updated 1/25/2005 5:09:05 PM ET 2005-01-25T22:09:05

The Bush administration acted Tuesday to freeze the finances of a Syrian man accused of helping bankroll insurgents in Iraq by providing support to al-Qaida’s top operative there.

The Treasury Department’s action against Sulayman Khalid Darwish means that any bank accounts or financial assets belonging to him that are found in the United States are frozen. Both the United States and Syria are asking United Nations member countries to freeze Darwish’s assets.

The administration contends that Darwish provided financial and material support to terror networks run by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaida’s top operative in Iraq.

The action comes amid an upsurge in violence in Iraq ahead of Sunday’s elections.

“This terrorist financier is helping support al-Zarqawi, who has launched violent acts against our troops, coalition partners and the Iraqi people,” Treasury Secretary John Snow said in a statement. “Identifying financial operatives and choking off the flow of blood money moves us closer to our ultimate goal of fracturing the financial backbone of the Iraqi insurgency and al-Qaida.”

Wanted in Syria
The Syrian Embassy said in a statement that Darwish “is on top of the wanted list by Syrian security forces and counterterrorism intelligence agencies.”

The U.S. government alleges that, among other things, Darwish served as one of al-Zarqawi’s operatives and was involved in fund-raising and recruiting for the organization.

“Darwish handles mostly financial issues for al-Zarqawi, collecting and distributing funds for him,” Treasury said. “Specifically, Darwish sent donations of $10,000 to $12,000 to al-Zarqawi in Iraq every 20-25 days. Darwish sent the money into Iraq through suicide attack volunteers who were entering the country.”

Darwish has been trained in the use of weapons and explosives and is considered an expert in preparing forged documents for the al-Zarqawi network, Treasury said.

Al-Zarqawi, who allied himself with Osama bin Laden last year, is considered the most dangerous foreign fighter in Iraq. He is believed to be responsible for dozens of car bombings, beheadings and other acts of terror in Iraq.

According to a letter intercepted last January, al-Zarqawi suggested drawing Iraq’s Shiite Muslims into a civil war against the Sunnis, who dominated the country during the Saddam regime. Recent attacks on Shiites leading up to Iraq’s elections this weekend have raised concerns about the possibility.

The U.S. government offered up to $25 million for information leading to his killing or capture, putting him on par with bin Laden and his top deputy.

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