- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Saudis fight terrorism

The Saudi Embassy is circulating a report detailing its cooperation with the United States in the war on terrorism, as part of a campaign to combat claims it is financing Islamic extremists.

"The kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been at the forefront of international efforts to fight terrorism" since the September 11 attacks on the United States, said the report released yesterday, while Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan met President Bush in Texas.

The embassy said Saudi Arabia has shared intelligence information with the United States, detained thousands of suspected terrorists, frozen the assets of charities that supported terrorist groups, blocked money-laundering operations and imposed regulations on banks and financial-service companies to prevent the flow of funds to terrorists.

"Saudi Arabia and the United States maintain a counter-terrorism committee comprised of intelligence and law enforcement personnel who meet regularly to share information and resources and develop action plans to root out terrorist networks," the report said.

Saudi authorities have questioned more than 2,800 individuals, many of whom fought in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion, or in Bosnia and Chechnya, the report said. More than 200 remain in detention.

Saudi intelligence agents broke up a cell of seven men linked to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network. They were planning attacks on Saudi targets and attempted to use shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles to shoot down U.S. military planes at Prince Sultan Airbase.

The embassy said the government has blocked more than $70 million in suspected terrorist assets and frozen the accounts of the Somalia and Bosnia branches of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation. Saudi authorities determined that those branches were linked to al Qaeda but the Saudi-based headquarters of the charity was not involved.

Saudis waiting for visas

New U.S. visa rules in Saudi Arabia are delaying a Saudi oil company's plans to send more than 100 students to study in the United States.

The state-owned Saudi Aramco company yesterday said the visa applications were filed more than two months ago and the company may decide to send the students to another country to study, the Agence France-Presse news service reported.

The embassy instituted strict rules for visa applications last month, after news stories exposed the "visa express" system that allowed travel agents to file for U.S. visas on behalf of Saudi citizens. Now all Saudis between the ages of 12 and 70 must submit applications in person at U.S. consulates.

Austrian flood fund

The Austrian Embassy has opened a fund to help victims of the recent floods that have caused more than $3 billion in damage, claimed eight lives and left thousands homeless.

"The embassy is grateful for the may offers for help it received in the aftermath of the worst national catastrophe since the Second World War," the embassy said in announcing its flood fund.

Donations to the Austrian Flood Relief Fund may be sent to the Embassy of Austria, 3524 International Court NW, Washington, D.C., 20008-3027. Deposits also may be made directly to account 25446383 at any branch of Riggs Bank. Wire transfers must include the bank number, 0544030.

Swim to New York

The French Embassy is promoting a French marathon swimmer who plans to swim from Washington to New York to honor the victims of September 11 on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

The embassy has scheduled a Sept. 4 news conference to introduce Benoit Lecomte, who swam more than 3,700 miles across the Atlantic from Cape Cod, Mass., to France in 1998.

His 500-mile swim to New York will take him down the Potomac, across the Chesapeake Bay and into the Atlantic. He will stop at the Statue of Liberty, France's 19th-century gift to the United States, to "reaffirm his and his French countrymen's support to the American people and its ideals," the embassy said.

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