Anti-terror law targets Arab names in shutting bank accounts
BY HANNAN ADELY
In the chilling aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001 — when authorities found that hijackers had active bank accounts in the U.S., including in New Jersey — the federal government enacted laws to try to detect suspected terrorist links at financial institutions.
But those laws have also had a side effect: Banks in North Jersey and elsewhere have delayed or blocked money transfers and shut down the accounts of some Muslims and non-Muslims who do business with them, sometimes because of an Arabic-sounding name.
A Wayne businessman and a landlord in Jersey City are among the people to encounter such wariness.
“Nowadays, given the Patriot Act and post-9/11 era, banks don’t even have to explain,” said Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “They can close your account for any reason or no reason and [customers] have absolutely no recourse.”
Among other things, the USA Patriot Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush six weeks after the attacks, expanded the obligations of financial institutions to monitor and report suspicious activity and gave government agencies greater power to go after banks that didn’t comply. In the days before 9/11, hijackers in North Jersey had used ATM cards, withdrawn cash and received wire transfers; two men living in Paterson tried to buy three tickets with a debit card for American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon, and ended up paying $1,842 in cash.
Bankers consider numerous factors when looking at transactions, such as names on a watch list, the amount and frequency of the moves, overseas activity or anything that deviates from a customer’s routine. Anyone who does something unusual or provides incomplete information can be affected, said Annemarie McAvoy, a former federal prosecutor and adjunct professor at Fordham Law School who specializes in money-laundering and terrorist-financing issues.
North Jersey Muslims believe the financial scrutiny has fallen disproportionately on them and is one of the ways life has changed because of their faith or their names. The scrutiny, they say, has extended from airport security checkpoints to banks and even to their mosques and businesses, as evidenced by the New York Police Department’s surveillance in their communities.
On March 16, John Lory of Jersey City said he tried to wire $1,000 read the entire article at the source