riverside Avenue South. Agents loaded the trucks with computers, boxes and files late Wednesday morning.

Federal investigators suspect those businesses, as well as the other seven, of having connections to the financial network Al Barakaat. Bush accused that firm and another, al-Taqua Management Group, of distributing funds for terrorists, giving them Internet access, sharing information and shipping weapons.

“We are setting down two major elements of the terrorist’s international financial network at home and abroad,” Bush said.

Robert Nichols, Treasury Department spokesma n, said he could not be specific but investigators are targeting only those who work for Al-Barakaat and not Somalis who send money to relatives.

He said a Sept. 24 executive order allows arrests regardless of whether the person has knowledge of Al-Barakaat’s activities. Investigators must still determine to what extent workers know of Al-Barakaat activities.

Global Services President Abdullahai Farah said his company mostly helps Somali immigrants send money to relatives in Somalia and he’d never heard of the al-Qaida network, which is suspected of harboring bin Laden.

A sign posted by the Department of the Treasury on Wednesday on the door of Amal Express told customers, “These premises sealed,” as Custom’s agents repeatedly turned customers away.

Bush said the financial services of the nine businesses might look unsophisticated, but he said they are linked to wealthy banks and sophisticated technology.

Paul O’Neil, secretary of the treasury, said the international efforts of 112 nations are now freezing the assets of companies such as Al-Barakaat and al-Taqua.

Authorities said Al-Barakaat’s founder is a friend and supporter of Osama bin Laden.

Many members of the Somali community, as well as neighbors of the businesses, saw the raid as a misunderstanding with negative consequences for the community.

Amal Yusuf, a University student who worked in the building that houses Global Services, said wire services such as these are important to the immigrant community. She said many Somalis don’t know how to use the U.S. banking system and need the services to send money to relatives in their unstable homeland.

Yusuf said she thinks the Somali people are being wrongly persecuted.

“It’s unfortunate that linkages are made from what happened on Sept. 11 to this refugee population who are innocent,” said Yusuf.

Dave Miller, co-owner of the North Country Co-op, said it’s unfortunate the government shut down the businesses on a hunch someone might have sent money to al-Qaida.

Miller also said shutting down the wire services would harm the community because it’s so close to the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, which starts Nov. 16.

He and others in the neighborhood are organizing a vigil to show support for the Somali community and particularly to those businesses.

– Michael Stenerson contributed to this report.