CHICAGO – Poor financial decisions with a Chicago futures brokerage firm lost an alleged al-Qaida operative with links to Osama bin Laden some $20 million dollars in just eight months, according to a lawsuit filed recently in Chicago by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Federal officials said Abu al Tayyeb, through an associate, deposited nearly $27 million — earned from a "Saudi Arabian-based investment scheme" — into an account with Chicago-based R.J. O'Brien & Associates in 2005. But because of a "poor trading position adopted" by the associate, the money dropped below $7 million less than a year later.
Those exact investment decisions weren't detailed in court documents. DOJ officials didn't immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment and U.S. Attorney's office spokesman Randall Samborn in Chicago declined to be interviewed.
Still, experts say the loss for al-Qaida would have been considerable. They estimate at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, its network took in up to $30 million each year, but that amount has significantly dropped since.
"The value of $20 million to a terrorist organization is pretty significant," said Scott Helfstein, director of research at the U.S. Military Academy's Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. "Like everybody else, they got their hands on some money and said 'Let's see if we can invest it.' There weren't a whole lot of people who did well."
The lawsuit doesn't connect al Tayyeb's money to terrorist acts, but in the lawsuit federal officials claim he supported al Qaida's military operations, raised money for the group and plotted attacks against U.S. citizens and military personnel.
Al Tayyeb — also identified as Muhammad Abdallah Abdan Al Ghamdi — met with bin Laden in 2000 or 2001 and others involved in the 9-11 attacks, according to the lawsuit. Al Tayyeb, who also had been recruiting for al-Qaida in Saudi Arabia, allegedly gave his associate, about $35 million in Saudi riyals in 2005, of which $26.7 million was invested with R.J. O'Brien, according to the lawsuit.
"Al Tayyeb began raising significant amounts of money through . a Saudi Arabian-based investment scheme. Al Tayyeb then used the funds raised, in part, to finance jihadist-related activities," according to the civil lawsuit filed Sunday.
The federal government froze the assets in 2007 and just $6.2 million remains today. Now, federal officials want to take control of what remains through laws that allow seizure of assets connected to terrorism, a practice that is common in the fight against global terrorism.
Department of Justice officials said al Tayyeb and Ghamdi were arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2006. Bin Laden was killed last month during a U.S. Navy SEALS raid in an army town outside the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.
The Chicago brokerage firm hasn't been accused of any wrongdoing.
"We don't comment on pending litigation or client matters, but we can say that we have fully cooperated and worked closely with the U.S. Government on this case and will continue to do so as needed," said an emailed statement from R.J. O'Brien & Associates. "RJO is in no way targeted in this matter, and we have complied with all related laws, rules and regulations."
Sophia Tareen can be reached at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen