Responding to last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Saudi Arabia’s role in the war on terror, entitled “Saudi Arabia: Friend or Foe in the War on Terror?”, Riyadh’s ambassador to the U.S., Prince Turki al-Faisal, charged the committee members with ignorance. "Judging by the statements made at the hearing, it appears that the members of the Committee are not fully aware of the significant steps Saudi Arabia has taken in the war on terrorism and extremism.” Worse, according to the prince, U.S. senators “chose to ignore the realities for the sake of political expediency.”
Did they really? The U.S. National Intelligence Reform Act of December 2004 requires development of a Presidential strategy to confront Islamic extremism in collaboration with Saudi Arabia. So far, however, the level of Saudi cooperation has been difficult to gauge. In September, for instance, a Government Accounting Office (GAO) report noted that U.S. agencies have been unable to determine the extent of Saudi Arabia’s domestic and international cooperation.
Evidence further suggests that Saudi Arabia, far from cracking down on terror, is actively enabling it. Thus, testifying before the Committee, Daniel Glaser, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes at the Treasury Department, expressed concern that the Saudis are continuing to fund terror despite repeated promises to stop. Indeed, last August, Y'akub Abu Assab, a senior Hamas operative, was captured after he opened the Judea regional Hamas Communication Center in East Jerusalem. Assab transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars, as well as operational instructions from Hamas headquarters in Saudi Arabia to Hamas operatives in the West Bank and Gaza for terror attacks in Israel, as well as funds for the families of suicide bombers.
Glaser also noted that, in a “August 29, 2005 program aired in Saudi Arabia on Iqra TV, a Saudi-based station, which solicited funds for the Saudi Committee for the Support of the al Quds Intifadah ... Saudi Arabia's secretary-general of the official Muslim World League Koran Memorization Commission, Sheikh Abdallah Basfar, urged Muslims everywhere to fund terrorism.” He said: “The Prophet said: 'He who equips a fighter -- it is as if he himself fought.' You lie in your bed, safe in your own home, and donate money and Allah credits you with the rewards of a fighter. What is this? A privilege.” Basfar asked donors to direct funds to a Joint Account 98 at “all banks in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
“Account 98,” according to Glaser, “had been a regular issue of concern that we have raised with the Saudis at all levels. They have repeatedly assured us that Account 98 no longer exists and that they are making efforts to staunch the flow of funds to these groups.” In other words, the Saudis tell us that they are implementing their promises even as they continue to fund terrorism.
Former U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey testified before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Government Reform in April this year that “[s]ome $85-90 billion has been spent from sources in Saudi Arabia in the last 30 years, spreading Wahhabi beliefs throughout the world.”
At least two members of the Saudi government, Riyadh Governor Prince Salman and Minister of Defense Prince Sultan, are sponsors of the Saudi High Commission, which evidence detailed in the 9/11 victims lawsuits shows “has long acted as a fully integrated component of al-Qaeda’s logistical and financial support infrastructure.” Moreover, the lawsuits detail that, “the Sept. 11 attacks were a ‘direct, intended and foreseeable product of [the High Commission’s] participation in al-Qaeda’s jihadist campaign.'”
Princes Salman and Prince Sultan are also affiliated with the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), which “had been involved in terror plans and plots and had purposely directed its activities against the United States.” The Princes have also been affiliated with the Saudi Charity al- Haramain, whose U.S. branches were shut down.
The most important finding by the GAO’s September report, however, was buried in a footnote. It says: “the distinction between the [Saudi] government’s support and funding, versus that provided by entities and individuals, especially in the case of Saudi charities’ alleged activities, is not always clear.”
While the U.S. Treasury Department is obligated to monitor funders of terrorism, the GAO reports that Treasury is not fulfilling its duty, in that Treasury “does not identify, monitor, or counter the support and funding or the global propagation of Islamic extremism as it relates to an ideology.” This ideology, according to the GAO, “denies the legitimacy of non-believers and practitioners of other forms of Islam, and that explicitly promotes hatred, intolerance, and violence…” Indeed, the propagation of this ideology, known as “DAWA,” is an integral part of Islamic institutions in the West.
Saudi officials, for their part, seem intent on obfuscating the kingdom’s ties to terrorism. “Saudi Arabia now has in place world-class laws and regulations to combat terror financing,” Prince Turki has maintained. At the same time, the prince is unwilling to account for the failure of the Saudi government to fulfill its promises to stop the propagation “Islamic extremism.” But he is perfectly willing to fault American policymakers for holding hearings to determine Saudi accountability in financing terrorism. Following last week’s hearing, the prince complained that “events like the hearing today do not contribute to a spirit of cooperation and only serve to reinforce negative misconceptions and half-truths.”
American legislators, however, have grown impatient with Saudi spin. Senator Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) stated at last week’s hearing that “Saudi Arabia needs to understand that we expect it to be a helpful ally in the war against terrorism and that there will be serious consequences for the U.S.-Saudi relationship if it is not.” In view of the Saudis’ continuing support of Hamas and Prince Turki’s dishonest remarks, it seems the time is ripe for the U.S. to spell out what those consequences are.
At the very least, Saudi Arabia’s lack of cooperation should not be rewarded. From that perspective, last Friday’s decision to grant the kingdom membership in the World Trade Organization is a step in the wrong direction.
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