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Following the Terrorists' Money

Bin Laden relies on accounts too small to track

During Friday sermons in mosques in Saudi Arabia, the imams--preachers--often ask the congregation to donate money for a good Islamic cause. Why not help the Chechens, most of whom are Muslims, fight against Russia, the imams cajole. The faithful hand over their riyals on their way out, and the money is whisked away.

Many of those funds actually reach legitimate causes. But the Saudi government is now stepping up efforts to monitor such giving. That's because knowledgeable banking and intelligence sources say that in recent years a sizable chunk of the collections has been diverted to Islamic extremist groups, including those linked to Saudi-born fundamentalist Osama bin Laden. Wealthy Saudi and Persian Gulf businessmen are another source of financing for bin Laden's Al Qaeda network. Many prosperous families in the region have at least one or two members with a strong fundamentalist streak, intelligence sources say. Besides, Muslims are encouraged to donate 2.5% of their annual increase in wealth to charity.