Special Guest Article
The Saudis: Friends or Foes?
So, after a bunch of Saudis ran airplanes into buildings on September 11, 2001, the USA responded by going to war against ... Afghanistan? And then Iraq? Sounds a little disconnected. Then came the roundup law, and U.S. residents from all Middle East nations had to register with the government, except for Israel, and -- you guessed it -- Saudi Arabia. What the heck is going on?
The Progress Report is pleased to present an original article by author Loretta Napoleoni, who examines the little-known economic background behind the US/Saudi relationship. Napoleoni, whose book Modern Jihad: Tracing the Dollars Behind the Terror Networks has just been published, gives us an article that is strident and well-researched. See for yourself.
by Loretta NapoleoniThe new mood in Washington these days is that the Saudis are once again our loyal friends. After a summer of discontent, Republicans have more pressing worries: how to fund the next presidential campaign? Several of them have already started lining up to knock at the Saudis' door. Why not? Four years ago, the Republican outreach to the fast-growing American Muslim community, which today stands at 7 million, contributed significantly to getting George W. Bush into the White House. For Grover Norquist, the well-known Republican fund-raiser who masterminded the coalition, it was an alliance made in heaven; “American Muslims look like members of the Christian Coalition,” he wrote in the summer of 2001 in the American Spectator.
The renewed optimism about the Saudis is backed by what the present administration believes to be major changes in Riyadh's 'war on terror'. The Saudis have assured us that collection of donations in shopping malls have stopped; that the central authorities have cracked down on charities; that radical Mullahs, whose job was to inflame people's hatred of the West and help them open their wallets, have been sacked. Crown Prince Abdullah even agreed to the creation of a joint anti-terrorist task force with the Americans, to be based in Riyadh.
Are these few measures enough to defeat Islamist terror? It seems highly unlikely. According to a recent UN report prepared for the Security Council, over the last 10 years Al Qaeda alone received 20% of Saudi GNP; stopping a few coins from being dropped at the entrance of a shopping mall will do very little to curb this kind of a figure. Again, the UN estimates that the Saudi Zakat, the obligatory religious almsgiving equivalent to 2.5% of Muslims' wealth, is about $10 billion per year. The bulk of this money is controlled by the Department of Zakat of the Saudi Ministry of Finance and National Economy. For example, the Zakat that Islamic banks levy on every single transaction is automatically forwarded to this department; the Ministry then channels the funds, at its own discretion, to the 241 Saudi charities. Naturally, the larger recipients are charities headed by members of the ruling elite. While no investigation into the past accounts of the Department of Zakat has taken place, or has even been considered, the recently implemented Saudi anti-terror measures have been limited, in this respect, to shutting down six charities and freezing $5.7 million held by them -- a figure equivalent to a mere one half of one percent of the total yearly Zakat!
Among the 236 charities still operational inside Saudi Arabia is the Committee for Support of the Intifada al Quds, whose charitable activities include financing Hamas suicide operations in Israel. The charity is headed by Saudi interior minister, Naif Ibn Adeb al Aziz, who, people may recollect, implied that September 11 attacks against the US were the work of 'Zionists'. Another prominent Saudi charity untouched by the crackdown is the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), which last year held a charitable fund-raising conference in Saudi Arabia where Hamas representatives had the chance to personally thank Crown Prince Abdullah for the Saudis' valuable financial help. Interestingly, while the US has put tremendous pressure on the Europeans to list Hamas' non-militant wing among the organizations regarded as terrorist, WAMY still operates freely inside the US. Among the tasks carried out by the US branch, which until September 11, 2001 was headed by Abdulah bin Laden, brother of Osama, is the spreading of hate literature against Americans. Recently, WAMY has promoted the ideas of one of its employees, Sheikh Saad al Buraik, the religious advisor of Prince Abdul Azziz bin Fahd, a son of King Fahd, who, in 2001, called for the enslavement of Jewish women and the death of all their children. So well-received was Buraik's anti-Jewish exhortation in his homeland that it got him a job as the host of a weekly TV show on the Middle East Broadcasting Company (MBC), owned by Azziz and his uncle, Waleed al Ibrahim. Is the Bush administration so naïve as to believe that firing a few young Mullahs here and there in Saudi Arabia will be enough to silence radical voices such as Buraik?
A topic carefully avoided by the US and the Saudis is the role that Saudi Islamic banks play in the distribution of funds to Islamist cells and armed groups scattered throughout the Muslim world. Many believe that the 20 pages of the report from the Senate Committee on Saudi financing of terror groups which the Bush administration blacked out contained valuable information about Saudi banks. Why has nobody investigated them? Former Al Qaeda members have testified that Osama regularly uses the intricate network of Islamic banks and their subsidiaries to bankroll the group's terror activities. More important than fund-raising, it is the distribution of funds which is the lifeline of terrorist organizations which run trans-national networks -- getting money across the world in the fastest and most secure way possible.
Saudi banks are heavily involved in the distribution business. The Dallah Al Baraka (DAB), one of the cornerstones of Saudi banking, has been named in the $1 trillion lawsuit filed by the relatives of September 11. The DAB was among the largest shareholders of the Faisal Islamic Bank, accused by bin Laden business associate, Jamal Ahmed Mohammed al Fadl, of having been one of the vehicles used to channel money to Al Qaeda around the world. No steps have been taken to shut down these banks or to investigate their books. Saudi dissidents in London point out that whenever the trail leads to banks, records disappear. Last week, in the special report on the Saudis published by Newsweek, one of the US administration's top counter-terrorism officials admitted that the records of one the Saudi charities suspected of bankrolling Islamist terror had mysteriously vanished.
Are the Saudis really our friends? Perhaps they are for the ultra conservative Republicans, who are getting ready to run for another presidential election and will stop at nothing, including sleeping with the enemy, to win it. But for America, the West and the Muslim world they are definitely not.
Loretta Napoleoni is an economist who has worked for banks and international organizations in Europe and the US. She has written novels and guide books in Italian and translated and edited books on terrorism. She is among the few people who interviewed the Red Brigades in the early 1990s. She developed the idea to research and write a book on the economics of terrorism while interviewing the leaders of the Red Brigades.
Napoleoni's new book, published September 2003, is Modern Jihad: Tracing the Dollars Behind the Terror Networks
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