Monday, August 23, 2004

WORLD: Swiss Tie Arabs to al-Qaida Suspect

GENEVA - Swiss investigators have established a link between at least three Arabs detained in a nationwide anti-terror sweep and a purported key al-Qaida member, a newspaper reported Saturday.

The Geneva daily Le Temps said it obtained a copy of a document written by Deputy Federal Prosecutor Claude Nicati in which he detailed his case against 10 people arrested in raids since December and ordered the launch of preliminary judicial proceedings. Five suspects have been released but remain under investigation.

In June, Swiss Federal Prosecutor Valentin Roschacher said investigators had concluded that Switzerland likely was used as a base for financial and logistical support for al-Qaida.

According to Le Temps, Nicati's report said two suspects arrested in Switzerland - both originally from Yemen - were in "close contact with several hardcore members of bin Laden's movement."

The report cited the name Abdallah al-Kini and described him as an "operational al-Qaida agent" involved in the October 2000 attack on the destroyer USS Cole off Yemen, which killed 17 American sailors. Al-Kini, who has not been mentioned previously by Yemeni anti-terror investigators, currently is detained there, the report said.

The report said al-Kini also was "heavily involved" in a series of bombings on foreigners' residential compounds in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in May 2003. Thirty-five people, including one Swiss citizen, were killed in the attacks.

The inquiry was based partly on Swiss numbers stored in terrorists' mobile telephones found in Saudi Arabia, court documents have revealed. Al-Kini called a Swiss number in July 2003 and said he wished to travel to Switzerland, Le Temps said, citing Nicati's report.

Swiss investigators previously have found evidence that some of the al-Qaida members who attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, made calls in Afghanistan and Pakistan using prepaid cards bought in Switzerland. Swiss lawmakers recently closed a legal loophole allowing customers to purchase the cards anonymously.

Swiss authorities say they have not found evidence the country was a hub for terrorist groups. However, the report said the individuals targeted in the sweep constituted a criminal organization that "transferred large sums of money to persons close to the al-Qaida movement" in European countries, including Switzerland, and Gulf nations.

They are believed to have helped citizens of Muslim nations - particularly Yemen and Somalia - travel to Switzerland and other European countries and to have provided them with fake identities. They also are suspected of "illegal commercial activities."

In other terror inquiries, Swiss authorities have blocked bank accounts containing about $27 million. They also are investigating a now-defunct Muslim financial firm which the U.S. government alleges helped fund al-Qaida.

Copyright: JONATHAN FOWLER, Associated Press


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