- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 4, 2002

Saudi Arabia yesterday announced new controls on its Muslim charities to prevent the flow of funds to violent Islamist groups, as a top government spokesman angrily rejected criticisms that the oil-rich Gulf kingdom had not done enough in the global war against terrorism.
U.S. critics of Saudi Arabia welcomed the proposed crackdown, but noted that past efforts to secure Saudi cooperation had foundered when the trail veered too close to supporters of the ruling royal family.
Adel Al-Jubeir, foreign policy adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah, Saudi Arabia's de facto leader, condemned what he called a "feeding frenzy" of criticism in the United States directed at Saudi Arabia, saying the detractors were playing into the hands of Saudi-born terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden in driving a wedge between two longtime allies.
"We believe very strongly that pointing fingers and assigning blame doesn't get us or you or the rest of the world anywhere," Mr. Al-Jubeir told a packed news conference at the Saudi Embassy.
"What we need to do, as we have done, is join hands, wrack our brains together, and find ways to fight the scourge of terrorism."
Mr. Al-Jubeir also told reporters that Saudi Arabia plans to name Prince Turki al-Faisal, the kingdom's former intelligence chief, as ambassador to Britain.
He denied the appointment had anything to do with giving the prince diplomatic immunity to protect him from lawsuits stemming from the September 11 attacks.
Relatives of about 900 people killed in the attacks on New York and Washington filed a civil lawsuit in the United States in August accusing three Saudi princes, including Prince Turki, as well as Saudi and foreign banks, of funding bin Laden.
Officially, the Bush administration has praised Saudi cooperation in the wake of the September 11 attacks, in which 15 of the 19 hijackers carried Saudi passports.
"Our view has been all along that Saudi Arabia has been very cooperative in terms of the war on terrorism prior to and certainly since September 11," said State Department deputy spokesman Philip Reeker, who welcomed the news of tighter controls over Saudi financial flows.
Mr. Al-Jubeir said U.S. and Saudi officials also will "reinvigorate" a joint counterterrorism committee that will meet in Washington next month to assess the state of financial, intelligence and legal cooperation in the fight against terrorism.
But the rosy public line has been undercut by a string of private leaks displaying unhappiness with the kingdom's unwillingness to take on its conservative Islamic hierarchy or probe too deeply into questionable financial flows to suspect groups across the Muslim world.
The White House acknowledged last week that it was considering presenting the Saudi government with a final demand to freeze sources suspected of funding terrorists or face U.S. action. The demand came amid news reports that money provided by the wife of Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington may have found its way through an intermediary to two of the September 11 hijackers.
Rep. Eliot L. Engel, New York Democrat, said many questions remain about Saudi cooperation with the U.S. effort to shut off networks that finance terrorists.
"It is hard to reconcile today's statements by Adel Al-Jubeir with the millions and millions of dollars that have flowed from Saudi Arabia into the bank accounts of terrorists, fundamentalist militants and the families of suicide bombers," Mr. Engel said in a statement. "Their money is where their mouth is."
Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz has denied receiving any U.S. ultimatum on terror financing, and Omar al-Bayoumi, the Saudi national said to be the middleman in the passing of the funds to the September 11 attackers, told an Arabic-language London paper yesterday that he had not passed any funds along.
In an interview with the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Siyasa, the Saudi interior minister repeated the charge, widely circulated in the Middle East, that Saudis could not have participated in the attacks because Arabs were not capable of it. Only "Zionists" could have been capable of such a feat, he said.
Matthew Levitt, a senior fellow in terrorism studies at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a critic of past Saudi anti-terrorism efforts, said the kingdom's promises to help tend to melt away when the probe could embarrass the government or the royal family.
"What the Saudis are talking about doing now sounds promising, especially if they open up these records to international scrutiny," Mr. Levitt said.
"The problem has always been, however, that as soon as the investigation gets close to some really embarrassing dirty laundry, the shutters suddenly shut. And there's a lot of dirty laundry to find."
Mr. Levitt said some Saudi-based "charities" had been found to have ties to terrorist groups, including branch offices in Somalia and Bosnia-Herzegovina of the huge Saudi-based Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation.
Saudi money has gone to Hamas and to Palestinian groups in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that have battled Israeli forces and conducted suicide bombings and other attacks on civilians. Mr. Al-Jubeir said his government has tried for a decade to stanch the flow of funds to Hamas, but he defended humanitarian aid to Palestinian groups.
Mr. Al-Jubeir said yesterday that the Saudi government now requires all charities to conduct thorough audits of their donations. He said that had not been done before because the groups do not pay taxes in Saudi Arabia and never needed internal financial controls.


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