Police freeze £30m in British bank accounts

War on terrorism: Investigation
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Two bank accounts, each containing £15m, have been frozen in Britain after investigators discovered suspected links with the Taliban regime.

The news emerged as financial regulators met senior police investigators to discuss Britain's role in the international drive to dismantle the terrorist funding network.

Detectives and the Bank of England have already frozen assets of £61m in accounts connected to the Afghan regime. About 20 suspect accounts in the UK have been identified and frozen in the past year.

But investigators were shocked to discover that two of the suspect accounts, which were at Middle Eastern banks with branches in Britain, each contained £15m, security sources confirmed.

Britain has long been used as a fund-raising and money-laundering centre for organisations that support Osama bin Laden.

Since the suicide hijackings in America, a small number of accounts linked to the Taliban regime – understood to have contained less than £500,000 – have been frozen, although many more funds are being investigated. The Woolwich and Barclays have frozen accounts and a German bank with a branch in London froze funds of up to £1m.

Key players from Britain's financial services industry met regulators and criminal intelligence officials yesterday. The unprecedented meeting, called by the Financial Services Authority (FSA), aimed to spell out the rules on fighting money-laundering and acts defined as terrorism. The meeting included the Treasury, the Bank of England, the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), and Special Branch officers from the Metropolitan Police. The FBI has passed the FSA a list of people and organisations it believes are involved in funding the Taliban. The banks are understood to be experiencing some difficulties caused by the use of common Arab names and aliases.

A bank can freeze an account when there is suspicion that it is being used to fund terrorist activities or to launder drug money or assets obtained from criminal activities. The sanctions department of the Bank of England can also force a bank to freeze an account and the NCIS can advise a financial organisation about a suspicious transaction or account. If the bank ignores the advice and fails to take action, itfaces criminal prosecution.

Banks, building societies, solicitors and financial institutes are legally bound to report suspicious transactions. Since the attacks on America, the NCIS has found a marked increase in the number of reports.

Meanwhile, anti-terrorist officers were continuing to question a 43-year-old man who is suspected of being linked to a British-based security company that raises funds for the banned Islamic Jihad militant group. Sulayman Zain-ul-Abidin was arrested on Monday at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in London, where he worked as a kitchen assistant. Detectives raided his home in Kidbrooke, south-east London, thought to be the headquarters for Sakina Security Services, a London-based security firm that invites clients to participate in the "ultimate jihad challenge". A website for the firm, which invited people to donate money to a London branch of the Woolwich bank, was removed from the internet last night.

Two men arrested under the Terrorism Act were released yesterday. A 36-year-old Arab was released without charge after being detained on Friday at Gatwick airport while taking the identical route to 11 of the 19 hijackers. A 24-year-old man arrested at Waterloo station in London on Monday in connection with falsified documents was also released.

* Lorry drivers carrying dangerous chemicals, explosives and hazardous waste have been warned by the Government to be "extra vigilant"' against hijacking by terrorists. A memo to haulage firms from the Department of Transportsays drivers should be especially careful to ensure that no dangerous goods fall into "suspicious hands".