Saudis to Monitor Islamic Charities
Saudi Arabia says it is cracking down on Islamic charitable organizations that have been linked to terrorist groups and is requiring Saudi charities to report all international donations and activities to the government.
In a public relations offensive responding to U.S. criticism of the desert kingdom, the Saudi Embassy in Washington said it planned to issue a report today listing dozens of actions the Saudi government has taken against terrorism.
“Saudi Arabia has been wrongly accused of being uncooperative in combating terrorism,” said Adel Jubeir, foreign policy advisor to the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah. “These charges have gotten out of control.”
Saudi Arabia has come under widespread criticism because Osama bin Laden, leader of the Al Qaeda terrorist network, comes from a prominent Saudi family; because 15 of the 19 hijackers in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were Saudi citizens; and because investigators believe that millions of dollars have flowed from Saudi donors to Islamic extremist groups around the world.
A senior State Department official said Monday that the Saudi actions were “moving in the right direction” but still fell short of what the Bush administration hopes to see.
“Are they doing everything we’d like? No,” he said. “Are they doing a lot? Yes.... What you’ve got here is Saudi Arabia playing catch-up.”
Jubeir said the most significant new action Saudi Arabia is taking is to tighten controls on charitable donations to Islamic organizations.
“In the past, we may have been a little bit naive.... We did not have adequate controls in place,” he said in an interview.
“We don’t have taxes in Saudi Arabia, so nobody files any returns and nobody audits the charities,” he said. “We found that even the charities sometimes didn’t really know where their money was going.”
He said the Saudi government has established the Higher Commission for Oversight of Charities and is requiring charitable groups to submit audits of their operations and coordinate their activities abroad with the Foreign Ministry.
The issue of overseas charities is particularly sensitive, because some international Islamic groups have been accused of acting as conduits for terrorist funding.
Three big international charities -- Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, the World Muslim League and the International Islamic Relief Organization -- have come under special scrutiny, U.S. and Saudi officials said. Last March, the U.S. and Saudi governments blocked the bank accounts of Al Haramain branches in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Somalia because of suspected links to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
Jubeir said controls on those charities are still being put in place.
The senior State Department official said this was one area where the United States is still pressing Saudi Arabia for more action. “Religious giving is a gray area,” he said. “This is a start, but it doesn’t choke it off.”
The Saudi government has told U.S. officials that it was considering a new law to prohibit charitable transfers outside the kingdom unless they go through government channels
Jubeir said the report was prepared even before Princess Haifa al Faisal, the wife of Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington, came under scrutiny because some of her charitable donations appeared to have landed in the hands of two of the Sept. 11 hijackers. The princess has said she did not intend to send funds to the hijackers and did not know how they got them.
The report lists many steps Saudi Arabia has already revealed about its investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks, Jubeir said.
For example, it includes a previous estimate that Saudi Arabia has questioned more than 2,000 people about the attacks, but it does not include an estimate of the number who have been detained, he said.
Jubeir said his government does not want to reveal the details of its internal law enforcement actions. He noted that the U.S. has not revealed the number of people it has detained in connection with the attacks.