Report: Saudi Charities Back al-Qaida
By GEORGE GEDDA
WASHINGTON (AP - 17 Oct) - For years, Saudi Arabian officials have ignored Saudi-based individuals and charities that have been the main sources of financing for al-Qaida, according to a report by an independent group.
The report, written by a task force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, also said the Bush administration's current efforts to curtail financing for international terrorism are ``strategically inadequate'' to ensure sustained results.
To regain momentum, the report urged the administration to designate a special assistant to the president with a mandate to compel government agencies to coordinate their activities.
It added that the administration must pressure other countries to replace their ``woefully inadequate'' anti-terrorism programs with more vigorous efforts.
The report, released Wednesday night, said U.S. government spokesmen have systematically refused to acknowledge the ties of Saudi charities and individuals with al-Qaida.
That Saudis would play such a role is hardly surprising, the study said, noting that the kingdom has the greatest concentration of wealth in the region.
``Saudi nationals and charities were previously the most important sources of funds for the mujahedeen,'' the report said. ``Saudi nationals have always constituted a disproportionate percentage of al-Qaida's own membership; and al-Qaida's political message has long focused on issues of particular interest to Saudi nationals, especially those who are disenchanted with their own government.''
Maurice Greenberg, chairman and chief executive officer of American International Group, chaired the task force that produced the report. It was directed by two former National Security Council officials, William F. Wechsler and Lee S. Wolosky.
The report said that in 1999, Saudi Arabia approved amendments to its existing money laundering laws intended to bring it into compliance with international standards, but to date these amendments have not been implemented. As evidence, it cited recent State Department reports.
Asked about the study, a State Department official said the United States is very pleased with Saudi efforts to stop terrorist financing and help with other aspects of the counterterrorism campaign.
The official, asking not to be identified, said a lot has been achieved but a lot more has to be done.
The Saudi Embassy said in a statement last Friday that groups posing as charities in order to support and finance terrorist acts ``cannot be tolerated.''
It said that since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks:
``All charitable groups have been audited to ensure that there are no links to suspect organizations.
``New guidelines and regulations have been put in place to ensure that terrorist organizations cannot take advantage of these charitable groups in the future. These include financial control mechanisms.
``Charitable activities that extend beyond Saudi Arabia must be reported to the Foreign Ministry. Saudi Arabia has worked with the United States and other nations to block more than $70 million in suspect terrorist assets located in accounts throughout the world.''
But the Saudis have had difficulty shaking suggestions of at least a tolerant attitude toward terrorism.
A defense think tank specialist, Laurent Murawiec, told a Pentagon advisory group earlier this year that he believes the United States has been too indulgent of the Saudis.
``The Saudis are active at every level of the terror chain, from planners to financiers, from cadre to foot-soldier, from ideologist to cheerleader,'' Murawiec said, according to The Washington Post.
The Bush administration said Murawiec's remarks did not reflect U.S. policy.