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Software company raided in terrorism investigation

Saturday, December 7, 2002

WASHINGTON -- A Massachusetts software company whose clients include the FBI, Air Force and Navy was searched by federal agents looking for links to a Saudi businessman who in turn is believed to be connected to al-Qaida, government officials said Friday.

Agents from the Customs Service, FBI, Internal Revenue Service and other agencies, armed with a search warrant, went to the offices of Ptech Inc. Thursday to look for information on Yasin al-Qadi. He is on the Treasury Department's list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists whose assets should be immediately frozen.

Al-Qadi, who is from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, heads the Saudi-based Muwafaq (Blessed Relief) Foundation, which Treasury officials allege is an al-Qaida front used to funnel millions of dollars to the terrorist organization.

No arrests were made but agents did recover evidence from Ptech, which consented to the search. Officials declined to specify what was found. U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan of Boston said the search involved "an ongoing financial crime investigation" but said an affidavit supporting the warrant was sealed by court order.

Questions about investor

Federal law enforcement officials say al-Qadi once was a key investor in Ptech, located in the Boston suburb of Quincy. They want to know whether al-Qadi still has a relationship with the company and whether information obtained in the search could lead them to other entities with which he was involved, a law enforcement official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Joseph Johnson, vice president of professional services at Ptech, said al-Qadi has no ties to the company now but "may have had something to do with it nine years ago" when the company started.

"There isn't anything going on here," Johnson said. "We're a small software company. What we do doesn't give us access to information that is top secret."

Ptech provides sophisticated financial tracking and budgeting software to big companies and to numerous government agencies, including the FBI, Energy Department, Air Force, Navy, NATO and U.S. House.

The software is not involved in classified areas but does handle sensitive data.

The company's software code was checked by the government to determine if outsiders could read or steal any sensitive data from the government, or embed the code with something destructive, officials said. Those checks began months ago, when the probe of Ptech started.

"The material has been reviewed by the appropriate government agencies and they have detected absolutely nothing in their reports to the White House that would lead to any concern," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

White House officials helped coordinate the search but "didn't orchestrate this," Fleischer said. "Anything that may be terrorist-related, of course, gets coordinated with the White House," he said.

No one answered the door or the phone Friday at the home of the company's chairman and chief executive officer, Oussama Ziade. A man who answered the phone at the home of vice president Hussein Ibrahim said Ibrahim was unavailable. Neither Ziade nor Ibrahim appear on any government lists of suspected terrorists.

Public records in Massachusetts say Ptech has ties to BMI Inc., a now-defunct Seacaucus, N.J., company that law enforcement officials also have linked to al-Qadi. Johnson said he had no knowledge of a BMI connection; the records show BMI financed Ptech computer and telephone equipment during the 1990s.

Federal law enforcement officials said the Ptech connection to al-Qadi was disclosed months ago by Ptech employees themselves. The FBI has been investigating the case for months and recently was joined by the Customs Service, which obtained the search warrant.

The investigation is part of a broader Customs-led program known as "Operation Green Quest," a multiagency task force that has served 114 search warrants in the past 14 months involving suspected terrorist financing networks. The effort has resulted in 50 arrests, 28 indictments and the seizure of about $27.4 million, Customs officials said.


Associated Press writer Justin Pope in Boston contributed to this story.


On the Net:

Customs: http://www.customs.treas.gov

Ptech: http://www.ptechinc.com


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