Wide Saudi ´loopholes´ let charity funds slip to terrorists (WASHINGTON TIMES) By Shaun Waterman 12/24/10)
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Despite some success in disrupting funding for al Qaeda, Saudi
authorities face major challenges in regulating the sprawling
charitable sector in their desert kingdom, according to officials
there and documents.
"There are still loopholes," said a Saudi official, who spoke on the
condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak with the
media. "It is still possible for - [extremist] groups to use the
system for their own advantage with impunity."
A charities commission that Saudi officials promised to establish as
long ago as 2002 "hasn´t started functioning yet," the official said,
adding that the proposal had "met with resistance" from some quarters
of the government who feared they would have to cede authorities to
the new body. "It´s a turf issue," the official concluded.
Earlier this month, U.S. diplomatic cables posted by the anti-secrecy
website WikiLeaks painted U.S. officials as generally pleased with
counterterrorism cooperation with the Saudis but less so with the
kingdom´s actions on the terror-financing front, especially against
groups other than al Qaeda.
"Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of
funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide," says one cable from
December 2009, adding that the groups "probably raise millions of
dollars annually from Saudi sources, often during Hajj and Ramadan,"
major Muslim festivals in the kingdom.
The Saudi official shared with The Washington Times a translation of
a confidential assessment produced for Saudi officials in response to
allegations that senior members of the royal family were involved in
funding an opposition politician in an allied Muslim country.
The assessment clears the royals of involvement but shows the
politician´s links to a complex web of organizations established by a
network of Muslim Brotherhood leaders and supporters, including some
that have been indicted or designated as terrorist financiers by U.S.
The assessment says that "increased diligence and efforts are
warranted" to prevent further "misuse [of] the Saudi charitable
infrastructure," calling the web of organizations "an example of the
extent to which the Muslim Brotherhood is using moderate-seeming
politicians to further its extremist agenda."
The Muslim Brotherhood is a loose global coalition of Sunni Muslim
political parties and other organizations that promote Shariah law
and Islamism - a vision of Islam as not just a religious faith, but
also the basis for a social and political system.
Founded in 1928 in Egypt, the Brotherhood now encompasses an array of
groups, including nonviolent political parties and the Palestinian
militant movement Hamas, which the U.S. government has as a terrorist
Some U.S. groups linked to the Brotherhood were cited as unindicted
co-conspirators in the major U.S. terror-financing investigation that
ended with the conviction in November 2008 of five officials of the
Dallas, Texas-based Holy Land Foundation for funneling cash to Hamas.
The Brotherhood´s vision of Islam is credited as the ideological
wellspring for Sunni extremist groups worldwide, including al Qaeda,
and some see it as attempting to fulfill the same goals as al Qaeda -
the establishment of a global Islamic caliphate - albeit mostly by
open political means.
"You could call it al Qaeda´s political wing," one former U.S.
intelligence official told The Times.
The network described in the Saudi assessment includes several
entities that were closed down as a result of U.S. and allied
operations like the Holy Land Foundation prosecution, but also others
that remain functioning despite being under investigation by U.S. and
"This network, which the authorities in the kingdom and the United
States have never been able to get their arms around, continues to
purposely mislead individuals" in the kingdom about the ultimate
destination of the funds they are distributing, the Saudi official
The official said he had provided the assessment to illustrate the
scale of the challenge Saudi authorities face in trying to interdict
funds provided by wealthy individuals for extremists, when the money
flows through a huge network of largely legitimate charities and
other organizations, many of which are involved in funding nonviolent
Islamist political activities.
A report earlier this month prepared for the Gulf Cooperation
Council - an association of regional states - found that 86 percent
of all private charitable organizations operating in the region are
based in Saudi Arabia.
"It´s huge," the Saudi official said of the kingdom´s charitable
sector, adding that oversight and control of the thousands of groups
involved had historically been too lax.
"The funding of terrorism is only the most pressing aspect of this,"
the official said. "The Muslim Brotherhood is working on a much
bigger project than terrorism - a grass-roots political Islamist
He said that Saudi officials took "a very negative view" of the
brotherhood, citing public statements by senior royals. (©2010 The
Washington Times, LLC. 12/24/10)
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