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Confronting the Enemies of Freedom By: Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, January 24, 2005


The incoming Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice made an unsettling statement during her confirmation hearing on January 18th, saying: “We didn't understand the role of non-governmental organizations [that were] carrying out or funding terrorist activities. Others didn't understand that, in the Muslim world, like the Saudis.”

But according to former Director for Transnational Threats at the National Security Council, Lee Wolosky: "The U.S. government had a clear understanding prior to 9/11 of the role that Saudi-based organizations and individuals played in financing terrorism.  The Saudis also had a clear understanding of this, since we told them about it.”

Indeed, the evidence supports Mr. Wolosky. Volumes of official U.S. government records document the role Islamist “charitable organizations” played in funding al-Qaeda, Hamas, and other terrorist organizations. A few examples: the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) was established as a non-governmental organization in 1978 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  It was financed by “the generous people of Saudi Arabia [including] King Fahd and the Royal family,” in the words of IIRO Secretary General Adnan Basha as paraphrased by the Washington Post on September 29, 2001.  Basha also noted that the IIRO “donated more than $60 million to the Taliban.” The Arabic periodical Rose al-Yusuf described the IIRO as “firmly entrenched with Osama bin-Laden’s al-Qaeda organization.”  Further evidence about the IIRO’s funding of al-Qaeda is illustrated by the activities of the IIRO office in the Philippines, which was headed by Osama bin-Laden’s brother-in-law, Muhammad Jamal Khalifa, who co-founded the Abu Sayyaf terrorist organization in that country.

Another Saudi charity, Mercy International, was identified in the trial testimony of al-Qaeda operative L'Houssaine Khertchou as the financial source behind the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.  After the bombings, the Kenyan government outlawed both Mercy International and the IIRO for their involvement in the funding of the embassy bombers.

Additional testimony given by expert witnesses during many Congressional hearings even before 9/11 identified the IIRO as a conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center attack; in plots to destroy the bridges and tunnels of New York city; in attempts to blow up 12 American Airlines flights simultaneously, and in a conspiracy to assassinate former president William Jefferson Clinton and Pope John Paul II.  Official Palestinian documents discovered by the Israeli Defense Forces in April 2002 likewise list IIRO donations of at least $280,000 to Palestinian organizations that the U.S. itself had linked to HAMAS.

The IIRO’s activities had achieved such notoriety that, after September 11th, the U.K.’s Charity Commission took “the IIRO off its list of registered charities on grounds that it did not function as one.” However, despite this British acknowledgement and despite the raiding of the IIRO offices in Virginia in March 2002, the U.S. government was persuaded by the Saudis that the IIRO had legitimate charitable functions. Taking the Saudis at their word, the US kept the IIRO off its designated terrorist list.  

Yet expert testimonies given in Congress have identified many other Saudi charities as financing al-Qaeda, HAMAS and other Islamist terror organizations.  The sheer volume of evidence presented led to US pressure on the Saudis, who, only after being attacked by “deviant” al-Qaeda members in Riyadh in 2003, took measures to rein in some of the charities. “They [the Saudis] just did not do too much about the problem until later - not until they themselves were hit in May 2003,” says Mr. Wolosky.  The 9/11 Commission concurred that, in Saudi Arabia, "charitable giving...until recently [was] subject to very limited oversight."  

In June 2004, a new Saudi National Commission for Relief and Charity Work Abroad was belatedly established to oversee all Saudi contributions supporting charitable donations abroad.  However, Saudi support of the spread of Wahhabism has not diminished.  Even now, Saudi state television continues to broadcast incendiary sermons from Medina to the rest of the world, in which the likes of Sheik Saleh Bdeir preach that  “the enemies of Islam, the Jews, Christians, [and] atheists…never cease attacking the Islamic nation” and exhort their followers to “confront your enemies’ efforts with greater and stronger efforts, before these enemies become stronger.”  Not surprisingly, Wolosky stresses that “reasonable people continue to differ on whether they are doing enough now and whether the United States is pushing them hard enough."    

Dr. Rice’s statement that neither the US nor the Saudis knew that charitable organizations funded terrorism is thus disconcerting.  It indicates that the administration will refrain from confronting Saudi Arabia for the role its newly government-controlled “charitable organizations” continue to play in the spread of the oppressing Wahhabism around the world.  Such a self-defeating policy will surely keep President’s George W. Bush’s vision of expanding freedom around the world from becoming reality.

Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld is author of Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed – And How to Stop It, Director of the American Center for Democracy and member of the Committee on the Present Danger.

Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld is director of the American Center for Democracy and author of Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It and a member of The Committee on the Present Danger.


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