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US Official Calls on EU to 'Aggressively' Freeze Terrorist Assets - 2002-10-23

A high-ranking U.S. Treasury official has called on European Union countries to act more aggressively to freeze assets of suspected terrorists. The official, Jimmy Gurule, is on a tour of European banking centers.

Jimmy Gurule is the Treasury Department's Undersecretary for Enforcement. In an interview, he said that since last year's terrorist attacks in the United States, the European Union and the United States have been cooperating well in their efforts to cut off terrorist money. But he says the process does not work quickly enough. Mr. Gurule says U.S. requests for blocking accounts are submitted through an EU clearinghouse, which, he says, could operate more efficiently.

"I have some concern about the clearinghouse process," he admitted. "It is a process that - and I mean this in a very positive way - is a very slow process. It's a process that is not agile, that does not respond as quickly as is necessary to combat the terrorist threat. Terrorists obviously are regrouping and are poised to strike. And we need to be able to respond as quickly, as effectively as possible to thwart this threat. "

Mr. Gurule says he will raise the matter when he meets with the head of the EU clearinghouse in Denmark.

The clearinghouse examines evidence of possible criminal activity submitted by the 15 EU nations, or third countries, and then makes recommendations to EU ambassadors. He says it is ultimately up to individual governments to freeze assets or impose sanctions.

Clearinghouse officials say sometimes the process can be slowed by insufficient evidence or political disputes. European authorities in the past have also complained that information released by Washington is not strong enough to verify terrorist links.

Mr. Gurule said the United States plans to move soon against a number of financiers suspected of supporting al-Qaida. He says the evidence against these financiers is very strong.

"I have a group of individuals, the names of which I will be sharing. These are, I would characterize 'high value, high impact' targets," he said. "Senior financiers of terror, and individuals and entities the United States will be moving on in the very near future."

Mr. Gurule would not identify the targets or say where their assets are located because he did not want to give them advance warning.

He met with government officials and business leaders in Luxembourg Tuesday night after earlier stops in Switzerland and Liechtenstein.