Saudis mount PR offensive

By Diana Lynne

Amid the recent revelation that donations from Princess Haifa bint Faisal ended up in the hands of Sept. 11 hijackers, Saudi Arabia launched a public relations offensive yesterday, denying allegations it deliberately finances terrorism.

“We believe that our country has
been unfairly maligned,” said Adel al-Jubeir, foreign policy adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah, at a press conference in Washington, D.C. “Saudi Arabia and the United States have been the
two countries that have worked the closest in the war on terrorism, with all due respect to naysayers,” he said.

Al-Jubeir lashed out at what he called a “feeding frenzy” in America of “severe and outrageous criticism [that] borders on hate.”

“I have never seen this side of America … this visceral, knee-jerk ‘if-it’s-Saudi-it’s-got-to-be-bad’ reaction. That’s what I find surprising,” he told reporters.

After describing how the Saudis have been a victim themselves of terrorism for 40 years, al-Jubeir listed the steps the Saudi government took to combat it even before the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S.,
including setting up a joint task force on terrorism with the United States in 1996 and freezing the assets in 1994 of Osama bin Laden, a Saudi national expelled for his ties to terror.

“We have been vigilant in trying to choke off the financing for
terrorists and those who engage in terrorism, because we believe that
the most important part in the international effort against terrorism is
to choke them of their financing and to handicap their abilities to do
damage to innocent people,” said al-Jubeir.

When asked if the kingdom bears some responsibility for Sept. 11, given that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis with allegiance to bin Laden’s al-Qaida network, al-Jubeir responded: “There is responsibility to go around for everyone. If you look at Sept. 11 it was conceived in Afghanistan, it was planned in
Germany, it was funded in Dubai, it was executed in America and they used Saudis. Everyone has a responsibility and everyone has an obligation to work together in order to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Al-Jubeir repeatedly stated that Saudi Arabia and the U.S. are “partners” in the war on terror and maintain a close working relationship that the Saudis have proposed to expand. He announced 33
accounts belonging to three individuals and one institution have been closed due to suspected ties to terrorists and that the Saudi government was looking at more individuals and entities.

Al-Jubeir also said the Saudi government has questioned over 2,000 people, currently holds more than 100 in detention, extradited 16 people from Iran to Saudi Arabia, and broke up an al-Qaida cell run by a Sudanese that was behind an attempt to use a shoulder-launched missile at Prince Sultan Air Base.

“We will be vigilant, we will be determined, and we will be merciless when it comes to dealing with
terrorism and those who perpetrate it,” he said.

Other steps reportedly taken by the Saudis include:

  • Adopting recent recommendations from a G-7 financial action task force with
    regards to terrorism financing

  • Asking the financial action task force to come into Saudi Arabia and give an outside assessment of the implementation of the recommendations
  • Adding “Know Your Customer” regulations to the banking system so that every dollar that leaves Saudi Arabia can be traced
  • Setting up a high commission for oversight of charities and conducting audits of charities
  • Al-Jubeir explained audits didn’t exist before because Saudis don’t pay taxes or file returns, so there is no public accounting.

    According to al-Jubeir, between 90 and 95 percent of charities in Saudi Arabia operate only domestically, and three large non-governmental charities based in Saudi Arabia operate internationally. He said these would now be required to coordinate their international activities with the foreign ministry.

    “We do this not to crack down on charity,” said al-Jubeir. “Charity is part of our faith. As Muslims we are required to give to charity and to give generously. And we are glad and grateful and proud that our people do so. Our desire is to ensure that the donors who donate funds to charities are assured that
    those funds go to the purposes they’re intended for,” he added.

    ‘Tax-deductible terrorism’

    Former federal prosecutor John Loftus
    claims the Saudi government has used charities as a front for sponsoring terrorist groups in the Middle
    East for 15 years, and that the U.S. government has provided cover for the kingdom’s covert operation.

    Earlier this year, Loftus sued Kuwaiti national Sami al-Arian to expose what he calls a “tax-deductible terrorism” cover-up, asserting al-Arian, who lives in South Florida, used state-regulated charities to solicit and launder money from the Saudi government which he then funneled to al-Qaida, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Loftus believes the Saudi purpose is twofold: the destruction of the State of Israel and the prevention of the formation of an independent Palestinian State.

    Al-Arian, a tenured professor suspended by the University of South Florida amid a federal investigation into his suspected association with terrorist organizations, has repeatedly denied being a terrorist or advocating violence and blames the media for fueling post-Sept. 11 anti-Muslim rhetoric.

    Loftus’ complaint cites specific testimony, highly classified documents and information from several confidential

    According to the complaint, the first documented instance where the Saudi government misused a charitable front was in the 1970s in connection with a group called “The American Friends of ABN,” the predominant organization within the Saudi-funded “World Anti-Communist League.” The CIA warned
    Congress in a secret document – now declassified – to have no contact with the ABN as the organization’s leadership consisted almost exclusively of former Nazi war criminals and collaborators
    from Nazi puppet regimes.

    During the 1980s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, according to Loftus’ complaint, the Saudis began to take over the direct funding of terrorist groups such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, headquartered in the former communist state of Syria. During the 1990s, the Saudis used domestic terrorist groups to launder money overseas for attacks against the State of Israel, and for the support of other terrorist groups like al-Qaida.

    According to expert Mideast analyst Daniel Pipes, Saudi Arabia’s rulers see themselves as leaders of the billion or so Muslims worldwide and the vanguard of a movement that eventually will vanquish and replace Western civilization, which they dismiss as corrupt and doomed. Pipes maintains this is partly due to the fact that Wahhabism, the extremist vision of Islam, predominates in Saudi Arabia. Pipes cites a confidential survey that found some 95 percent of young educated Saudis sympathetic to bin Laden’s declaration of war against the United States.

    Al-Jubeir said there is no proof of a direct link between Saudi charities and al-Qaida, and that the Saudi government had tried for the last 10 years to cut off funding to Hamas.

    “But that does not mean cutting off funding to Palestinians in the territories, building hospitals, building roads, buying pharmaceuticals, buying food,” he said.

    Informal charity

    U.S. authorities are investigating payments made by Princess Haifa bint Faisal, the daughter of the late King Faisal and wife of Prince Bandar, the Saudi envoy who is reportedly a personal friend of the Bush family.

    Newsweek reports the princess’ payments totaled tens of thousands of dollars and were made to a woman who passed on the checks to the wife of a man thought to be the front man for the Sept. 11 terrorists, and then ultimately wound up in the hands of two al-Qaida operatives who later became

    “The Bush administration and the Saudis have done a masterful job of turning attention away from …
    the trail that leads to the possibility that a foreign government provided support to some of the Sept. 11 hijackers,” Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., told Fox News Channel. Graham is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is probing 9-11.

    Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the top Republican on the committee, told CNN he is “suspicious” about Saudi charities’ ties to terrorist organizations and said U.S. authorities need to find “what kind of ally we have here.”

    “To think that my government uses the bank account of the ambassadress to pay informants is both ludicrous and insulting,” Turki al-Faisal, former chief of Saudi intelligence and the princess’ brother, is quoted by Newsweek as saying.

    Al-Faisal, himself, has recently come under scrutiny, having been named in a lawsuit by family members of 9-11 victims.

    Al-Jubeir deflected criticism of al-Faisal and speculation that his impending appointment to serve as
    Saudi ambassador to England is a move to protect him from the lawsuit, stating, “His appointment as
    ambassador to England is a credit to Saudi Arabia, a validation of his expertise and experience. … It has
    nothing to do with giving him diplomatic immunity … he already has diplomatic immunity.”

    Al-Jubeir also defended Princess Haifa whom he said was unaware that her charity was going to al-Qaida. He pointed to the incident as evidence of the difficulty of managing informal charity.

    “It will be difficult to deal with not just for Saudi Arabia but for every country. I understand the U.S.
    gives $10 billion a year in foreign aid and the American citizens give another $30 billion a year or so … and it’s very difficult to monitor this or to manage or control this,” he said. Al-Jubeir added that more
    education of the public to be vigilant about where their contributions go may ease the problem.

    Friend or foe?

    “The Saudi relationship is so sensitive that, for more than a decade, federal prosecutors and counter-terrorist agents have been ordered to shut down their investigations for reasons of foreign policy,” maintains Loftus. “Federal agents in Tampa, who had known about the Saudi-Sami al-Arian connection since 1990, were ordered to drop the investigation in 1995.”

    After 1995, John O’Neill, a senior official of the FBI responsible for collecting and collating counter-terrorist intelligence from all U.S. government sources, was assigned to a follow-up investigation
    of al-Arian, according to Loftus, but later resigned telling friends he was disgusted with the way the Saudis were being protected. Ironically, O’Neill was present at his new job as chief of security for the
    Twin Towers on Sept. 11 and was killed in the attack.

    In January, the German newspaper Die Welt reported that the CIA had been ordered to cover up and conceal Saudi funding of al-Qaida and other terrorist groups such as Hamas and that the Saudis were continuing to fund the al-Qaida terrorist networks even after Sept. 11. Citing German intelligence sources,
    Die Welt alleged that the CIA knew that the Saudi government was offering $5,000 bonuses to al-Qaida
    fugitives if they would resettle in Gaza and the West Bank and had paid $10 million to the government of
    Iran to ship heavy weapons and explosives to Palestine, a shipment that was intercepted by the Israeli navy.

    The BBC also reported that FBI agents were told to back off investigating the bin Ladens and the Saudi royal family following President Bush’s election. BBC2’s Newsnight program cited secret
    documents from the FBI investigation into Sept. 11 which purportedly showed two American-based members of bin Laden’s family are suspected of links with a possible terrorist organization.

    The program claimed to uncover a “long history of shadowy connections between the State department, the CIA and the Saudis.”

    The U.S.-Saudi 60-year-old relationship is largely built on mutual self-interest. The Saudis provide the
    United States with oil and gas and in return the U.S. provides the Saudis with security.

    But some Washington policy analysts want a reassessment of the U.S-Saudi relationship. In a Defense Policy Board briefing in July, analysts from the Rand Corporation think tank told former
    administration officials who consult the Pentagon that Saudi Arabia “supports our enemies and attacks our allies.” The analysis presented at the briefing concluded, “the Saudis are active at every level of the terror chain, from planners to financiers, from cadre to foot soldier, from ideologist to cheerleader” and recommended U.S. officials tell the Saudis to stop supporting terrorism or face seizure of oil fields and financial assets currently in the United States, according to the Washington Post.

    Both the Defense department and the Rand Corporation were quick to distance themselves from the report. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said there were some concerns over simmering Islamic fundamentalism in Saudi Arabia but on balance the relationship is “very productive.”

    Following yesterday’s press conference, the State and Treasury departments issued statements
    complimenting the kingdom’s efforts to fight terrorism.

    When asked if the kingdom would allow the use of bases on its territories for an invasion of Iraq, al-Jubeir responded that the Saudi government had not made a decision on the matter and any answer he could give would be “speculative.”

    “We need to see what happens with the inspectors on the ground. We need to see how extensive Iraqi cooperation is. We hope and pray for the sake of Iraq and for the sake of the region that Saddam will comply with the U.N. in a meticulous manner, will get rid of weapons of mass destruction and will spare his country and the region of potential catastrophe. If he doesn’t, we believe it’s up to the Security Council
    to decide what the next steps are and at that point we will have to see where we fit in,” he continued.

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