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Saudi Charities supports terrorism - fact or fiction?

 

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In his book "Mein Kampf", Hitler explained that the technique of a big lie [emphasis added] meant that when an extremely big lie was repeated often, people would at least partially believe it. 

Now, in the 21st century, this technology has become a standard tool of the western media and the rhetoric of politicians.  Most notably, this point can be illustrated by the following example: 

There have been steady streams of accusations that finance for terrorists and/or terrorism attacks was channelled through Islamic charitable societies. This has been repeated often enough to the point where those who are trying to defend charitable societies had reason to believe that there may be some truth to it.  Instead of verifying the validity of the accusations, they inadvertently defend the accusations when the say; "If some money had been channelled by one employee of one society to terrorists, then one has not to generalise and accuse all charitable societies of wrong doing." 

Presently, and in the recent past in particular, when a terrorist attack / foiled attack  is reported in the media, the defenders of charitable societies assume that it is probable that those events/attacks were funded by or money passed through a charitable society.  No attention is paid to the fact that not a single case had been proved in a court of law to support accusations against an individual employee or society. 

The 9/11 investigating committee conclusively reported that the accusations labelled against charitable societies, regarding terrorist funding, were false and the following quotation (from the report) says it all:  ".the U.S. government appears, for the most part, to have tried to encourage the Saudis to act on the basis of little more than U.S. suspicions or assurances that the United States had intelligence it could not release." 

The report includes explicit statements which, when read carefully, will convince the reader that the obvious absence of a basis to support the accusations proves that the accusations were both false and unjustified. 

It should be noted that the report was written by two kinds of members - one, loyal to the government (attempting to reflect the government's official point of view) and the other, neutral. 

The final report was thus written in a compromised style in an attempt to combine the two contrasting approaches. The result of this compromise has subsequently led to the explicit statements which negate the accusations against charitable societies.  

Following, are extracts taken from "Chapter 7" of the "9/11 Commission's Report".

  1. The report had chosen al Haramain Islamic Foundation as a case study and defined it as follows:
  1. "The al Haramain Islamic Foundation (al Haramain or HIF) is one of the most important and prominent Saudi charities."
  1. "Al Haramain, a Saudi Arabia-based nonprofit organization established in the early 1990s, has been described by several former U.S. government officials as the "United Way" of Saudi Arabia.  . At its peak, al Haramain had a presence in at least 50 countries.  . it sponsors more than 3,000 "callers to Islam" for tours of duty in different locations "to teach the people good and to warn them from wrongs."  HIF provides meals and assistance to Muslims around the world, distributes books and pamphlets, pays for potable water projects, sets up and equips medical facilities, and operates more than 20 orphanages."
 
  1. The report stated that the U.S government suspected that HIF was involved in activities deemed undesirable to the U.S., and therefore subjected the society to thorough surveillance since the mid 1990s.  The report accordingly states that,
  1. "Al Haramain has been on the radar screen of the U.S. government as a potential terrorist-financing problem since the mid- to late 1990s."
  1. "By no later than 1996, the U.S. intelligence community began to gather intelligence that certain branches of HIF were involved in financing terrorism.  Later, the U.S. intelligence community began to draw links among HIF, the 1998 East Africa bombings, .and support for al Qaeda generally. The United States sought information and reports from the Saudis on employees of al Haramain around the globe and their connections to Bin Ladin, but received no substantive responses."
  2. "Some in the United States suspected that the Saudis were complicit or at least turned a blind eye to the problem posed by charities during this period, although others vehemently disagreed." [emphasis added]
 
  1. The report tells frankly about the pressure of the U.S. government on Saudi Arabia to take practical steps to curtail the activities of Saudi charities abroad. The Saudis on their part asked for information so as to have a basis that they could act on. The U.S. government however failed to give such information.  The report also indicated that the U.S. could not put pressure on the host countries to take action against branches of HIF due to insufficient evidence justifying the legality of such procedures.  The report states.
  1. "We did not provide sufficient information for the Saudis to act against charities like al Haramain."
  1. "Moreover, the U.S. government had too little unilateral intelligence on HIF and on al Qaeda's funding mechanisms generally to press the Saudis.  The Principals did not want to confront the Saudis with suspicions; they wanted firm evidence.  One NSC official Terrorist Financing Staff Monograph . indicated that there was some intelligence regarding charities, but it did not rise to the level of being actionable against any specific charity.  As he said, "One individual could be dirty, but it would be difficult to justify closing down a charity on that basis." Occasionally the U.S. government provided select pieces of information out of context, but this method lessened the impact of the intelligence."
  2. "Moreover as was the case before 9/11, the intelligence was simply not strong enough against the HIF headquarters to push the Saudi government to take aggressive action against the whole organization.  As an early 2002 strategy paper emphasized, the United States needed to gather more solid, credible evidence on al Haramain, which could be released to the Saudi government as a way to ensure continued Saudi cooperation. Although the intelligence community expressed repeated concerns that al Haramain was deeply corrupted, others argued that there was little actionable intelligence on the charity.  The intelligence presented to the policymakers was either dated, spoke to fund-raising for "extremism" or "fundamentalism" and not for terrorism, or lacked specificity.  Indeed, because of the lack of specific intelligence, the U.S. government was in "asking mode" on al Haramain when interacting with the Saudis. .During 2002, the Saudis repeatedly said they would be prepared to act against al Haramain if the U.S. government provided them with more information, especially about specific branch offices and individuals. . For instance, in October 2002 Under Secretary of State . raised with the Crown Prince strong concerns about the activities of several al Haramain offices.  The Crown Prince responded that he was ready to act on any specific information the United States could provide. . Perhaps even a tit-for-tat dynamic was at work:  the U.S. government did not share intelligence that the Saudis thought we had."
  1. The report goes further saying,
  1. "Then, on January 17, 2002, Assistant Secretary . provided the Saudi Crown             Prince with a proposal for a joint U.S.-Saudi freeze of the accounts of eight Saudi entities and . individuals, including the al Haramain offices in Bosnia and Somalia.  However, the Saudis were slow to respond to the U.S. proposal on the two al Haramain offices.    The issue was taken up by senior levels in the U.S. government.  For example, Treasury Secretary . raised the proposal on his March 2002 trip to Saudi Arabia.  Eventually, the Saudi government agreed to the joint designation of the two al Haramain offices, although it did not agree to designate the other six entities or individuals originally proposed.  On March 11, 2002, the U.S. and Saudi governments designated the Somali and Bosnian offices of al Haramain, freezing their assets and prohibiting transactions with them."
  1. "Even after the Saudi government froze the assets of the Bosnian office in March 2002, one senior Saudi government official denied in the press that the al Haramain office in Sarajevo was engaged in illicit activities."
 

It is clear from the aforementioned text that when the U.S. requested the designation of the eight individuals and organisations, they did not provide evidence to support the accusation; thus the Saudi government could not respond to the pressure of the U.S. regarding six individuals and commercial organisations.  The Saudis only acted against two branches of HIF even though they were not content or satisfied that the alleged accusations were true. 

  1. Despite the failure of the U.S. to provide evidence or at least information which could reasonably support the accusation against HIF and other charities, the pressure applied by the U.S. on the Saudis resulted in the closure of all foreign based branches of HIF.  No action was however taken against any employee, either Saudi or non-Saudi working in any of these offices.  Neither Saudi Arabia nor the U.S. took action because there was no evidence justifying legal action.  Many people were deprived of all humanitarian aid and activities which the report described in paragraph one.  The report States:
  1. "The Saudis responded to the increase in U.S. pressure . by articulating additional counterterrorism policies.  The measures were to include Ministry of Islamic Affairs preclearance of transfers of charitable funds overseas, host government approval of all incoming charitable funds from Saudi Arabia, and monitoring of charities' bank accounts through audits, expenditure reports and site visits."
  1. "On May 12, 2003, al Qaeda operatives detonated three explosions in an expatriate community in Riyadh, killing Westerners and Saudi Arabians.  Since then, the Saudi government has taken a number of significant, concrete steps to stem the flow of funding from the Kingdom to terrorists.  The Saudi government, in one of its more important actions after the bombings, removed collection boxes in mosques, as well as in shopping malls, and prohibited cash contributions at mosques.    Its sensitivity cannot be overestimated.  U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia described the removal of the collection boxes as a "cataclysmic event."    On May 24, 2003, the Saudi government followed up with comprehensive new restrictions on the financial activities of Saudi charities.  These included a requirement that charitable accounts can be opened only in Saudi riyals; enhanced customer identification requirements for charitable accounts; a requirement that charities must consolidate all banking activity into one principal account, with subaccounts permitted for branches but for deposits only, with all withdrawals and transfers serviced through the main account; a prohibition on cash disbursements from charitable accounts, with . payments allowed by check payable to the first beneficiary and deposited into a Saudi bank; a prohibition on the use of ATM and credit cards by charities; and a prohibition on transfers from charitable accounts outside of Saudi Arabia."
 
  1. In spite of the nature of the procedures which were taken as a result of the U.S. pressure on the charities, it appears that it was not enough to satisfy the desire of the U.S. in curtailing Islamic charitable work.  The report accordingly concludes with:
  1. "The Saudi government has come far in recognizing the extent of its terrorist-financing problem.   It remains to be seen whether it has truly internalized its responsibility for the problem." 

The anxiety the reader is expected to have after having read this is in stark contrast to the expectations the writers of the report had. They were aware that should the report be presented to Congress no one would bat an eye-lid regarding the gross human rights violations, after all, it is only about Muslims. 

When the ability of the surveillance is semi-meta physical, the time spent on such surveillance is long, the subject is uncovered, the motive to get incriminating evidence is great and when the outcome of the surveillance had failed to find / uncover any evidence to support the accusation - does this not mean that the accusation is absolutely false? 

The reader will notice that when the Saudis surrendered to the pressure of the U.S. regarding curtailing charitable societies, it was not because it received new information but after and because of the terrorist attacks on home soil. 

Apart from the report, other events continually uncovered the falsity of the accusations directed against Saudi charities; for example: the New York Times (07 July 2006) published an article titled "Algerian tells of dark term in U.S. hands."  The article speaks of an event that happened to the Director of HIF (Tanzania).  On 10 May 2003 he was abducted while on his way to the office. He then spent many days in different prisons before ending up in the notorious Bagram prison in Afghanistan, where he was subject to terrifying torture, of which the scars are still visible.  After 16 months he was released and the captors admitted that his capture and imprisonment was a mistake. 

The reader is reminded that since 1998 the U.S. media and U.S. politicians repeatedly accused al Haramain Charitable Foundation of being instrumental in the East Africa bombings.  However the U.S. could not take any action against HIF because there was no legal justification to do so.  The HIF office had not been closed until the abduction of the branch director, nor was it re-opened even after the release of the director and an admission that the accusation against him had been false.

 

Dr.Muhammad Abdullah Al-Sallomi

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