Saudi ‘loop­holes’ let char­i­ties fund ter­ror­ists

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitic­s - BY SHAUN WATER­MAN

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 an­ti­se­crecy 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. au­thor­i­ties.

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 group.

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 sev- eral 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 Saudi au­thor­i­ties.

“This net­work, which the au­thor­i­ties in the king­dom and the

“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.

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 said.

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 move­ment world­wide.”

He said that Saudi of­fi­cials took “a very neg­a­tive view” of the broth­er­hood, cit­ing pub­lic state­ments by se­nior roy­als.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE / GETTY IM­AGES

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