- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Saudi Arabia has been dogged for years by charges that portions of its vast oil wealth have been diverted to Islamic terrorist groups such as al Qaeda.
Revelations that money from the wife of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi ambassador to Washington, may have found its way to two of the September 11 hijackers have revived an often bitter debate about whether the Saudis are doing enough in the U.S.-led war against terrorism.
A study released by the Council on Foreign Relations last month slammed the Saudi record in unusually blunt language.
"It is worth stating clearly and unambiguously what official U.S. government spokespersons have not," the report said. "For years, individuals and charities based in Saudi Arabia have been the most important source of funds for al Qaeda; and for years, Saudi officials have turned a blind eye to this problem."
Saudi citizens and Saudi-based charities helped fund Islamic fighters in Afghanistan and militant Islamic schools in Pakistan, according to the council's study, written by two former National Security Council members.
Saudi nationals, including Osama bin Laden, "constitute a disproportionate percentage of al Qaeda's membership," the study said. Fifteen of the 19 September 11 hijackers were Saudi nationals.
Among the instances critics cite:
Saudi-backed humanitarian organizations, such as the Mercy International Relief Organization, have been named as front groups for terrorist operations, including the operatives who carried out the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.
The al-Wafa Humanitarian Organization, another major Saudi charity, has been linked to bin Laden's organization, carrying out legitimate charity work as well as financing more suspect groups.
The Saudi government has made payments of about $5,000 each to the families of more than 100 Palestinian suicide bombers. The payments were detailed in records recovered by the Israeli army during raids in the spring.
The Saudi High Commission for Aid to Bosnia, established by a Saudi prince, was found to have photos of the World Trade Center and other terrorist targets when NATO officials raided its headquarters in September last year.
The CIA is circulating to banks worldwide a secret list of 12 prominent Saudi businessmen accused of continuing to funnel millions of dollars to bin Laden, ABC News reported yesterday. All have business or personal connections to the royal family.
Saudi defenders, who maintain an aggressive and well-funded public relations team in Washington, angrily deny any suggestion that the kingdom supports terrorist groups. They say the Saudi kingdom's record of generosity and support of charities throughout the Muslim world has been used against it by enemies of better U.S.-Saudi relations.
Ziad A. al-Sudairy is chairman of one of Saudi Arabia's biggest mining companies and a member of the Consultative Assembly, the highest legislative body in the country.
Mr. al-Sudairy, meeting with reporters during a Washington visit last week, said it would be "senseless" for the Saudi government to finance radical Islamic groups.
"We are the first target of Osama bin Laden," Mr. al-Sudairy said. "His main issue has always been to overthrow the Saudi Arabian government, to get the foreign troops out of our land. It would be suicide for us to support him."
The Bush administration, eager to retain Saudi acquiescence in the war against terror and any strike against Iraq, has refused to publicly criticize Saudi Arabia's record in clamping down on the financing of Islamic terrorism.
"The Saudi response on matters involving the war on terrorism has been very strong," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday.
"We've worked together on law enforcement. We've worked together on financial matters. We've worked together on intelligence, military and other aspects of cooperation against terrorism," Mr. Boucher said.
But critics say the Saudi regime is only too willing to buy off potential dissidents with its bottomless oil revenues. Even if there is no explicit link, Saudi authorities are careful not to ask too many questions about where their money winds up.
Such may have been the case with Princess Haifa al-Faisal, the wife of the high-profile Saudi ambassador.
Although she follows the traditional low-key role of a female member of the Saudi royal family, friends report that the Western-educated princess does not wear the traditional abaya covering except when she is at home in Saudi Arabia.
Last night, she released a statement denying any involvement with terrorism.
"My father, King Faisal, was killed in a terrorist act in 1975. I find that accusations that I contributed funds to terrorists outrageous and completely irresponsible," she said.
Samia Farouki, a Jordanian-born businesswoman who is a friend of the princess, was among those who said that Princess Haifa was the last person one would suspect of supporting terrorist causes.
"It is beyond belief that she has been put into this embarrassing position," Mrs. Farouki said, noting that the couple have sent their eight children to leading British and U.S. universities. "She hates terrorism. Her father was killed by a religious fundamentalist extremist."
King Faisal, a driving force behind the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, was assassinated by a nephew in 1975.


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