Saturday, April 27, 2002

Somali immigrant seeks answers months after business shuttered

By Liz Sidoti
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — In the six months since Hassan H. Hussein's money-transfer business was shut down because of suspected terrorist ties, the Somali immigrant says he has become frustrated by his adopted homeland's unwillingness to disclose any evidence against him.

        “We don't have any knowledge about any link,” said Mr. Hussein, owner of Barakaat Enterprises.“We hope the government will see what's going on, and the truth will come.”

        Mr. Hussein spoke Friday for the first time since the Bush administration shut down his business on Nov. 7, and as operators of similar businesses in Boston and Alexandria, Va., answered to charges stemming from raids. There also were raids in Minneapolis and Seattle.

        None of the charges are terrorism-related. Mr. Hussein, 46, has not been charged.

        The U.S Department of Treasury, the Internal Revenue Service, the FBI, the Justice Department and the U.S. attorney's office in Columbus won't discuss the case.

        Mr. Hussein, a short, bearded man with an easygoing demeanor, denies being a terrorist, funding terrorist actions, or knowing of any organizations that fund terrorism.

        “I'm simple man, just looking for his life,” Mr. Hussein said in halted, heavily accented English, a slight smile spreading across his face.

        The Bush administration believes the businesses are affiliated with the Al-Barakaat financial network, headquartered in the United Arab Emirates and accused of funding Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.

        Authorities claim the network skimmed money sent through the businesses, called hawalas, by Somali residents of the United States to relatives in their homeland.

        “It's not possible,” Mr. Hussein said. He said the amount of money usually sent home is so small it would be worth little to terrorists.

        Kevin O'Brien, Hassan Hussein's attorney, called the crackdown on such financial institutions a knee-jerk reaction by the government.

        “In the wake of Sept. 11, the government swept with a brush that was a little too wide, and Mr. Hussein and some of the other Barakaat operations were caught up in that,” Mr. O'Brien said.

        On Wednesday, Mr. Hussein proposed a settlement, saying he would dissolve Barakaat Enterprises and start a new business whose books would be open to the federal government.

        In exchange, Mr. Hussein asked that the $160,000 to $170,000 that the government froze be returned to the 150 to 180 Somali immigrants who trusted Barakaat Enterprises with their money.

        Treasury Department officials said on Friday that they are reviewing the proposal.

        “I ask them to release the funds for the people who are starving. The Somali people, they're waiting,” Mr. Hussein said. “But the government, they don't tell me anything.”

        Mr. Hussein immigrated to the United States in 1996 to make money to send home to his parents and other relatives. He opened Barakaat Enterprises in 1998, after he saw that his fellow Somalians — estimated at 15,000 to 17,000 in Columbus — needed more hawalas.


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