DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – 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 told me that if I send money to Sahir Mohammed, the money will be blocked because of his name,” said 36-year-old Abdul Rahman Maruthayil, who later sent the money through UAE Exchange, a Dubai-based money transfer service.

In a similar case, Pakistani Qadir Khan said Western Union blocked his attempt this month to wire money to his brother, Mohammed, for a cataract operation.

“Every Mohammed is a terrorist now?” Khan asked.

Western Union Financial Services, Inc., an American company based in Colorado, said its clerks simply are following U.S. 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.

In many cases, would-be customers like Maruthayil simply find another way to send the funds – often through informal exchanges with less stringent monitoring.

But critics of the program say it is far too broad. The number of people inconvenienced in the Emirates alone, which closely cooperates with U.S. counterterror 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. . .

At the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, spokesman Corey Saylor said Treasury needs to reform its rules.

“The Treasury program interferes with even the most innocent transactions,” Saylor said. “Just because Ahmed is a common name on their list, everyone with that name is suddenly stuck.”


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