Shocking cable: US says Saudi donors are chief financiers of al Qaeda

By John Byrne
Monday, November 29, 2010 8:51 EDT
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A quick aside in a New York Times article about leaked diplomatic cables is sure to spark renewed interest about the role of the US’ biggest ally in the Gulf supporting terrorism.

In their wide-ranging précis of the leaked cables, Times reporters Scott Shane and Andrew Lehren mention in passing a key detail from one of the diplomatic dispatches: “Saudi donors remain the chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like Al Qaeda.”

No other details about the cable are provided by the Times. The referenced cable is not linked, and Raw Story has been unable to locate the specific language among additional cables published by The Guardian. (If you find the cable, please email john@rawstory.com).

The admission is stunning, though it has been largely kept from public view, and hasn’t been admitted previously at such a high level. The “Blue Ribbon” Sept. 11, 2001 report noted that al Qaeda had raised money in Saudi Arabia but that no senior officials had provided material support.

Charges that Saudi donors have provided material support for terrorist groups — including Iraqi insurgents — are not new. A detailed Congressional Research Service report in 2007 highlighted repeated instances where Saudis were accused of supporting terrorist groups. The report was titled, “Saudi Arabia: Terrorist Financing Issues.”

“According to the U.S. State Department 2007 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, ‘Saudi donors and unregulated charities have been a major source of financing to extremist and terrorist groups over the past 25 years,’” the report’s authors wrote. “The September 11, 2001 attacks fueled criticisms within the United States of alleged Saudi involvement in terrorism or of Saudi laxity in acting against terrorist groups. The final report released by the bipartisan National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9/11 Commission) indicates that the Commission ‘found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded [Al Qaeda].’ The report also states, however, that Saudi Arabia ‘was a place where Al Qaeda raised money directly from individuals and through charities’ and indicates that ‘charities with significant Saudi government sponsorship’ may have diverted funding to Al Qaeda. U.S. officials remain concerned that Saudis continue to fund Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.”

The Congressional Research Service report cautions against concluding that the Saudi monarchy had any direct role in al Qaeda’s financing. It notes that the Saudi government has made “numerous official statements” saying that they are “committed to cooperating with the United States in fighting terrorist financing, pointing out that Saudi Arabia itself is a victim of terrorism and shares the U.S. interest in combating it.”

But it also goes on to lay out claims that individuals in Saudi Arabia have underwritten Iraqi insurgents.

“In October 2004, an unidentified Defense Department official told the press that private Saudi individuals and charities were channeling funds to insurgent groups in Iraq,” the researchers wrote. “Saudi officials vigorously denied the claims and appealed for U.S. officials to provide concrete information in support of the charges so that Saudi authorities could investigate and prosecute any individuals or entities that may have been involved. In December 2004, press reports cited intelligence gathered following U.S. military operations, including the November 2004 assault on Fallujah, which indicated that ‘a handful of senior Iraqi Baathists operating in Syria are collecting money from private sources in Saudi Arabia and Europe’ and are channeling it to insurgent groups. In addition, news accounts have quoted insurgent facilitators stating that Saudi young men are particularly valuable to insurgent groups because Saudis provide for their own expenses and often personally finance insurgent operations.”

“A senior U.S. Treasury Department official testified in July 2005 that Saudi individuals may be ‘a significant source’ of financing for the Iraq insurgency,” they add. “The Iraq Study Group report stated that ‘funding for the Sunni insurgency [in Iraq] comes from private individuals within Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.’ Iraqi officials have called on Saudi Arabia and other neighboring countries to do more to restrict financial networks operating in their countries from supporting insurgents in Iraq.”

Muqtedar Khan, Associate Professor of Islam and Global Affairs at the University of Delaware, criticized the Saudi government on the revelation at The Huffington Post, saying that the cables exposed Muslim governments’ hypocrisy.

“The… cables also reveal that even now the main financiers of al Qaeda are Saudi donors,” Khan writes. “American presidents George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama have identified al Qaeda as the biggest threat to the U.S., and yet they collude with the nation whose citizens are its biggest financiers. Why don’t the Saudis cut off the head of the real snake by arresting and imprisoning al Qaeda’s financiers? Most Americans know that fifteen of the nineteen terrorists that attacked the US on September 11, 2001, were Saudis. None were Iranians. A significant number of foreign fighters who joined al Qaeda in Iraq were Saudis. This is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.”

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