Saudi societies fight back America’s uncharitable charges a year on

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By a Staff Writer

Published — Monday 9 September 2002

Last Update 9 September 2002 3:00 am

RIYADH, 9 September — The Kingdom’s charity organizations, accused of funding Osama Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network and other terror outfits, are fighting back one year after the Sept.11 attacks.

The charities, many run by respected Islamic organizations, are the backbone of Muslim fund-raising and relief activities throughout the world and strongly dispute the US allegations.

But numerous organizations and personalities have been placed on US terror-funding lists, such as Saudi businessman Wael Hamza Al-Julaidan, head of the Rabita Trust of the Makkah-based Muslim World League, whose name was added only last Friday.

Saudi Arabia has denied US statements that Riyadh had supported action against Julaidan and demanded proof of his implication. The charities view the general charges brought by the US Treasury Department as politically-motivated and orchestrated by Christian neo-conservatives and their Zionist allies with the aim of stopping Islamic benevolent work.

"America has tried to establish a link between terrorism and Islamic (charity) societies and failed," said Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation’s Director General Oqail Al-Oqail.

"We have more than once affirmed that well-known Islamic societies refrain from using their funds for violence and extremism," Oqail said in an interview with AFP.

"Let everyone know that moderate Islamic foundations which are committed to the right path of Islam have long been at loggerheads with those groups which adopt violence...and permit the killing of the innocent."

Saudi Arabia boasts more than 230 non-profit-making organizations which raise more than SR1 billion ($267 million) a year. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs oversees the societies, which dispense funds inside and outside the Kingdom.

"All Islamic charities in the Kingdom work in the open under the eyes of all," said Adnan Basha, director of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO).

"They send delegates and relief teams to distribute aid to the poor, needy, refugees, the displaced, orphans and widows in various parts of the world," Basha said. Both Al-Haramain and IIRO have offices in more than 50 countries. They also operate through Saudi embassies and local bodies in at least 40 other countries.

US Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill visited Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states earlier this year in a bid to prevent charitable funds from reaching the Al-Qaeda network.

All six Gulf Cooperation Council member states pledged after the suicide hijackings to cooperate with the United States and the United Nations in freezing accounts of suspected individuals and groups.

The fact that most Saudi charities had been active in Afghanistan for more than two decades automatically put them at the forefront of suspicion in the hunt to track down funding for Al-Qaeda.

Basha explained that all charity transactions abroad are carried out legally through banks and that aid goes through a three-tier vetting process.

Both Basha and Oqail insisted that their organizations keep annual budgets approved by their boards of directors as well as Saudi embassies, authorized agencies and auditors at home and abroad. All financial activities are monitored, they said.

Oqail said that two offices in Somalia and Bosnia, which were closed in March over charges of terror-funding, have now been reopened after they were acquitted.

Al-Haramain has in fact opened three more offices since the Sept.11 attacks and won more government recognition.

"Our (relief and fund-raising) activities have not been affected at all by the Sept. 11 attacks...In fact, we have expanded our activities," as donations have also increased, Oqail said.

Responding to US calls to clamp down, Riyadh said in February it would "take every possible action in accordance with relevant international resolutions to ensure that charity works are not misused for illegal purposes." Officials from the US Treasury, Federal Bureau of Investigation, State Department and National Security Council in December reviewed with the Saudi government efforts to dry up the financial resources of terrorism and the role of Islamic charities.

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