CIA: Saudis still sending tens of millions to Al Qaida
SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM
Wednesday, November 27, 2002
The CIA has traced transfers of tens of millions of dollars from the Saudis to Al Qaida over the last year, U.S. officials and congressional sources said.
The key backers of Al Qaida are said to be 12 prominent Saudi businessmen — all of whom have extensive business and personal connections with the royal family. These include ties to such ministers as Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz, Interior Minister Prince Nayef Bin Abdul Aziz and Riyad Governor Prince Salman.
In July, the Rand Corporation delivered a briefing the Defense Policy Board which warned that the Saudi royal family has grown dependent on Islamic insurgency groups linked to Al Qaida. The Saudis spend billions of dollars in supporting anti-Western religious activities throughout the world, Middle East Newsline reported.
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The CIA has tracked the flow of the funds of the 12 businessmen and have urged U.S. allies in Africa, Asia and Europe to freeze the assets of the Saudis. So far, no action is said to have been taken.
On Tuesday, officials said the National Security Council has discussed a plan to pressure Saudi Arabia into ending the flow of funds to Al Qaida. They said one proposal, which has not yet been approved, calls for a U.S. ultimatum that would give the kingdom 90 days to crack down on Al Qaida or face unilateral U.S. action. Officials would not elaborate what this action would involve.
"The facts are not in dispute," a congressional source familiar with the CIA investigation said. "The CIA has briefed key congressional committees on the Saudi violation of its promises to stop funding to Al Qaida. The argument between the administration and Congress concerns what do we do now."
The United States relayed the names of the businessmen to Riyad in February. But officials and congressional sources said the kingdom took no action against them.
ABC News identified one of the businessman as Yassin Al Kadi. He was described as a multi-millionaire involved in banking, chemicals, diamonds and real estate.
"I fear that many people in the royal family or people close to the royal family have been aiding and abetting terrorists, wittingly or unwittingly," Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican and a leading member of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, said.
"The president believes that Saudi Arabia has been a good partner in the war against terrorism," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, who confirmed the council's discussions, said. "But even a good partner like Saudi Arabia can do more in the war against terrorism. And that involves the financial front, diplomatic front."
Earlier, Treasury Undersecretary Jimmy Gurule told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Saudi Arabia has agreed to establish an oversight committee on Islamic charities. But Gurule acknowledged that the United States will not have any influence on this panel.
A report by the New York-based Council of Foreign Relations said Al Qaida's global fundraising network leans heavily on Saudi Arabia. The report said Al Qaida's network is built upon a foundation of charities, nongovernmental organizations, mosques, web sites, intermediaries, facilitators and banks and other financial institutions. Some donors are aware that their money will fund Al Qaida attacks, the report said.
Others donate money to legitimate humanitarian efforts, but the money is nonetheless diverted to Al Qaida.
"For years, individuals and charities based in Saudi Arabia have been the most important source of funds for Al Qaida," the report said. "And for years, Saudi officials have turned a blind eye to this problem."
Al Qaida channels funds through banks, Islamic banks and money changers, the report said. The movement also employs trade in gold and other other commodities to move and store value.
The organization, which began in the late 1980s, was established by Osama Bin Laden through the use of Saudi funds funneled to Islamic insurgents fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Al Qaida's financial network was maintained when the organization moved from Saudi Arabia to Sudan, and then Afghanistan.
"Al Qaida differs from traditional, state-sponsored terrorist groups in one critical way: it is financially robust," the report said. "Having developed multiple sources of support, it is free from the control of any government and able on its own to maintain its organizational infrastructure, communications systems, training programs, and operations. As such, it historically has been able to operate from failed or dysfunctional states."