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Hedgers or terrorists behind pre-attack stock selling?

James Bond scenario or business as usual

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In what sounds like a plot from the latest James Bond movie, financial authorities around the world are investigating stock exchange data for strange share price movements in the days and hours previous to the suicide attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.

The suspicion is that whoever was responsible for the attacks - most likely Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden - tried to profit from them by short selling stocks. This basically means selling loads of shares before the attacks and then buying them back once the share price had slumped. The most obvious shares for this would be airlines stocks, those companies based in the World Trade Center and insurance companies - and these are where investigations are likely to begin.

However, a likely explanation for the volatile stock movements is that some European insurance companies had just released their results, which investors would have reacted to.

Germany's stock exchange watchdog (BaWe) had already warned the US Securities and Exchange Commission of some funny goings-on days before the attack. Now the UK's FSA is to launch an investigation into London stocks.

Even if recovered data does point to peculiarly prescient stock selling, proving a link to the terrorists is likely to be extremely difficult thanks to their already elaborate financial cloaking set-ups. Bin Laden's group is known to have financial bases in Luxembourg, Switzerland, Monte Carlo and Cyprus - all renowned for their financial independence. ®

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