Congressional lawmakers have called for more intensive government efforts to shut down terrorist financing networks. U.S. officials involved in anti-terror efforts appeared before a congressional panel.
The hearing of the House Financial Services Committee asked how much progress has been made since the September 2001 terrorist attacks in shutting down the financing of terrorist groups.
U.S. authorities have arrested individuals in a number of cities suspected of collecting funds and funneling money to terrorist organizations.
A law called the USA Patriot Act, passed by Congress in October 2001, gave agencies wide new powers to investigate potential terrorist cells, and their financing, and act against them.
However, lawmakers are concerned that sufficient resources are still not being directed to the effort. "There is a concern in my district and I think across the land that as a result of some of our national interests in other pursuits, particularly the war in Iraq, that perhaps the federal government has not been sufficiently aggressive with some other countries that have mollycoddled these folks who have financed terrorism," said [Democratic] Congressman Jay Inslee of Washington state.
Mr. Inslee is particularly upset by what he calls the Bush administration's failure to follow up on money trails linking the hijackers from September 11, 2001, with such countries as Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, and to take some sort of action against them.
The Republican chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Congressman Michael Oxley, noted that U.S. law enforcement agencies are hard pressed to stay ahead of strategies used by terrorist groups to cover up money trails.
"As we have seen, nearly every blocking and freezing of suspected terrorist funds has been met with new and insidious efforts to render such protocols both out-dated and out-moded," he said. "Our enemies are determined to pursue their ruinous efforts to bring our great nation to its knees. For that reason we are resolved to put into the hands of our law enforcement agencies, all of the weapons that they will need to deal successfully with the ongoing threat of these terrorist activities within our borders."
Alice Fisher, deputy assistant attorney general in the criminal division of the Department of Justice, said there are now more than 70 criminal terrorist financing, or material support, investigations underway in 22 U.S. states.
"The department's single and over-reaching goal since 9-11 has been to prevent future terrorist acts on the United States and its citizens," she emphasized. "Curtailing the financing of terrorists is a critical component of that effort. We take this mission very seriously, targeting the financiers of terrorism as aggressively as those terrorists who commit violent acts."
Over the past 18 months, Ms. Fishershe said, 61 individuals have been charged in cases involving terrorist support to such groups as al-Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
None of the government witnesses would comment publicly about what leads U.S. authorities have received as a result of the recent capture in Pakistan of key al-Qaida member Khalid Shaikh Mohammad. But they said all relevant agencies are following up fully on any information coming out of the capture.