MILAN, Italy – Prosecutors call it terrorism on the cheap.
Every few weeks, the Tunisians would stop at a bank or Western Union office and
wire funds to a city in Europe or the Middle East. No one took much notice. The sums were
small “” sometimes only a few hundred dollars “” and thousands of other people were doing the
same thing across Italy, many of them immigrant workers sending money home.
This group, however, allegedly had dark motives.
In June, Italian officials broke up the ring with the arrest of four people, three in Milan and one in London, after examining financial records showing a steady transfer of funds allegedly used to recruit Islamic extremists and send them to terrorist
training camps in Afghanistan.
“They were small amounts, below the limits that require reporting,” said an
assessment by Italian financial police.
The Associated Press interviewed key officials and uncovered previously
undisclosed details about how terrorist cells move money “” often by transferring sums so
small they elude programs that track terrorist financing. It’s a loophole that raises questions about the effectiveness of the vast post-9/11 effort governments have made to choke off funding.
In its recruiting activities, the cell uncovered by Italian authorities provided false documents, as well as apartments, cars and communication devices registered under false names. Ramondini said it is suspected of providing logistical and financial support to an al-Qaida affiliate linked to April bombings in Algiers that killed 30 people.
Italian law only requires transfers above $14,400 to be reported to Italy’s Foreign Exchange Office. Senders of smaller sums must show IDs, which officials acknowledge can be forged.
Despite the tightening of other laws since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the
United States, the limit for automatic reporting has remained much the same in Europe.
As shown by the arrests of militants in Germany and Denmark for allegedly planning bomb attacks, one thing is clear: Europe with its growing immigrant populations and open borders has become a major target for Islamic radicals.
An interesting detail:
While authorities have given few details, the reports of the lifestyles of the suspects “” the Germans were unemployed and living on welfare “” and the kind of
chemicals they were allegedly using was an indication that great expense was not involved.
Ramondini, the prosecutor, emphasized that the money transfer agencies did no
wrong and that it would be unreasonable to demand more of them.
“You would bring the economy to a halt,” he said.
Then you’ll just have to pay closer attention to who is in your country.
Col. Antonio Grimaldi of the Guardia di Finanza, who led the Milan investigation, said Islamic extremists are increasingly resorting to small transfers to evade detection.