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Published: Saturday, 11/10/2001

Columbus couple return to U.S. and terror specter

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - David and Julieta Kern lived for eight years in the Philippines, but they decided to return to Ohio in February because of the increasing threat of terrorism from a militant Islamic group with links to Osama bin Laden.

“Things were getting hot over there,” said Mr. Kern, a Columbus native whose wife is a Filipino. “It was time to get out.”

The Kerns were worried about the Abu Sayyaf group. Started with seed money from a brother-in-law of bin Laden, its members are fighting for a separate Islamic nation in the Philippines.

But Thursday, Mr. Kern stood on his front porch - where the Stars and Stripes have waved since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon - and stared at the storefront across the street from his house on Columbus' northeast side.

A day after federal agents raided Barakaat Enterprise - a money-transfer and check-cashing business - and seized computers and office equipment, Mr. Kern and his neighbors were searching for the truth - and finding the answers elusive.

On Wednesday, the Department of the Treasury sealed Barakaat Enterprise as part of a worldwide crackdown to destroy two financial networks suspected of skimming money to help fund bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist group.

Barakaat Enterprise was among 62 individuals and groups that the Bush administration targeted, saying it was a source of money to Al Barakaat, based in the United Arab Emirates.

The administration accused Al Barakaat of financing the movement of arms, providing secure communications, and serving as a network for bin Laden to transmit intelligence and instructions to terrorist cells in the al-Qaeda organization.

Somali immigrants in Columbus said they used Barakaat Enterprise to send money to their relatives in the African nation, with the business charging $5 for every $100 wired. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill accused Al Barakaat of skimming part of the fees charged in the transactions and sending tens of millions of dollars each year to al-Qaeda.

Federal agents interviewed the owner of Barakaat Enterprise, Hassain H. Hussein, and searched his apartment, but released him without filing any charges. The federal government, however, added his company to a list of “specially designated global terrorists.”

“If he's guilty, fine, punish him,” said Mr. Kern, 39. “But in this country, people are still innocent until they are proven guilty. You can't just accuse somebody and lynch them.”

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Columbus said the search warrant and related documents detailing the allegations against Barakaat Enterprise were filed under seal, with the approval of federal Magistrate Norah M. King.

“They were sealed to give agents time to look over the material and determine if any of it could be evidence in a criminal case,” said Fred Alverson, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office. “Whenever a petition for seal is filed with the court, they do have to list a reason - and that's also sealed.”

Shaykh Amin Abdur-Rashid, who incorporated Barakaat Enterprise with Mr. Hussein in August, compared the U.S. government's tactics to McCarthyism of the 1950s, when U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin accused Americans of being communists without citing proof.

“We know we are innocent. We know the government has failed in its due diligence in its intelligence-gathering. There is no proof. There are just allegations,” Mr. Abdur-Rashid said.

An attorney for Mr. Hussein plans to ask a federal judge to reopen Barakaat Enterprise, where a sign posted by the Treasury Department warned of the penalties if anyone tried to enter the business, located in a small strip shopping center next to a pizza shop.

Mr. Abdur-Rashid said Barakaat Enterprise dealt with a company based in Abu Dhabi - not the Al Barakaat network based in Dubai that the Bush administration targeted.

“Our first response is, `If [Mr. Hussein] is guilty, then why haven't you arrested him?' We are calling this collateral financial damage,” he said.

Kent State University students who plan to bury a copy of the Bill of Rights today on the campus Commons were discussing whether to cite the closing of Barakaat Enterprise as among their concerns about the U.S. war on terrorism, said Adria Crannel, a sophomore who is secretary of the May 4th Task Force.

Kent State students buried a copy of the U.S. Constitution on the same site on May 1, 1970, to protest the U.S. invasion of Cambodia. Three days later, four students were killed as Ohio National Guard troops opened fire during an anti-war demonstration.

But others were taking a wait-and-see approach to the allegations against Barakaat Enterprise.

Calvin Robinson, who recently bought a house in the low-income Columbus neighborhood where Mr. Hussein once listed his address, said if the federal government's allegations are correct, authorities made the right move.

“Anything that will stop the flow of money is positive. That's the key element. It's cash flow. And I'm not surprised this has happened. Everywhere there's a large community, you'll find some kind of link to terrorism,” said Mr. Robinson, 50.

About 20,000 Somalis have left their war-torn country to live in Columbus and the working-class neighborhood around Barakaat Enterpise is among their enclaves. Sgt. Earl Smith of the Columbus Police Department said patrols were not increased around the business yesterday.

But Mr. Kern said he is worried about relations between longtime residents on Columbus' northeast side and their Somali neighbors.

“There are a lot of rednecks in this neighborhood and if you go to the bars, a lot of people resent the Somalis. Personally, I think it's the American way - you come over, try to get rich, and then die happy.”



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