- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 12, 2003

Saudi Arabia said yesterday that last month’s suicide attacks in Riyadh prompted the desert kingdom to crack down on militants, cut off money to charities that fund terrorists and muzzle clerics who defend terrorism and Osama bin Laden.

But Adel al-Jubeir, a top adviser to Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah, said his nation would continue to aid Palestinian groups, even if some of the money wound up going to the families of suicide bombers or to the political wing of the violently anti-Israel Hamas group.

Mr. Jubeir told reporters at the Saudi Embassy that his government gives funds only to the Palestinian Authority and to international organizations such as the Red Cross and the United Nations, but conceded that some money may eventually underwrite local projects run by the political wing of Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Hamas, which has condemned the new U.S.-backed “road map” for a Middle East peace deal, drew an angry condemnation from the Bush administration yesterday after claiming responsibility for a suicide bombing of a bus in Jerusalem that killed 16 Israelis Wednesday.

“It is incumbent on every nation around the world to speak out and put the hammer down on Hamas, the [Palestinian Islamic Jihad], and stop funding them, stop allowing any resources to go to them,” Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said.

Mr. Jubeir said his government opposed all terrorist acts targeting innocent civilians, but refused to condemn Hamas directly, saying Israel’s oppressive oversight of Palestinian cities and its policy of targeted assassinations contributed at least as much to the latest cycle of Middle East violence.

“Our view has been, and remains, that we are against targeted assassination of individuals. We believe it is morally wrong,” he said.

He said it is “very possible” that individual Saudis continue to fund Hamas terrorist operations, but contended that as much or more money came from American donors.

Crown Prince Abdullah Monday pledged a crackdown on the financial oversight of the Saudi-based charities.

Mr. Jubeir said yesterday that global operations for controversial Islamic charities such as the Riyadh-based Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation have been frozen, as the government readies a single central monitoring agency to determine where the money goes.

Al-Haramain has shuttered its branches in Croatia, Albania and Ethiopia, and is moving to close its offices in Kenya, Tanzania, Indonesia and Pakistan, according to an embassy statement.

While funding legitimate charitable works across the Islamic world, Saudi charities have also been accused of funding fundamentalist operations such as extremist religious schools in Pakistan as well as Palestinian groups such as Hamas engaged in violent attacks against Israel.

“I can say with great confidence that Saudi Arabia has put the issue of charity oversight and control behind us,” Mr. Jubeir said yesterday.

He said the country is also trying to curb attempts by individual Saudis to bankroll terrorist operations at home and abroad, tightening money-laundering regulations and requiring bank-account transfers to be made only to other registered bank accounts.

The Saudi official said his country had been “galvanized” by the trio of suicide bombings in Riyadh a month ago, in which nine Americans were among the 35 victims.

Fifteen of the 19 September 11 hijackers carried Saudi passports, and the kingdom has been on the defensive on the terrorism issue ever since.

The kingdom said it has also cracked down on Muslim imams who have publicly called for support of the terrorists, dismissing about 100 clerics in the past month and ordering another 1,000 to education centers to be taught the correct Islamic approach to terrorism.

The Bush administration has consistently praised Saudi cooperation in the wake of the Riyadh bombings, but the kingdom has come in for intense criticism in the U.S. media and among private conservative advisers influential in the Bush administration.

The Saudi government this week also announced a new campaign to repair its image and advertise its efforts in the global war on terrorism, bringing a sharp response from the Saudi Institute, a Washington-based dissident news service.

“The government must stop wasting the nation’s wealth on useless ads, and instead direct that money to providing modern education, health care, and communications to satisfy the mounting needs of our population,” the institute said in a statement.

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