Money transfer agencies like Western Union have delayed or blocked thousands of cash deliveries on suspicion of terrorist connections simply because senders or recipients have names like Mohammed or Ahmed, company officials said.
In one example, an Indian driver here said Western Union prevented him from sending US$120 (euro96) to a friend at home this month because the recipient's name was Mohammed.
Western Union Financial Services, Inc., an American company based in Colorado, said its clerks simply are following US Treasury Department guidelines that aim to scrutinize cash flows for terrorist links. Most of the flagged transactions are delayed a few hours. Some are blocked entirely.
Critics of the program say it is far too broad. The number of people inconvenienced in the Emirates alone, which closely cooperates with US counter-terror operations, is thought to be significant. One Western Union clerk said about 300 money transfers from a single Dubai franchise were blocked or delayed each day - none of which ever turned up a terrorist link.
In Washington, US Treasury spokeswoman Molly Millerwise said foreign banks have used the department's list of terrorist names to freeze US$150 million in assets since it was released after Sept. 11. Millerwise didn't know the value of money transfers blocked using the list, but she said frustrations endured by those with certain names were regrettable but necessary.