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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Investigators Track Path Of bin Laden's Money

WASHINGTON -- As recently as seven months ago, U.S. authorities detailed in open court an extensive network of companies and bank accounts established by Osama bin Laden and his terror group -- enterprises as diverse as road construction and peanut farming.

Witnesses during the trial of suspects charged in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa identified businesses that bin Laden's group ran in Sudan to obtain equipment and cash and provide favors for the Sudanese government.

Sudan previously has provided asylum to the multimillionaire Saudi exile, whom U.S. authorities have long accused of running a global terrorist network known as al-Qaeda.

Jamal Ahmed al-Fadl, a bin Laden associate turned government witness, recounted a 1992 meeting at which bin Laden was asked if the companies had to make money because business was poor in Sudan.

Al-Fadl testified: "He say our agenda is bigger than business. We are not going to make business here, but we need to help the government and the government help our group, and this is our purpose."

U.S. investigators are tracing the money believed to have funded the operation and other terrorist groups.

"We seek to create a big picture profile of the financial infrastructure of terrorist groups," said Jimmy Gurule, the U.S. Treasury Department's under secretary for enforcement.

Bin Laden was charged in connection with the 1998 embassy bombings but has never been captured.

The embassy bombings case provides a glimpse into bin Laden's financing, outlining wide-ranging business holdings in Sudan.

In an opening statement at the trial last February, prosecutor Paul Butler said that in Sudan "bin Laden and his group began taking actions to prepare to do battle with his enemies, particularly the United States."

Al-Qaeda's Hijra Construction Co. built the Thaadi Road from Khartoum to Port Sudan for the Sudanese government. Bin Laden and al-Qaeda also ran the Blessed Fruits farming business, growing peanuts, fruit, sesame, white corn, sunflowers and wheat, according to testimony.

The trial also examined numerous bank accounts connected to bin Laden and al-Qaida in Sudan at Barclays Bank in London, Girocredit in Vienna and a bank in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

Sudan's president, Omar el-Bashir, said Wednesday that bin Laden's businesses were liquidated after his expulsion in 1996.

Vince Cannistraro, former CIA counterterrorism operations chief, said that last week's attacks probably were made possible with money from Islamic charities and front groups and wealthy Islamic businessmen.

Complicating the hunt for bin Laden's money is his likely use of "hawala," an underground Middle Eastern banking system, a congressional source said. Parties in essence swap money to get it from place to place and avoid detection.