Although the subject of Saudi-funded Wahhabi extremism and its ties to terrorism will be familiar to FrontPage Magazine readers, Capitol Hill is finally beginning to take notice. Senator Jon Kyl, R-AZ, chaired hearings on "Terrorism: Growing Wahhabi Influence in the United States" last Thursday, June 26, before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security. We reproduce the testimony of thee witnesses before that subcommittee: Alex Alexiev of the Center for Security Policy, Stephen Schwartz of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and Larry Mefford of the FBI's Counterterrorism Divsion. The committee also heard expert testimony from David Aufhauser, General Counsel for the U.S. Treasury Department. - The Editors.
1) Testimony by Alex Alexiev - Senior Fellow, Center for Security Policy
As we near the second anniversary of 9/11, the U.S. war on terrorism has scored some impressive successes. After denying Afghanistan as a base of operations to Al Qaeda in the fall of 2001, the United States has been able to neutralize a number of its high-ranking operatives and disrupt its operations. The removal of the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein in Operation Iraqi Freedom has precluded that rogue regime from developing and using weapons of mass destruction or supplying them to fellow-terrorists. On the domestic front, significant strides have been made in shoring up homeland security and no serious terrorist incident has taken place on American soil since 9/11. Despite these very positive developments, it would be highly premature to claim that we're close to winning the war. Indeed, recent terrorist attacks in Riyadh and Casablanca, as well as the putative conspiracy to blow-up Brooklyn Bridge, have shown unmistakably that terrorist networks and groups retain considerable ability to wreak havoc.
This is the case because while the United States has been successful in inflicting strategic defeats on state sponsors of terrorism, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, it has not applied the same decisive strategic approach in dealing with the phenomenon of Islamic extremism, which is both the root cause and basic support structure of the terrorist phenomenon exemplified by Al Qaeda and others. It is worth reminding ourselves here, that Al Qaeda is not the cause, but rather the symptom of the malignancy called Islamic extremism and that even if we are able to defeat Al Qaeda totally, somebody else will almost certainly continue in its footsteps, as long as the underlying malignancy lives on.1
Thus, most of the measures taken to defeat Islamic terrorism to date have been essentially tactical in nature and therefore of transitory effect. We have, for instance, attempted to block financial inflows to the terrorist networks, but have avoided taking a critical look into the real magnitude and nature of terrorist finances, especially with respect to the evidence of state sponsorship. The result is that despite some $117 million of frozen assets, the terrorists do not appear to be lacking in funds at all.2 We have attempted to come to terms with the psychology behind the terrorists' murderous fury, yet refuse to examine systematically, let alone do something about, the effect and implications of daily indoctrination of hundreds of thousands if not millions of Muslims around the world into a hate-driven cult of violence. Similarly, we have tried and often succeeded in disrupting the terrorists' tactical organizational structures and communications networks, but have paid scant attention to the huge world-wide infrastructure of radical Islam which breeds and nourishes violence.
Yet, without a critical consideration of these realities and the formulation of a forceful strategic response based on it, it is unlikely that we'll make lasting progress in the war on terror. It is thus necessary to briefly examine the key factors that have made and sustained Islamic extremism as a daunting challenge to our liberal democratic order.
The Ideology of Extremism
It is difficult, indeed, impossible to successfully defeat a violent ideological movement, such as radical Islam, without understanding the ideology motivating it. And there has been no lack of scholarly attention to the subject from both the liberal Western and the Muslim perspective recently.3 Nonetheless, it is worth encapsulating the main doctrinal tenets of Islamic extremism here because they are regularly and consciously obfuscated by the extremists themselves and continue to be misunderstood.
Islamic extremism as an ideology is hardly new with the first movement that resembles today's phenomenon, known as the Kharijites, appearing shortly after the birth of Islam in the 7th century. Later it was expounded on by various Islamic scholars, such as Ibn Taymiiya in the 13th century, but it did not become institutionalized until the mid-18th century when the theories promulgated by the radical cleric Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab were accepted and imposed as the state religion of his realm by the founder of the House of Saud. Wahhabism, as this creed got to be known, like most other extremist movements before it, believed that traditional Islamic virtues and beliefs have been corrupted and preached a return to the ostensibly pure Islam of the time of the Prophet and his companions.4 In reality, Wahhab's extreme doctrines contradicted and stood on their head major tenets of traditional Islam and in a real sense represent an outright falsification of the Muslim faith.5
To name just one egregious example, a key postulate of Wahhab's teaching asserts that Muslims who do not believe in his doctrines are ipso facto non-believers and apostates against whom violence and Jihad were not only permissible, but obligatory. This postulate alone transgresses against two fundamental tenets of the Quran - that invoking Jihad against fellow-Muslims is prohibited and that a Muslim's profession of faith should be taken at face value until God judges his/hers sincerity at judgment day. This extreme reactionary creed was then used as the religious justification for military conquest and violence against Muslim neighbors of the House of Saud. Already in 1746, just two years after Wahhabism became Saud's religion, the new Saudi-Wahhabi state proclaimed Jihad against all neighboring Muslim tribes that refused to subscribe to it. Indeed, well into the 1920s the history of the House of Saud is replete with violent campaigns to force other Muslims to submit politically and theologically, violating yet another fundamental Quranic principle that prohibits the use of compulsion in religion.
Today, the Wahhabi ideology continues to be characterized by a set of doctrinal beliefs and behavior prescriptions that are often inimical to the values and interests of the vast majority of Muslims in the world to say nothing about those of non-Muslims. Non-Wahhabi Sunni Muslims (syncretic Muslims, Sufis, Barelvis, Bahai, Ahmadis, etc) are still considered illegitimate, at best, while the Shia religion is particularly despised as a "Jewish conspiracy" against Islam.6 The Wahhabis continue to believe and preach violence and Jihad as a pillar of Islamic virtue, rigid conformism of religious practice, institutionalized oppression of women, wholesale rejection of modernity, secularism and democracy as antithetical to Islam and militant proselytism. This jihadist ideology par excellence, is by and large, also the worldview of radical Islam and it is not at all an exaggeration to argue that Wahhabism has become the prototype ideology of all extremist and terrorist groups, even those that despise the House of Saud.
How did this obscurantist, pseudo-Islamic creed manage to become the dominant idiom not only among the extremists but increasingly the Islamic establishment? The short answer is money and an acute legitimacy crisis in the Muslim world in the last quarter of the 20th century.
Regarding the latter, the progressive, centuries-long, gradual decline of Islam as a dominant force and civilization reached its nadir in 1924, when Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) simultaneously did away with the Caliphate and the Ottoman Empire by overnight transforming the latter into a secular Turkish republic. The unceremonious discarding of the symbol of the Muslim community (ummah), coupled with the establishment of European colonial rule over much of the Muslim world gave rise to revivalist movements and ideologies seeking to come to terms with Islam's predicament and efforts to restore it to previous glories.
Beginning with the Muslim Brotherhood of Hassan el-Banna in 1928, followed by the movements founded by Islamist ideologues like Abul ala Maududi, Sayyid Qutb and the extremist Deobandi creed in South Asia, radical Islam established a strong presence in the Muslim world in the second half of the 20th century. Then in the 1970s and 1980s Islamic terrorist groups (Al Jihad and Gamaa Islamiya in Egypt, Front for National Salvation (FIS) in Algeria etc.) began appearing in the Middle East and South Asia, especially after the beginning of the Soviet war in Afghanistan. While none of these groups and movements were 100% Wahhabi originally, their ideological differences were insignificant.7
As these movements were violently suppressed in places like Egypt and Algeria, the Saudis were quickly able to co-opt them by providing sanctuary and financial assistance to their members in both Saudi Arabia and outside of it. Thus, the economic and logistical dependence of many of these extremists on the Saudis, coupled with the ongoing radicalization of Wahhabism itself, created a highly synergistic relationship between the practitioners of terror and their Wahhabi supporters and paymasters despite the fact that many practicing jihadists like Osama bin Laden resented the Saudi regime.
While this ideological affinity between the Wahhabis and modern day radical Islam is undoubtedly of key import, it was vast amounts of money more than anything else that made Wahhabism the chief enabler and dominant influence of the Islamist phenomenon.
Financing Radical Islam
Saudi financing of Islamic extremism plays such a huge role in its emergence as a global phenomenon that a proper understanding of it is impossible without coming to terms with its dimensions. Simply put, without the exorbitant sums of Saudi money spent on supporting extremist networks and activities, the terrorist threat we are facing today would be nowhere as acute as it is.
While the Wahhabis have always been sympathetic to Sunni Muslim extremists and evidence exists that they have supported such people financially as early as a century ago,8 the real Saudi offensive to spread Wahhabism aggressively and support kindred extremist groups world-wide began in the mid-1970s, when the kingdom reaped an incredible financial windfall with rocketing oil prices after Riaydh's imposition of an oil embargo in 1973.9 "It was only when oil revenues began to generate real wealth," says a government publication, that "the kingdom could fulfill its ambitions of spreading the word of Islam to every corner of the world."10
There are no published Western estimates of the numbers involved, which, in itself, is evidence of our failure to address this key issue, but even the occasional tidbits provided by official Saudi sources, indicate a campaign of unprecedented magnitude. Between 1975 and 1987, the Saudis admit to having spent $48 billion or $4 billion per year on "overseas development aid," a figure which by the end of 2002 grew to over $70 billion (281 billion Saudi rials).11 These sums are reported to be Saudi state aid and almost certainly do not include private donations which are also distributed by state-controlled charities. Such staggering amounts contrast starkly with the $5 million in terrorist accounts the Saudis claim to have frozen since 9/11. In another comparison, it is instructive to put these figures side by side with the $1 billion per year said to have been spent by the Soviet Union on external propaganda at the peak of Moscow's power in the 1970s.
Though it is claimed that this is "development aid" it is clear from the Saudi media and government statements alike that the vast majority of these funds support "Islamic activities", rather than real developmental projects. For example, a report on the yearly activities of the Al Haramain Foundation described as "keen on spreading the proper Islamic culture" are listed as follows: "it printed 13 million (Islamic) books, launched six internet sites, employed more than 3000 callers (proselytizers), founded 1100 mosques, schools and cultural Islamic centers and posted more than 350,000 letters of call (invitations to convert to Islam)" while the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), another key "charity," completed 3800 mosques, spent $45 million for Islamic education and employed 6000 proselytizers.12 Both of these organizations have been implicated in terrorist activities by U.S. authorities and both operate directly out of Saudi embassies in all countries in which they do not have their own offices.
The Saudi money is spent according to a carefully designed plan to enhance Wahhabi influence and control at the expense of mainstream Muslims. In Muslim countries, much of the aid goes to fund religious madrassas that teach little more than hatred of the infidels, while producing barely literate Jihadi cadres. There are now tens of thousands of these madrassas run by the Wahhabis' Deobandi allies in South Asia and also throughout Southeastern Asia. In Pakistan alone, foreign funding of these madrassas, most of which comes from Saudi Arabia, is estimated at no less than $350 million per year.13 The Saudis also directly support terrorist activities in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Chechnya, Bosnia and, as noticed above, most of the large Saudi foundations have been implicated in such involvement.
It needs to be emphasized here that contrary to Saudi claims that charities such as Al Haramain, the Muslim World League (MWL), the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) and the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) are independent and non-governmental, there is conclusive evidence from Saudi sources that they are tightly controlled by the government and more often than not run by government officials. It is also the case that as early as 1993, the kingdom passed a law stipulating that all donations to Muslim charities must be collected in a fund controlled by a Saudi Prince.14
Early on in the Wahhabi ideological campaign, the penetration of the Muslim communities in non-Muslim Western societies was made a key priority. The objective pursued there was slightly different and aimed to assure Wahhabi dominance in the local Muslim establishments by taking over or building new Wahhabi mosques, Islamic centers and educational institutions, including endowing Islamic chairs at various universities.15 Taking over a mosque, of course, means more than just the ability to impose the Wahhabi version of Islam. The imam and the leadership of the mosque are also responsible for the collection of zakat (the 2 ½ % yearly tithe Muslims must donate), which gives them the ability to contribute these funds to extremist organizations. Most Pakistani mosques in the United Kingdom, for instance, have reportedly been taken over by the Wahhabi/Deobandi group even though their members belong primarily to the moderate Barelvi creed. As a result, millions of their donations are said to be supporting terrorist groups in Pakistan.16
While nobody knows for sure how much the Saudis have spent on getting a foothold in non-Muslim regions and especially in Western Europe and North America, the sums are clearly huge. According to official information, the Saudis have built over 1500 mosques, 210 Islamic centers, 202 Islamic colleges and 2000 schools for educating Muslims in non-Muslim countries. Most of these institutions continue to be on the Saudi payroll for substantial yearly donations assuring that Wahhabi control is not likely to weaken any time soon.17
What have the Saudis been able to buy with this unprecedented Islamic largesse? Quite a bit it would seem. For starters, the Wahhabi creed which is practiced by no more than 20 million people around the world, or less than 2% of the Muslim population, has become a dominant factor in the international Islamic establishment through an elaborate network of front organizations and charities, as well as in a great number of national establishments, including the United States. In just one example, the venerable Al Azhar mosque and university in Cairo, which not too long ago was a paragon of Islamic moderation has been taken over by the Wahhabis and spews extremist propaganda on a regular basis. Two of their recent fatwas make it a religious duty for Muslims to acquire nuclear weapons to fight the infidels and justify suicide attacks against American troops in Iraq.18 The Wahhabi project has contributed immeasurably to the Islamic radicalization and destabilization in a number of countries and continues to do so. Pakistan, for instance, an important U.S. ally, is facing the gradual talibanization of two of its key provinces under Wahhabi/Deobandi auspices and the prospect of large-scale sectarian strife and turmoil. Riyadh-financed extremist networks exist presently around the world providing terrorist groups and individuals with a protective environment and support and even the recent terrorist incidents in Saudi Arabia itself do not seem likely to bring about meaningful change.
Already Saudi officials have stated that they do not intend to either change their anti-Western curriculum or stop their "charitable" activities. Yet the evidence of conscious Saudi subversion of our societies and values as partly detailed above is so overwhelming that to tolerate it further would be unconscionable. Failure to confront it now will assure that we will not win the war on terror anytime soon.
ENDNOTES for Alexiev:
1 For an example of an extremist Islamic organization that could easily succeed Al Qaeda and is already operating internationally see Ariel Cohen, Hizb ut-Tahrir: An Emerging Threat to U.S. Interests in Central Asia, Backgrounder #1656, The Heritage Foundation, June 2003.
2 This becomes easier to understand when we're told recently that a single mosque in Brooklyn has been able to transfer $20 million to Al Qaeda.
3 For a critique of radical Islam as exemplified by Wahhabism from the point of view of traditional Muslim scholarship see Hamid Algar, Wahhabism: A Critical Essay, Islamic Publications International, New York 2002. Recent book-length Western studies include Dore Gold, Hatred's Kingdom, Regnery Publishing, Wash. D.C., 2003 and Stephen Schwartz, The Two Faces of Islam, Doubleday, New York 2002.
4 The Wahhabis themselves despise the term and never use it since they believe and claim that theirs is in fact the only true Islam.
1 To the extent that Wahhabism contradicts some of the fundamental tenets of Islam it is misleading to call it fundamentalist as many observers routinely do.
5 For instance, the establishment of an Islamic state based on Sharia'a in Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini was seen as a real threat to Saudi/Wahhabi interests, rather than a victory for Islam, and treated with unmitigated hostility by Riyadh.
6 For example, while many of these movements considered the Muslim political leadership of their countries illegitimate and urged and conspired in its violent overthrow, most, though not all, of the Wahhabis supported the House of Saud.
7 The Islamist ideologue Rashid Rida was one of the first of those in 1909. See Apgar, op.cit.
8 Saudi oil revenues jumped from $1 billion in 1970 to $116 billion in 1980.
9Ain Al-Yaqeen, March 27, 2002.
10 See Saudi Aid to the Developing World, Nov. 2002, in www.saudinf.com/main/1102.htm and statement by Dr. Ibrahim Al-Assaf, Saudi Minister of Finance and National Economy as reported by Saudia Online, Jan.2, 2003 (www.saudia-online.com/news2003/newsjan03/news2.shtml.) 96% of these aid amounts are said to be grants.
11 Ain-Al-Yaqeen, (Saudi government-controlled newspaper), December 8, 2000.
12 For details on Saudi funding of the madrassas see Alex Alexiev, The Pakistani Time Bomb, Commentary, March 2003
13 See www.saudhouse.com/salman_bin_abdul_aziz.htm
14 The typical modus operandi in taking over a mosque or similar institution follows approximately the following pattern: Saudi representatives offer a community to subsidize the building of a new mosque, which usually includes an Islamic school and a community center. After completion of the project an annual maintenance subsidy is offered making the community dependent on Saudi largess in perpetuity. Saudi chosen board members are installed, a Wahhabi imam (prayer leader) and free wahhabi literature are brought in and the curriculum changed in accordance with Wahhabi precepts. Visiting speakers of extremist views are then regularly invited to lead Friday night prayers and further radicalize the members. The most promising candidates are selected for further religious education and indoctrination in Saudi Arabia to be sent back as Wahhabi missionaries as the circle is completed.
15 International Crisis Group (ICG) Report, "Pakistan: Madrassas, Extremism and the Military," Asia Report #36, July 29, 2002, p. 16
16 Although information on this aspect is rather scarce, figures provided from time to time in the Saudi media indicate yearly payments to Islamic centers in the range of $1.5 million to $7 million.
17 See Suicide Attacks Permitted: Al Azhar, Dawn, April 6, 2003 (www.dawn.com/2003/04/06int10.htm)
Testimony of Stephen Schwartz - director, Islam and Democracy Program at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
Chairman Kyl, other distinguished members of the subcommittee, thank you for your invitation to appear here today.
I come before this body to describe how adherents of Wahhabism, the most extreme, separatist, and violent form of Islam, and the official sect in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, have come to dominate Islam in the U.S.
Islam is a fairly new participant at the "big table" of American religions. The Muslim community only became a significant element in our country's life in the 1980s. Most "born Muslims," as opposed to those who "converted" — a term Muslims avoid, preferring "new Muslims" — had historically been immigrants from Pakistan and India who followed traditional, peaceful, mainstream Islam.
With the growth of the Islamic community in America, there was no "Islamic establishment" in the U.S. — in contrast with Britain, France, and Germany, the main Western countries with significant Islamic minorities. Historically, traditional scholars have been a buffer against extremism in Islam, and for various sociological and demographic reasons, American Islam lacked a stratum of such scholars. The Wahhabi ideological structure in Saudi Arabia perceived this as an opportunity to fill a gap — to gain dominance over an Islamic community in the West with immense potential for political and social influence.
But the goals of this operation, which was largely successful, were multiple.
First, to control a significant group of Muslim believers.
Second, to use the Muslim community in the U.S. to pressure U.S. government and media, in the formulation of policy and in perceptions about Islam. This has included liaison meetings, "sensitivity" sessions and other public activities with high-level administration officials, including the FBI director, that we have seen since September 11.
Third, to advance the overall Wahhabi agenda of "jihad against the world" — an extremist campaign to impose the Wahhabi dispensation on the global Islamic community, as well as to confront the other religions. This effort has included the establishment in the U.S. of a base for funding, recruitment, and strategic/tactical support of terror operations in the U.S. and abroad.
Wahhabi-Saudi policy has always been two-faced: that is, at the same time as the Wahhabis preach hostility and violence against non-Wahhabi Muslims, they maintain a policy of alliance with Western military powers — first Britain, then the U.S. and France — to assure their control over the Arabian Peninsula.
At the present time, Shia and other non-Wahhabi Muslim community leaders estimate that 80 percent of American mosques are under Wahhabi control. This does not mean 80 percent of American Muslims support Wahhabism, although the main Wahhabi ideological agency in America, the so-called Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has claimed that some 70 percent of American Muslims want Wahhabi teaching in their mosques.1This is a claim we consider unfounded.
Rather, Wahhabi control over mosques means control of property, buildings, appointment of imams, training of imams, content of preaching — including faxing of Friday sermons from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia — and of literature distributed in mosques and mosque bookstores, notices on bulletin boards, and organizational solicitation. Similar influence extends to prison and military chaplaincies, Islamic elementary and secondary schools (academies), college campus activity, endowment of academic chairs and programs in Middle East studies, and most notoriously, charities ostensibly helping Muslims abroad, many of which have been linked to or designated as sponsors of terrorism.
The main organizations that have carried out this campaign are the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which originated in the Muslim Students' Association of the U.S. and Canada (MSA), and CAIR. Support activities have been provided by the American Muslim Council (AMC), the American Muslim Alliance (AMA), the Muslim American Society (MAS), the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences, its sister body the International Institute of Islamic Thought, and a number of related groups that I have called "the Wahhabi lobby." ISNA operates at least 324 mosques in the U.S. through the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT). These groups operate as an interlocking directorate.
Both ISNA and CAIR, in particular, maintain open and close relations with the Saudi government — a unique situation, in that no other foreign government directly uses religion as a cover for its political activities in the U.S. For example, notwithstanding support by the American Jewish community for the state of Israel, the government of Israel does not intervene in synagogue life or the activities of rabbinical or related religious bodies in America.
According to saudiembassy.net, the official website of the Saudi government, CAIR received $250,000 from the Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank, an official Saudi financial institution, in 1999, for the purchase of land in Washington, D.C., to construct a headquarters facility.2
In a particularly disturbing case, the Islamic Development Bank also granted US$295,000 to the Masjid Bilal Islamic Center, for the construction of the Bilal Islamic Primary and Secondary School in California, in 1999.3 Hassan Akbar, an American Muslim presently charged with a fatal attack on his fellow soldiers in Kuwait during the Iraq intervention, was affiliated with this institution.
In addition, the previously mentioned official website of the Saudi government reported a donation in 1995 of $4 million for the construction of a mosque complex in Los Angeles, named for Ibn Taymiyyah, a historic Islamic figure considered the forerunner of Wahhabism.4 (It should be noted that Ibn Taymiyyah is viewed as a marginal, extremist, ideological personality by many traditional Muslims. In the wake of the Riyadh bombings of 2003, the figure of Ibn Taymiyyah symbolized, in Saudi public discourse, the inner rot of the regime. An article in the reformist daily al-Watan was headlined, "Who is More Important? The Nation or Ibn Taymiyyah"? Soon after it appeared, Jamal Khashoggi, editor of al-Watan and former deputy editor of Arab News, was dismissed from his post.)
The same official Saudi website reported a donation of $6 million, also in 1995, for a mosque in Cincinnati, Ohio.5 The website further stated, in 2000, "In the United States, the Kingdom has contributed to the establishment of the Islamic Center in Washington DC; the Omer Bin Al-Khattab Mosque in western Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Islamic Center, and the Fresno Mosque in California; the Islamic Center in Denver, Colorado; the Islamic center in Harrison, New York City; and the Islamic Center in Northern Virginia."6
How much money, in total, is involved in this effort? If we accept a low figure of control, i.e. NAIT ownership of 27 percent of 1,200 mosques, stated by CAIR and cited by Mary Jacoby and Graham Brink in the St. Petersburg Times,7 we have some 324 mosques.
If we assume a relatively low average of expenditures, e.g. $.5 million per mosque, we arrive at $162 million.
But given that Saudi official sources show $6 million in Cincinnati and $4 million in Los Angeles, we should probably raise the average to $1 million per mosque, resulting in $324 million as a minimum.
Our view is that the number of mosques under Wahhabi control actually totals at least 600 out of the official total of 1,200, while, as noted, Shia community leaders endorse the figure of 80 percent Wahhabi control. But we also offer a number of 4-6,000 mosques overall, including small and diverse congregations of many kinds.
A radical critic of Wahhabism stated some years ago that $25m had been spent on Islamic Centers in the U.S. by the Saudi authorities. This now seems a low figure. Another anti-extremist Islamic figure has estimated Saudi expenses in the U.S., over 30 years, and including schools and free books as well as mosques, near a billion dollars.
It should also be noted that Wahhabi mosques in the U.S. work in close coordination with the Muslim World League (MWL) and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), Saudi state entities identified as participants in the funding of al Qaeda.
Wahhabi ideological control within Saudi Arabia is based on the historic compact of intermarriage between the family of the sect's originator, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, and the family of the founding ruler, Ibn Saud. To this day, these families divide governance of the kingdom, with the descendants of Ibn al-Wahhab, known as ahl al-Shaykh, responsible for religious life, and the Saudi royal family, or ahl al-Saud, running the state. The two families also continue to marry their descendants to one another. The supreme religious leader of Saudi Arabia is a member of the family of Ibn al-Wahhab. The state appoints a minister of religious affairs who controls such bodies as MWL and WAMY, and upon leaving his ministerial post he becomes head of MWL.
The official Saudi-embassy website reported exactly one year ago, on June 26, 2002, "The delegation of the Muslim World League (MWL) that is on a world tour promoting goodwill arrived in New York yesterday, and visited the Islamic Center there." The same website later reported, on July 8, 2002, "During a visit on Friday evening to the headquarters of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) [Secretary-General of the MWL Dr. Abdullah bin Abdulmohsin Al-Turki] advocated coordination among Muslim organizations in the United States. Expressing MWL's readiness to offer assistance in the promotion and coordination of Islamic works, he announced plans to set up a commission for this purpose. The MWL delegation also visited the Islamic Center in Washington DC and was briefed on its activities by its director Dr. Abdullah bin Mohammad Fowaj."8
In a related matter, on June 22, 2003, in a letter to the New York Post, James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, a civic lobbying organization, stated that his attendance at a press conference of WAMY in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, had been organized by the U.S. embassy in the kingdom. If this is true, it is extremely alarming. The U.S. embassy should not act as a supporter of WAMY, which, as documented by FDD and the Saudi Institute,9 teaches that Shia Muslims, including even the followers of Ayatollah Khomeini, are Jewish agents.
This is comparable to Nazi claims that Jewish business owners were Communists, or Slobodan Miloševic's charge, in the media of ex-Yugoslavia, that Tito was an agent of the Vatican. The aim is to derange people, to separate them from reality completely, in preparation for massacres. We fear that official Saudi anxiety their large and restive Shia minority, aggravated by Saudi resentment over the emergence of a protodemocratic regime in Iraq led by Shias, and consolidation of popular sovereignty in Shia Iran, may lead the Saudi regime to treat Shias as a convenient scapegoat, making them victims of a wholesale atrocity. The history of Wahhabism is filled with mass murder of Shia Muslims.
There is clearly a problem of Wahhabi/Saudi extremist influence in American Islam. The time is now to face the problem squarely and find ways to enable and support traditional, mainstream American Muslims in taking their community back from these extremists, while employing law enforcement to interdict the growth of Wahhabism and its financial support by the Saudis. If we fail to do this, Wahhabi extremism continues to endanger the whole world — Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Thank you for your attention.
ENDNOTES for Schwartz:
1 Council on American Islamic Relations, The Mosque in America: A National Portrait, A Report from the Mosque Study Project, April 26, 2001.
2 Saudi Embassy Press Archive, August 15, 1999.
3 Islamic Development Bank; also, "IDB Allocates $202 Mln to Finance Islamic Development Ventures," Arabic News, 1/25/2000.
4 Saudi Embassy Press Archive, July 8, 1995.
5 Saudi Embassy Press Archive, November 10, 1995.
6 Saudi Embassy Press Archive, March 5, 2000.
7 "Saudi Form of Islam Wars With Moderates," St. Petersburg Times, March 11, 2003.
8 Saudi Embassy Press Archive.
9 Ali al-Ahmed and Stephen Schwartz, "Saudis Spread Hate Speech in U.S," Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Washington, copublished with Saudi Institute.
Testimony of Larry Mefford - Assistant Director of the FBI's Counterterrorism Division
Good afternoon, Senator Kyl and other members of the Subcommittee. Thank you for inviting me here today to testify regarding the state of the terrorist threat to the United States. The Subcommittee's work in this area is an important part of improving the security of our Nation. The Federal Bureau of Investigation greatly appreciates your leadership, and that of your colleagues in other committees dealing with the security of our country. I would like to briefly discuss for the Subcommittee the FBI's assessment of the current threats facing the United States.
First, let me emphasize the commitment of the FBI to investigating and disrupting terrorist activity both in this country and against U.S. interests overseas. There is no more important mission within the FBI. We are dedicating tremendous resources to this effort and will continue to do so as long as the threat exists.
Since September 11, 2001, the FBI has investigated more than 4,000 terrorist threats to the U.S. and the number of active FBI investigations into potential terrorist activity has quadrupled . Working with our partners in local and state law enforcement and with the U.S. Intelligence community, we have also disrupted terrorist activities in over 35 instances inside the United States since September 11, 2001. These include both domestic and international terrorism matters and consist of a variety of preventive actions, including arrests, seizure of funds, and disruption of recruiting and training efforts. No threat or investigative lead goes unanswered today. At headquarters, in our field offices, and through our offices overseas, we run every lead to ground until we either find evidence of terrorist activity, which we pursue, or determine that the information is not substantiated. While we have disrupted terrorist plots since 9/11, we remain constantly vigilant as a result of the ongoing nature of the threat. The greatest danger to our safety and security comes not from what we know and can prevent, but from what we do not know.
We know this: The Al Qaeda terrorist network remains the most serious threat to U.S. interests both here and overseas. That network includes groups committed to the "international jihad movement,” and it has demonstrated the ability to survive setbacks. Since September 11, 2001, we believe that Al Qaeda has been involved in at least twelve terrorist attacks against the United States and our allies around the world. This fact requires that we continue to work closely with our partners to fight Al-Qaeda in all its forms both here and overseas.
On March 1, 2003, counterterrorism forces in Pakistan captured Al Qaeda operational commander Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and financier Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi. In early 2002, another high ranking Al Qaeda operational commander, Mohamed Atef, was killed in a U.S. bombing raid. Many more suspected Al Qaeda operatives have been arrested in the United States and abroad.
Despite these strikes against the leadership of Al Qaeda, it remains a potent, highly capable and extremely dangerous terrorist network -- the number one terrorist threat to the U.S. today. The very recent attacks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and in Casablanca, Morocco -- which we believe to be either sponsored or inspired by Al Qaeda – clearly demonstrate that network's continued ability to kill and injure innocent, unsuspecting victims.
In Riyadh on May 12, 2003, the simultaneous strikes on three foreign compounds were carried out by 12 to 15 individuals, nine of whom were suicide bombers. The overall death toll rose to 34, including at least seven Americans and the nine attackers. Nearly 200 people were wounded. Forty of those were Americans.
In Casablanca on May 16, 2003, as many as 12 suicide bombers orchestrated the simultaneous bombing of 5 targets. A targeted Jewish center was closed and unoccupied when one of the bombs was detonated. The deadliest attack occurred inside a Spanish restaurant where 19 were killed. Outside one targeted hotel, a security guard and a bellboy scuffled with bombers intent on entering the hotel. They prevented them from entering but lost their lives, along with those of their terrorist attackers, when the bombs were detonated outside. The terrorists even targeted a Jewish cemetery.
We know that the Al Qaeda network maintains a presence in dozens of countries around the world, including the United States. Audiotaped messages released in early October 2002 from Usama bin Laden and his senior deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, urged renewed attacks on U.S. and Western interests. Intelligence analysis indicates that subsequent attacks against Western targets may have been carried out in response to these audiotaped appeals that were broadcast on the al-Jazeera network beginning on October 6, 2002.
Two subsequent audiotapes attributed to bin Laden, released on February 11 and February 14, 2003, linked a call for terrorist attacks against Western targets with the pending war in Iraq. In the latter of these audiotaped messages, bin Laden appeared to express his desire to die in an attack against the United States. The most recent audio tape attributed to bin Laden, released on April 9, 2003, urged jihadists to carry out suicide attacks against those countries supporting the war in Iraq. And while individual suicide attacks have the potential to cause significant destruction and loss of life, we remain concerned about Al Qaeda’s ability to mount simultaneous and large-scale terrorist attacks.
While large-scale, coordinated attacks remain an Al Qaeda objective, disruptions to the network’s command and logistics structures during the past 20 months increase the possibility that operatives will attempt to carry out smaller scale, random attacks, as evidenced by Richard Reid’s failed attempt to detonate a shoe-bomb on board a trans-Atlantic flight in December 2001. Such attacks, particularly against softer or lightly secured targets, may be easier to execute and less likely to require centralized control. We remain vigilant to the ability and willingness of individual terrorists, acting on their own in the name of "jihad", to carry out random acts of terror wherever and whenever they can.
We also know that jihadists tend to focus on returning to "unfinished projects,” such as the destruction of the World Trade Center and attacks on U.S. Navy vessels. Consequently, a continuing threat exists to high profile targets previously selected by Al Qaeda. These include high profile government buildings, and encompass the possibility of more terrorist attacks on major U.S. cities and infrastructures. While we know that Al Qaeda has focused on attacks that have economic impact, we believe that its goals still include the infliction of mass casualties.
As I mentioned earlier, we have made significant progress in disrupting terrorist activities and planning; and this includes Islamic extremist activities within the United States. For example:
• Between October 3, 2002, and May 2, 2003, six men and one woman were indicted in Portland, Oregon, for conspiracy to levy war against the United States, conspiracy to provide material support and resources to a terrorist organization, and conspiracy to contribute services to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Six of the individuals have been arrested. The seventh remains at large.
• On September 13, 2002, five members of a suspected Al Qaeda cell were arrested in Lackawanna, New York. They were charged with “providing, attempting to provide, and conspiring to provide material support and resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization.” In addition, a sixth member was rendered to the United States from Bahrain in mid-September 2002, pursuant to an arrest warrant, and was charged with providing material support to Al-Qaeda.
• FBI information indicates that in the spring and summer of 2001, these subjects attended religious Tablighi Jamaat training in Pakistan. They also attended an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan where they received training in mountain climbing, and were instructed in the use of firearms, including assault rifles, handguns, and long range rifles. During their training, Usama bin Laden visited the camp and gave a speech to all of the trainees. At the guest houses where members stayed, some received lectures on jihad and justification for using suicide as an operational tactic.
• All six defendants have pled guilty to providing material support to Al Qaeda.
• On December 22, 2001, Richard C. Reid was arrested after flight attendants on American Airlines Flight 63 observed him attempting to ignite an improvised explosive in his sneakers while onboard the Paris-to-Miami flight. Aided by passengers, the attendants overpowered and subdued Reid. The flight was diverted to Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts. Reid, who was traveling on a valid British passport, was indicted on eight counts, including placing an explosive device on an aircraft and attempted murder.
• FBI investigation has determined that the explosives in Reid's shoes, if detonated in certain areas of the passenger cabin, could have blown a hole in the fuselage of the aircraft.
• Reid's indictment charged that he, too, trained in camps operated by Al-Qaeda. Investigators continue to work to determine the extent of Reid's possible links to others in this plot.
• On October 4, 2002, Reid pled guilty to all of the counts against him. On January 30, 2003, he was sentenced to life in prison.
• On December 11, 2001, Zacarias Moussaoui was indicted in the Eastern District of Virginia for his alleged role in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Moussaoui is charged with six counts, including conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism transcending national boundaries and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction. He is awaiting trial.
• Last week, the Attorney General announced the guilty plea of Imyan Faris, an Ohio truck driver, who -- as a key operative for Al Qaeda -- conspired to provide, and did in fact provide, material support to a terrorist organization. We believe he was tasked by Al Qaeda to assist in the identification of possible terrorist targets inside the United States and provided other logistical support to that organization.
• On Monday of this week, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, was designated an enemy combatant and transferred to the control of the Department of Defense. Al-Marri is a Qatari national who was initially arrested on a material witness warrant following the September 11 attacks. He was subsequently indicted for credit card fraud and making false statements. Recent information from an Al Qaeda detainee identified Al-Marri as an Al Qaeda "sleeper" operative who was tasked with providing support to newly arriving Al Qaeda operatives inside the U.S. Two separate Al Qaeda detainees have confirmed that Al-Marri has been to Al Qaeda's Farook camp in Afghanistan where he pledged his service to bin Laden. The decision to designate Al-Marri as an enemy combatant has disrupted his involvement in terrorist planning and taken another Al Qaeda operative out of action.
• The FBI is also actively looking for suspected Al Qaeda operative Adnan G. El Shukrijumah. El Shukrijumah has been identified by detainees as a key Al Qaeda operative who was sent to the United States to plan and carry out acts of terrorism against the U.S. El Shukrijumah was in the United States prior to September 11th and his current whereabouts are unknown. The FBI has put out a "be on the look out" alert to law enforcement both inside the U.S. and overseas to locate and interview him regarding these reports.
Additionally, the FBI has aggressively pursued the individuals and networks that provide financing for terrorism worldwide. Since September 11, 2001, our Terrorist Financing Operations Section (TFOS) has been involved in the financial investigations of over 3,195 individuals and groups suspected in financially supporting terrorist organizations. The FBI has also worked closely with the Treasury Department in developing targets for designation and blocking orders. This has resulted in the terrorist designation of some 250 individuals or entities by Executive Order, and the blocking or freezing of approximately $124.5 million in assets since September 11, 2001.
As I said at the outset, finding and rooting out Al Qaeda members and adherents, once they have entered the U.S., is our most serious intelligence and law enforcement challenge. In addition to our focus on identifying individuals directly involved in launching terrorist attacks, we are also very concerned with identifying and locating persons engaged in terrorist support activities, such as fund raising, recruiting, training and other logistical responsibilities. This is very important since these individuals are vital to the operations of terrorist networks. We also remain deeply concerned about Al Qaeda’s efforts to recruit U.S. citizens to support its terrorist goals and, perhaps, to carry out attacks on American soil.
Al Qaeda is not our only concern. We know that many Islamic extremists are tied to terrorist activities. Islamic Shiite extremists, represented by such groups as Hizballah, have been launching terrorist attacks against the U.S. and its allies for more than twenty years. Islamic Sunni extremism, spearheaded by Al Qaeda, but which also includes HAMAS and other groups, continue to inflict casualties on innocent people worldwide. Hizballah and HAMAS in particular, also maintain a sizable presence in the U.S. While the activities of these U.S. cells have not involved actual attacks within the United States, we know that Hizballah and HAMAS have been involved in activities that support terrorism, such as fund-raising, recruiting and spreading propaganda inside our country. Since they have been responsible for the deaths of Americans and our allies overseas, we continue to be concerned about their activities.
In conclusion, the United States faces threats from a wide range of international terrorist groups, although we assess Al Qaeda to be the greatest threat today. Their potential attacks could be large-scale, or smaller and more isolated. Since our understanding of terrorist groups and the underlying philosophy behind these movements continue to develop, the FBI's assessment of the overall threat continues to evolve. We remain, however, concerned about Al Qaeda's efforts to launch another major attack inside the U.S. Consequently, we continually work with the U.S. intelligence community and our foreign partners to assess Al Qaeda's intentions and capabilities, including their use of weapons of mass destruction in future attack scenarios.
That is why we remain as focused as we are on detecting and preventing terrorism. We will not stray from this purpose and will work closely with State and Local law enforcement and other federal agencies to improve our preventive capabilities. We sincerely appreciate your guidance and support as we carry out our mission.
I would be happy to answer any questions you may have to the extent I am able.