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Security Expert Urges Austria to do More Against Terrorist Financing - 2004-01-20

A U.S. security expert says Austria could play a more active role in the fight against global terrorism by helping to prevent terrorist organizations and states that sponsor such organizations from financing their operations.

Managing Director of the U.S.-based Chancellor Group, Rodney Azama, is touring Austria at the request of the U.S. embassy, lecturing on the financial war against terrorism.

Mr. Azama, a counter-terrorist expert, told reporters it requires time and patience to cut off the financing of terrorist activities. "Since September 11, 2001, more than 1,400 accounts, financial accounts containing an excess of $136 million have been shut down globally and over 300 individuals and organizations have been specifically identified and specially designated as global terrorists or global terrorist organizations," he said.

Some organizations, Mr. Azama said, operate under the cover of charity associations or transfer funds through cigarette smuggling. He said terrorists tend to look for safe havens for their money in countries with stable currencies and strict bank secrecy laws.

According to Mr. Azama, co-operation with Austrian authorities is good, but could be better. But he says some groups on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations are not recognized as such by the Austrians.

Numerous recent reports in Austrian media say the country is an operational base for around 50 activists connected with Osama Bin Laden.

Mr. Azama also said North Korea is seen by the United States as a state sponsor of terrorism, and its overseas financial activities through the Vienna-based bank Gold Star must raise suspicion. "North Korea is one of the countries on the non-co-operating list so that in itself I would think is cause for the financial authorities to take a closer look at that particular bank," he said.

Gold Star, which is the only branch in Europe of the North Korean bank, is reported to be responsible for the worldwide financial activities of dictator Kim Jong-il. An interior ministry report on the bank in 1997 said the bank has been engaging in money-laundering, counterfeiting, and trading in radioactive substances.

Attorney General John Ashcroft is visiting Austria next week to discuss the war on terrorism, drug trafficking, and the use of sky marshals on commercial flights.