Global market regulators have been busy exchanging information on inquiries into whether groups tied to Usama bin Laden may have cashed in on the terrorist strikes by dumping millions in stocks and options for industries they knew would be most severely affected in the attacks.
As investigators followed the money trail, a bank in Florida said late Thursday that it had found accounts connected to people involved in the attacks.
SunTrust Banks Inc. is providing the FBI with information about the summer activity on nine checking accounts connected to people involved in last week's terrorist attack, bank spokesman Barry Koling said Thursday.
European, Japanese and American investigators have said they are looking into claims of suspicious selling ahead of the suicide strikes in New York and Washington. They have reportedly been checking stock swings last week, particularly those of three major European reinsurance companies — Germany's Munich Re, Switzerland's Swiss Re and AXA of France.
Investigators were reportedly training their attention on the possibility that bin Laden's contacts predicted their attacks would send markets reeling worldwide and profited by short-selling stocks.
Short-selling involves offering shares of a company the seller does not yet own, anticipating that he will be able to buy the shares at a cheaper price than he has promised to sell.
In Japan, the Tokyo Stock Exchange is investigating the possibility that groups linked to bin Laden may have traded around the time of the attacks.
The Chicago Board Options Exchange also said it was investigating reports of unusual trading activity before last week's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. The exchange declined to elaborate.
Rumors have been swirling in recent days that bin Laden and his associates sold stocks of American Airlines, United Airlines, or any other U.S. stock that would have been adversely affected by the attacks.
Adding to the suspicions, Bloomberg News Service reported a very noticeable surge in certain contracts involving companies affected by the attacks.
According to Bloomberg, 1,535 American Airlines "put options" — contracts that let investors profit if the stock falls below a certain level — changed hands on Sept. 10. That was almost five times the total number of those put options traded before that date.
Likewise, October $30 put options for UAL, parent company of United Airlines, soared, with 2,000 contracts trading three trading days before the attack. A total of 27 contracts had traded previously.
Bloomberg also reported that put options for shares in Morgan Stanley Dean Whitter & Co., which occupied 22 floors of 2 World Trade Center, jumped to 2,157 contracts around the time of the attacks, almost 27 times a previous daily average.
A Vast Fortune
Bin Laden, black sheep of a large and wealthy Saudi family, is suspected of managing a $300 million fortune through a network of lawyers and associates. He uses his fortune to fund his al-Qaida network of as many as 3,000 Islamic militants, according to a report published last week by the Congressional Research Service.
His investments reportedly include ostrich raising in Kenya, forestry interests in Turkey, diamond trading in Africa, bridge construction in Sudan and agricultural holdings in Tajikistan. Bin Laden's companies are also involved in property management, maritime transport, aircraft rental, contracting and other commercial activities in a number of countries.
European interests are managed by lawyers in Switzerland, which makes his financial dealings and support to terrorism difficult, but not impossible, to follow.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.