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Saudi Cash for al Qaeda By: Thomas Joscelyn
Weekly Standard | Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Treasury Department announced today that it had designated three Saudi nationals as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (“SDGTs”). All three are accused of providing funds to al Qaeda’s affiliate in the Philippines, the Abu Sayyaf Group (“ASG”).

The first, Abdul Rahim Al-Talhi, is described as an “al Qaida-affiliated financier, a loyal colleague of Usama bin Laden, and a member of a Saudi Arabia-based donor network funding terrorists and supporting extremist activity.” The second, Muhammad ‘Abdallah Salih Sughayr, is the “principal conduit” for “unidentified Saudi extremist donors wishing to provide financial and ideological support to the ASG network in the Philippines.” And the third, Fahd Muhammad ‘Abd Al-‘Aziz Al-Khashiban, “gave then-ASG leader Khadaffy Janjalani approximately US $18,000 to finance a planned ASG bombing operation targeting either the U.S. or the Australian embassy in Manila [in the early 2000s].” The plot was disrupted by Philippine authorities “before its completion,” but “Khashiban continued to routinely provide money to the ASG.”

I thought of two things, primarily, when reading this today. First, every account I’ve read has said that the Saudis have been fairly unhelpful in cracking down on the jihadi finance network operating on their own soil. As Investor’s Business Daily wrote in late September:

Asked by ABC News how many Saudis have been charged with funding terror since 9/11, Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey said, "There have not been any." Not one? "No," he asserted.

That is, despite all of their promises to help stop the flow of jihadi cash, the Saudis have done little to nothing. They are simply not interested in shutting off the pipeline of petrodollars for terror, even though al Qaeda has repeatedly targeted Saudi assets and interests. Talk about duplicity!

An anonymous Jordanian Intelligence official perhaps explained it best in 2005 when he told the German magazine Cicero: “As an Islamist, I go to the Saudis to get money. When I need weapons, logistical support, or military terrorist training and equipment, I go to the Iranians.” We know he was right on the latter count too.

The second thing I thought of was the CIA’s Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) report investigating the Agency’s own pre-9/11 intelligence failures. The OIG’s report built upon the Congressional “Joint Inquiry” report, which was the first to investigate the intelligence community’s failures. The OIG authored its report in 2005, but it was not released until this last August. Most of the attention the media gave the report focused on George Tenet’s failings as the Director of Central Intelligence, but the report also included this interesting passage:

The Joint Inquiry [JI] also argued that both the FBI and CIA had failed to identify the extent of support from Saudi nationals or groups for terrorist activities globally or within the United States and the extent to which such support, to the extent it existed, was knowing or inadvertent. While most of the JI discussion on the Saudi issue dealt with issues involving the FBI and its domestic operations, the report also [redacted] The Team found that a significant gap existed in the CIA's understanding of Saudi extremists' involvement in plotting terrorist attacks. The primary reasons for this gap were the difficulty of the task, the hostile operational environment, and [redacted].

As the OIG found, a “significant gap existed” in the CIA’s understanding of the role Saudi nationals played in sponsoring terrorism. Add that to the list of pre-9/11 blind spots.

One final note: What is the Bush administration doing to pressure the Saudis to do more on this front? Anything at all?

Hat tip for the Treasury Department’s announcement: Zachary Abuza at the Counterterrorism Blog.

Thomas Joscelyn is a terrorism researcher, writer, and economist living in New York. He is the author, most recently, of Iran's Proxy War Against America (Claremont Institute).

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