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Italy Investigates al-Qaida Money Trail - 2001-10-29

Italian authorities are stepping up efforts to investigate the money trail of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network. Italy's treasury minister says in a newspaper interview published Monday that Italy is committed to a campaign to freeze terrorist funds.

Treasury Minister Giulio Tremonti says Italian authorities are "well aware that the terrorist money trail, which covers the world, also passes through Italy."

Mr. Tremonti tells the International Herald Tribune that the Italian government will deploy more than 600 agents to investigate al-Qaida's money trail.

They will be part of a newly established Financial Intelligence Unit. Mr. Tremonti says it includes the Treasury Department, the Bank of Italy and the financial police, and will coordinate closely with other G-7 governments and Italy's intelligence services.

The treasury minister made clear that the Rome government is seriously committed to the campaign to freeze terrorist funds in Italy. "Our work will be tough and unrelenting," he said, adding that the Italian authorities would use powers contained in special anti-Mafia laws to freeze accounts allegedly linked to al-Qaida.

Italy has made it clear to the United States in recent weeks that it is committed to the U.S.-led fight against terrorism. It has missed no opportunity to portray itself as a staunch ally of the Bush administration, and has even announced plans for a government-led march, to be held in Rome in November, to show solidarity with the United States.

Mr. Tremonti says no one can be neutral in the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

A number of foreign nationals believed to have links to al-Qaida have been arrested recently in Milan. The U.S. Treasury Department this month also described the Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, to which cell members were linked, as a main base of al-Qaida in Europe.