WASHINGTON – The U.S. campaign to disrupt terrorist financing got a boost Wednesday when the Saudi government issued an order to freeze the assets of suspected terror groups and individuals.
Saudi Arabia "has cooperated" with the U.S. request that other nations block assets, said Treasury undersecretary for enforcement Jimmy Gurule.
Saudi Arabia becomes the 81st nation to issue blocking orders. Treasury officials say 152 countries have pledged cooperation with the U.S. effort. The United States began blocking the assets of 66 individuals or organizations suspected of financing terror activities on Sept. 24.
In mid-October, Saudi Arabia and other nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council pledged to block assets.
Acknowledgement of Saudi Arabia's assistance came at a 29-nation Financial Action Task Force that is part of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.
FATF is meeting in Washington in an emergency session to develop measures to upset terrorist financing. The group, which has developed anti-money laundering tactics used around the world, is now trying to find ways to regulate non-bank financial systems such as "hawala," an ancient Middle Eastern banking system that officials suspect terrorist Usama bin Laden uses to finance his terrorist Al Qaeda network.
Gurule said the regulations "could potentially save thousands of lives." He said FATF's efforts show "the kind of cooperation and international teamwork necessary to shut down those who perpetrate acts of terror against us and other law-abiding nations."
Saudi Arabia has had to tread gingerly in the anti-terror coalition. A long-time U.S. ally, it is a seat of brewing militant opposition to the United States. Bin Laden is an exiled Saudi, as were 15 of the 19 hijackers that went down in four planes that attacked the United States on Sept. 11.
The Saudis have refused to allow their bases to be used as staging grounds for U.S. retaliatory attacks against the Taliban in Afghanistan, which has been protecting bin Laden.
Asked whether the Saudi government had actually blocked assets, Gurule replied, "I think what's most important is cooperation."
In some cases, it may be more desirable to keep bank accounts open and monitor them as part of an investigation, he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.