From Seattle to Boston, federal authorities swooped down on innocuous check-cashing stores, wire-transfer shops and businesses in part of a worldwide assault on the financial networks that feed the plots of Usama bin Laden.
The raids on 62 companies and individuals in nine different countries are part of a concerted U.S. effort to starve out bin Laden’s Al Qaeda organization and terrorist networks similar to it. The businesses are suspected of funneling millions of dollars to bin Laden and his cronies.
The money appears to have been handled via unregulated, loosely organized exchanges, known as hawalas. Administration officials said one of the exchanges appears to be owned partly by bin Laden.
Overall, in the U.S., two men and nine organizations had their assets frozen.
— In Boston, the government arrested one man early Wednesday, with plans to arrest dozens more later in the day. It also froze the assets of at least one Boston resident and two area businesses.
Samantha Martin, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, confirmed Wednesday the arrest of Mohamed M. Hussein, one of three men listed as corporate officers of a money-changing business in the Dorchester section of the city.
A criminal complaint was unsealed in Boston federal court Tuesday afternoon charging Mohammed Hussein and Liban M. Hussein with running a money transmitting business without a state license. Liban Hussein, or Dorchester, is still at large, authorities said Wednesday afternoon.
The two men ran Barakaat North America Inc. in Dorchester, Mass., a foreign money exchange, without a state license, according to a U.S. Customs Service affidavit. The business moved over $2 million through a U.S. bank from January through September, the government said.
A list of organizations and individuals with suspected terrorist ties released Wednesday morning included Liban Hussein and two businesses, including Barakaat North America Inc. and Barakaat Boston, also of Dorchester.
Wednesday morning, about half a dozen federal agents, including some from the Internal Revenue Service and the Customs Service, were at the building housing the small, one-room office of Barakaat North America, Inc. The agents would not comment, but were seen carrying a computer out of the building.
No one answered the door at the apartment address given for Hussein, and neighbors said they didn't know the man who lived there. John Duffy, an agent at the Quincy company that manages the building, declined to comment.
The Massachusetts Secretary of State's office said Barakaat North America was organized in Massachusetts on Feb. 24, 2000.
Its president was listed as Liban Hussein, and its treasurer was Abdul Hakim Farah of Raleigh, N.C.
Ed Collupy, manager of C.C. Butts Real Estate next door to Barakaat North America, said the office had been open at the location about a year.
"We've seen him, of course," he said of Hussein. "He seemed very quiet, mind-his-own- business kind of guy. Every time I went up the door was always open. It wasn't like he was hiding anything."
Collupy said Hussein inquired about apartments in the area shortly after he opened the office. He tried to show him one that was $1,300 a month, but Hussein said that was too expensive, the real estate agent said.
Collupy said he knew little about the business but believed it was involved in mortgages and transferring money funds.
He said Hussein was sometimes with a man he presumed was his brother.
— In Seattle, U.S. Customs Service agents detained one man early Wednesday morning in a raid on the offices of a wire-transfer company.
A slender, dark-skinned man was unlocking a door to a market – one of three units in the building in South Seattle listed as the address for Barakat Wire Transfer – when six vehicles carrying more than a dozen customs agents descended on the building, taking the man away and removing goods from the building, piling them onto the sidewalk.
Later, a commercial tractor-trailer rig arrived carrying an empty shipping container. The driver, who refused to give his name, said Bartelson Transport Inc. of Puyallup, Wash., had dispatched the truck at the request of federal agents.
Authorities froze the assets of Barakat Wire Transfer.
Two businesses in the building are identified by signs as Baraka Tax Service and Maka Market and Halal Meats. The building, in an area of town with some Somali immigrant residents, is a run-down two-story structure. There is a martial arts and fitness studio upstairs. Some of the ground-floor windows are barred.
The agents refused to talk to a reporter.
—And in chilly Minnesota, Customs agents took at least once man into custody and shut down four city businesses for suspected terrorist links.
Two of the businesses and the named person, Garad Jama, shared the same address on Riverside Avenue near the University of Minnesota campus. The list gave two alternate names for Jama: Garad Nor and Fartune Ahmed Wasrsame.
Federal agents and police led a man away from the building and helped him into a car this morning. The man's face was hidden by a police jacket and he appeared to be handcuffed.
The Bush list identified the entities at that address as Aaran Money Wire Service and Somali International Relief Organization, but signs at the building identified a business there as Amal Express. Signs advertised tax services and phone cards for sale. Inside, rates for wire transfers were posted, and a placard bore an American flag with the words "United We Stand."
Customs agents confirmed they had shut down the business.
Customs agents also were at two other businesses a short distance away, Barakaat International and Global Service International.
— The terror investigation even hit America’s heartland.
Federal agents searched Barakaat Enterprise, a money-transfer and check-cashing business in northeast Columbus, Ohio. The store rests in a nondescript parking lot in a residential neighborhood.
U.S. Customs police also searched two cars in the shopping center's parking lot, and carried furniture, computers and trashcans from the store.
A notice taped on the front window of the business said the premises had been sealed.
"All property contained in this building is blocked pursuant to an executive order of the president on Sept. 23 of this year under the authority of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act," the Treasury Department notice said.
People who walked by the shop regularly were spooked.
"It's scary to think they may have ties to terrorists," said U.S. Postal Service worker Sunday Draper, who delivers mail to the business. "They are always friendly with me and after the attacks they would joke with me and say, 'Hey mail lady, have you got any anthrax for me today?"'
Hassan Ali, 20, a Somalian who has lived in the United States for the past 10 years, said Somalians often used the business to send money to their relatives in Africa.
"They have no other way to send money," said Ali, who lives nearby and was watching the scene.
A similar scene played out at a Columbus apartment complex on the city's north side.
A resident of the Capital Park Apartments said he saw agents carrying paperwork out of an apartment. It's not clear whose apartment it is.
— Also, authorities seized evidence at two Northern Virginia storefronts, according to officials speaking on the condition they not be identified.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.