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Where's proof of bank's terrorist links? Abdiqassim asks US


MOGADISHU,AFP(12th November 2001)

Somalia's transitional President Abdulkassim Salat Hassan said late Sunday that the United States ought to have produced proof before condemning a Somali remittance bank as a slush fund for Osama bin Laden.

"We know the United States stands for democracy and the rule of law and justice and think it is wise for all leaders of the international community not to be forced by terrorism to act differently from due process of law, democracy and justice," he told journalists in reaction to the closure of the Barakaat bank. "Actually, one is innocent until proved otherwise.

This is the principle on which common law is founded," he said. Earlier Sunday, Barakaat, whose main line of business is wiring money from the Somali diaspora to relatives back home, announced it would stay closed indefinitely as a result of the freezing of its assets last week by authorities in the US and the United Arab Emirates.

"There are thousands of Somali families, especially poor ones, who survive on remittances from relatives sent from five continents," he said, speaking in central Mogadishu office which was guarded by numerous heavily armed men, some in uniform, some not.

Somalia has suffered years of factional warfare and lacked any semblance of a central government between the fall of President Mohammed Siad Barre in 1991 and the installation last year of Salat's transitional and still fledgling regime. "Of course it was a surprise to all Somali people in general and the government to hear from US President George Bush that Barakaat was included in the list of organistions linked to al-Qaeda," said Salat, who was dressed in a lightweight black suit and sported a slightly greying beard. "So far we dont have any clue (directly) from the American side, their law enforcement agencies ... we don't know more (about the allegations) than we hear from CNN and the news," he said.

US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill told a news conference last week that Barakaat used the profits from remitting "hundreds of millions of dollars" to fund al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, and described the bank as the "quartermaster of terror." Barakaat has categorically denied the allegations and insists that the total amount of money it moves around the world a year is about 140 million dollars, and that this generates roughly 750,000 dollars in clear profit.

"Al-Qaeda, bin Laden, we are talking about millions of dollars (that they deal in), this would not be hard to find out," remarked the Somali president. Salat would not be drawn to a categorical judgement about the bank's culpability, beyond repeating the presumption of innocence principle. He noted that Somali authorities were probing the matter themselves and invited US experts to set up a joint probe in Mogadishu.

"I think it would have been better if we had cooperated with law enforcement agencies in the US to investigate thoroughly what was going on and then if there was a case, taken it to court," he said. Like many others in Mogadishu, Salat said he believed the US had been fed lies and suffered from a "gap in information gathering."

"There is a concerted effort against the Transitional National Government and Somalia," he said, reiterating his earlier denial of the presence in Somalia of training camps run by al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group.

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