Saudi Arabia’s Efforts to Expand Radical Islam and Support Terrorism by Rachel Ehrenfeld

On the eve of the Arab Spring, Rachel Ehrenfeld published a lengthy and important study titled, “Their Oil Is Thicker Than Our Blood“*on Saudi support for Islamist terrorism and the global expansion of the radical Islamic base, as well as the inadequacies of the Kingdom’s purported anti-terrorist efforts. While much has happened since, very little has changed regarding the patterns of Saudi behavior in this regard.

Despite continued public statements of support for U.S. and Western counterterrorism efforts, sporadic enforcement of new laws in the Kingdom regarding such things as money laundering, money transfers to dubious foreign recipients, and the occasional rousting of terrorist cells (al Qaeda- and Iran-affiliated), Saudi Arabia remains one of the most important sources of terrorist funding worldwide-if not THE most important source.

The U.S., while knowing this full well, has for many years doled out nothing but praise for the Saudis when it comes to fighting Islamist terrorism. This is as true now as it was after September 11. In this, the U.S. government has seemingly accepted the principal underpinning of the Saudi regime: buying off its would-be Islamist adversaries at home. The leading principle has been all along – not in our backyard. Thus the Kingdom’s support of Osama bin-Laden and al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

But Saudi funding to globally spread their Sunni radical version of Islam-Wahhabism–began in earnest in 1962 with the establishment of the Muslim World League (MWL), which expanded into at least to one hundred branches in more than thirty countries, and served as the main body for other international Saudi charities. Since then, the Kingdom’s charities have been estimated to spend between $1.5 and $2 trillion to build many thousand of mosques, madrassas and Islamic centers equipped with Saudi books and Imams, preaching the Wahhabi doctrine.

Here we offer our readers Dr. Ehrenfeld’s 2011 study to reinforce lessons that should have been learned long since. We also include the study’s original set of recommendations, as few if any have been taken to heart. —KDMJ

Their Oil is Thicker Than Our Blood

Overview: Saudi Arabia-as an Ally in the War on Terrorist Financing

For decades US officials publicly heaped praise on Saudi counterterrorism efforts, while the Saudis continued to fund terrorism.


In a 2003 interview, then-Secretary of State, Colin Powell, said that the American government had expressed its appreciation to the Saudi government for its actions in support of the global war on terrorism.[3] In 2005, during her confirmation hearing to the position of Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice commented that the United States previously “didn’t understand, really, the structure of terrorist financing very well.


We didn’t understand the role of non-governmental organizations that sounded like they were for good purposes but were, in fact, carrying out or funding terrorist activities. Others didn’t understand that, in the Muslim world, like the Saudis. And we have made, I think, great strides in doing that.”[4]


In 2007 US President George Bush certified the Saudi cooperation “with efforts to combat international terrorism.”[5] The Obama Administration followed suit. In July 2009, on a visit to Saudi Arabia, Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner lauded the Saudi government for having “taken important steps to combat financing for terrorist groups” and “to deter and disrupt those who support violent extremism.”[6]


However, some dared to disagree. In September 2007, US Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey told ABC News, “If I could somehow snap my fingers and cut off the funding from one country, it would be Saudi Arabia.”[7]


While Mrs. Clinton’s leaked memo did not directly accuse the Saudi government of supporting radical Muslim groups, it noted, “Riyadh has taken only limited action” to interrupt money transfers to Taliban- and LeT-affiliated groups that have been carrying out attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.[8]


Americans started targeting Saudi Arabian terrorist financing after the 9/11 attacks, when it was established that 15 of the 19 plane hijackers were Saudi and that Saudis had provided substantial financial support for the worst terrorist attack in American history.[9] The Kingdom was persuaded to cooperate on some counterterrorism efforts only in 2003, and a combined task force was established. After the terrorist attack in Khobar, which the Saudis attributed to a local al-Qaeda cell in May 2004, new legislation and harsh domestic anti-terrorist financing measures were put in place.[10]


Saudi Arabia criminalized money laundering and terrorist financing in 2003 and enforces it to prevent domestic terrorism. It also banned some Saudi-based charitable organizations[11] from transferring money internationally until additional regulations could ensure that the transferred funds would not be funneled to terrorist groups.[12] According to the new banking regulations, all international transaction over $15,000[13] need the approval of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) [14]- the Kingdom’s central bank. In addition, new regulations were enacted to control cash courier. As part of their US-coordinated counterterrorism strategy, the Saudi authorities also agreed to publicly condemn terrorism.[15]


Since 2005, the Saudi king, government officials, and the Saudi grand mufti have publicly condemned violence and extremism, promoted international cooperation in the fight against terrorism, and extolled the virtues of moderation.[16] However, the Saudis directed their counterterrorism campaign mostly to squelch domestic opposition.


The Saudis created its Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) in 2003,[17] and despite its legendary lack of transparency it was welcomed into the international Egmont Group (an international informal organization of FIUs)[18] The Saudis participate in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF),[19] and is the leading country of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council, with Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)), which participates in MENAFATF, which is an associate member of FATAF.[20]


In 2007 Saudi Arabia became a signatory to the United Nation’s’ International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism.[21] Still, a September 2007 Congressional Research (CRS) Report addressed “Saudi laxity in acting against terrorist groups”[22] and in the Act implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, the 110th US Congress noted that “Saudi Arabia has an uneven record in the fight against terrorism, especially with respect to terrorist financing.”[23] According to the 2009 State Department International Narcotics Control Strategy Report on money laundering, Saudi Arabia “continues to be a significant jurisdictional source for terrorist financing worldwide.”[24] Indeed, as Mrs. Clinton’s leaked cable pointed out, al-Qaeda, Hamas, and other jihadist groups continue to “raise millions of dollars annually from Saudi sources, often during Hajj and Ramadan.”[25]


In April 2010 the top council of Saudi clerics issued a fatwa (Islamic religious ruling) declaring terrorist financing a violation of Islamic law, and General David H. Petraeus, then Commander of the United State Central Command
(USCENTCOM) was quick to praise the issuing council for its “courageous decision” to issue the fatwa against terrorist-financing.[26]


While the Saudis’ new counterterrorist financing and new financial monitoring regulations looked good on paper, Mrs. Clinton’s leaked cable noted that “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”[27] Her cable also stated it an “ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority.”[28] Although the new cash courier regulation implementation continues to be inconsistent, the more Saudis, including terrorism financiers, seem to increase their use of hawala, a system of monetary transfers through anonymous intermediaries that leaves no paper trail.


A 2009 General Accounting Office (GAO) report on Saudi efforts to stop terror financing noted that Saudi donors are the major funders of radical Muslim organizations. The report further stated that Saudi financial institutions demonstrated a continued unwillingness to freely share information with Western authorities.[29] Clearly, when it comes to Saudi international counterterrorism measures, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Indeed, little has changed since Under Secretary Levey stated before Congress in July 2006, “On terrorist financing …there has been a real lag between what [the Saudis] say they were going to do and what they do.”[30]


As mentioned earlier, the Saudi royal family fears domestic terrorist groups, especially the Yemen-based branches of the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) group. Most of AQAP members are Saudi whose aim is to topple the royal family. The March 2011 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on Saudi Arabia details the Kingdom’s progress on its domestic al-Qaeda terrorists cells, [31] confirming the 2009 GAO’s finding that “U.S. and Saudi officials report progress on countering terrorism and its financing within Saudi Arabia.” However, the GAO report noted that there was hardly any efforts to prevent “funding for terrorism and violent extremism outside of Saudi Arabia” (Emphasis added).[32] Again, little has changed since Under Secretary Levey testimony before the Senate Finance Committee in 2008 that Saudi Arabia is “serious about fighting Al Qaeda in the kingdom…[but] the seriousness of purpose with respect to the money going out of the kingdom is not as high.”[33]


In 2010 the Saudis dismantled 19 AQAP cells in the Kingdom. The operation included the seizure of 2.24 million riyals (over $600K) and the detention of 149 cell members-including 25 from other Arab, African, and South Asian countries.[34] The arrests foiled at least ten attacks by AQAP on government and military targets, and officials, according to the Saudis. [35] In June 2010 after exposing a 60-person fundraising cell for AQAP, the Saudis announced that they were reviewing their terrorism strategy.[36]


With self-preservation in mind, the Saudi intelligence services tipped off the American, British, and German governments of AQAP planned terror attacks in late 2010. In October after the burqa ban was enforced in France, the Saudis warned of a possible al-Qaeda attack on the country.[37] In November the Saudis scored political points and public recognition for revealing that AQAP had planted explosives on European cargo planes bound for the United States.[38]


However, the State Department’s leaked cables confirmed the GAO’s 2009 conclusion that the Saudis showed “progress on countering terrorism and its financing within Saudi Arabia, but noted challenges, particularly in preventing alleged funding for terrorism and violent extremism outside of Saudi Arabia.”[39]


Ongoing Saudi Support for Terrorism by Direct Means


“The angry form of Islamism and Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia today is the soil in which anti-Western and anti-American terrorism grows.”[40]
-Former CIA director R. James Woolsey


Saudi efforts to bring Wahhabi Islam to global dominance began in earnest in 1962, with the establishment of the first international Saudi charity, the Muslim World League (MWL). Influenced by exiled Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood members, then-Crown Prince Faisal bin Abdul Aziz used the growing oil revenues to fund MWL, which in turn established many other Islamic charities and nonprofits that helped create the global jihadist movement we are facing today.


According to a report submitted to the president of the UN Security Council in December 2002, “One must question the real ability and willingness of the [Saudi] Kingdom to exercise any control over the use of religious money in and outside the country.”[41] In the year 2000 alone, Saudi citizens’ contributions to various Islamist groups amounted to $500 million. Most of the money went to cover expenses such as salaries, pensions, and “terrorcare” services that included hospitals and schools-especially (religious teachers) and madrasas.


Saudi Arabia is a theocracy dominated by Wahhabi power figures that (despite Saudi protestations to the contrary) control both governmental and non-governmental sectors of the country. The government/ruling family makes or breaks the wealth of all its subjects. Moreover, successive Saudi kings have created “charitable” organizations to fund the worldwide spread of Wahhabbism and have on occasion organized several national campaigns encouraging citizens to support Sunni terror organizations outside the country.[42] Thus it would be wrong to distinguish between contributions to radical Sunni organizations by the ruling family, the Saudi government, and wealthy Saudi subjects.


Afghanistan’s financial intelligence unit FinTraca reported in May 2010 that Saudi contributors have funneled over $1.5 billion to Afghanistan through Pakistan since 2006. Most of the money has entered Afghanistan through Pakistani tribal areas, especially through North Waziristan, which is known as “al-Qaeda’s heartland.” Mohammed Mustafa Massoudi, the director general of US-trained Afghan intelligence in Kabul, said, “We can trace it back as far as an entry point in Waziristan” the uncontrolled tribal border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Then went on, “Why would anyone want to put such money into Waziristan? [for] Only one reason: terrorism.”[43] The likely destination of the money was thought to be the Taliban and al-Qaeda.


Since 2006, these groups have killed at least 1,525 American soldiers in Afghanistan and maimed thousands more.[44] As former Under Secretary Levey declared in his April 2008 testimony before the Senate Finance Committee, “Saudi Arabia today remains the location from which more money is going to terror groups and the Taliban-Sunni terror groups and the Taliban-than from any other place in the world.”[45]


The Saudis also support Pakistan’s Laskhar-e Taiba (LET), a terrorist group most known in the West for perpetrating the Mumbai attacks in 2008, which killed over 200 people and injured over 300 more.[46] Pakistani police reported in 2009 that the Saudi al-Haramain Foundation-a charitable organization designated as a terrorist sponsor by both the US and Saudi governments[47]-gave $15 million to jihadists, including those responsible for suicide attacks in Pakistan and the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.[48]


The Saudi-based International Islamic Relief Organization’s (IIRO) Philippines branch, which was run until his death in 2007 by Muhammad Jamal Khalifa, Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law until his death in 2007, was designated a terrorist sponsor by the US Treasury in August 2006 “for facilitating fundraising for al Qaida and affiliated terrorist groups.”[49]


This apparently did not stop Saudi support for the al-Qaeda-affiliated Abu Sayyaf Group. A Wikileaks-released cable from the US Embassy in Riyadh described the US Government’s concerns with the IIRO’s continuing Saudi funding of al-Qaeda-affiliated group in the Philippines.[50] Dated February 24, 2007, and classified as “secret,” the cable detailed a February 6, 2007 private meeting between US assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Francis Fragos Townsend and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal. Townsend asked the foreign minister to stop the “involvement of the Saudi ambassador to the Philippines Muhammad Amin Waly in terrorism facilitation,” noting “his intervention to get two members of IIRO out of prison.” Prince Saud declared a belief that Waly’s actions “may have involved bad judgment rather than intentional support for terrorism” and Waly remained in his position until October 2009.[51]


Despite evidence of IIRO funding to radical Muslim groups the world over, the US Government has refrained from designating the IIRO in its entirety as a terrorist organization. As a result, the IIRO obtained membership in the United Nations’ Department of Public Information (DPI) in August 2010. This membership provides the IIRO the perfect cover from which to expand its reach.[52]


Saudi funding to the US-designated Muslim Brotherhood Palestinian branch, the terrorist organization Hamas, has never stopped.[53] In March 2007 Israel notified the US that Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh transferred a $1 million contribution he received in Saudi Arabia to Hamas’ “armed wing,” the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades.[54] On December 16, 2009, while Hamas was shelling Israeli civilians from the Gaza Strip, Haniyeh told Al-Jazeera that he passed $1 million in funding from a Saudi donor to Hamas’ “armed wing.”[55]


In January 20, 2009, even before Israel concluded Operation Cast Lead,[56] its defensive operations to stop terrorist attacks from the Gaza Strip, Saudi Arabia pledged $1 billion for the reconstruction of Gaza.[57]


As documented in my book Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed-and How to Stop It, several Saudi financial institutions openly funded terrorist groups throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. In September 2000, Saudi Arabia conducted two telethons for the specified purpose of raising funds for the families of Palestinian homicide bombers, including members of Hamas and the al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades.[58] Saudi Arabia also created the Saudi Committee for the Support of the al-Quds Uprising, based in Riyadh and run by interior minister Prince Nayef. This committee “reported the transfer of $55.7 million mostly to the families of suicide bombers and to the families of imprisoned or injured Palestinian militants.” Records found in the offices of the Tulkarm Charity Committee detail the payments to 102 Hamas terrorists who were killed in “martyr operation[s].”[59] In 2002 the Saudi Arabian International Islamic Relief Organization donated $280,000 to Palestinian organizations that the US has linked to Hamas.[60]


Non-Compliance with Counterterrorism Treaty Obligations


In 2007 Saudi Arabia ratified the 1999 International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism. The treaty requires that signatories cooperate “with one another in conducting inquiries,” including those on “the movement of funds relating to the commission of [terrorist financing].”[61]


Yet in January 2010, the Al Rajhi Bank, the largest Islamic bank in the Gulf Cooperation Council and the third largest commercial bank in Saudi Arabia, refused to comply with a subpoena issued in the terror financing trial of US operative of the Saudi based international al-Haramain Foundation (AHF), Dr. Peter Seda.[62] The evidence provided by the prosecution showed that a Saudi bank branch accepted $151,000 in traveler’s checks deposited in March 2000 in the name of the AFH.[63] The US Treasury Department designated the AHF in 2008 as sponsors of terrorism, stating: “Today’s action targets the entirety of the AHF organization, including its headquarters in Saudi Arabia. Evidence demonstrates that the AHF organization was involved in providing financial and logistical support to the al Qaida network and other terrorist organizations designated by the United States and the United Nations.” [64]The Saudis claim they have shut it down. But in 2009 the GAO reported it as still active.[65]


After the bank converted the dollars into Saudi riyals, the money was smuggled out of Saudi Arabia, possibly to Chechen mujahedeen (Muslims engaged in jihad (holy-war) against the infields).[66]


In addition to refusing to cooperate with an ongoing criminal investigation in the United States, Al Rajhi took the unorthodox step of suing to dismiss the administrative subpoena it received from the US Attorney’s office for the District of Oregon in July 2009. The bank is insisting that the office had no authority to issue the subpoena, that providing the records would violate Saudi law, and that the information was not requested using “appropriate diplomatic channels.”[67]


The Saudis blatant violation of the 1999 International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism did not stop the conviction of AHF’s US operative. However, the US Government did not openly challenge the Saudi government and no known sanctions have been taken against the bank.


Saudis Funding of and Fighting in the Iraqi Insurgency


Saudis have had a major hand in providing funds and fighters to the Iraqi insurgency. In February 2009, Abu Ahmed, one of the founders of the Iraqi insurgency who now works with American forces, revealed to Newsweek that he had been bankrolled by Saudi donations.[68] In 2006, it was reported that millions of Saudi riyals, often collected in the form of zakat (compulsory charity), were smuggled to Iraq to pay for missiles and other weapons.[69] The Associated Press revealed that in 2006, one Sunni cleric alone had received $25 million from Saudi Arabia, which he used to purchased arms.[70]


Through 2008, Saudis consistently comprised the largest proportion of foreign forces warring against Americans in Iraq. In 2005 NBC reported that 55 percent of foreign fighters in Iraq were Saudi;[71] in 2007 the New York Times revealed that at 41 percent representation, Saudis still accounted for “the largest number of fighters listed on the records by far.”[72] As of 2008, when foreign fighters started to flee Iraq, Saudis still comprised a significant chunk of anti-American forces.[73]


In November 2010, the Iraqi insurgency had reemerged in a series of attacks that killed more than 100 people and injured over 200.[74] It remains to be seen how many Saudi nationals will continue to participate in Iraqi Sunni insurgency attacks. The Wikileaks cable that singled out the Saudis as the primary backers of Sunni terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, indicates that Saudi support continues to play a vital role in the Iraqi insurgency.[75]
Saudi Terrorist Financing at the Grassroots


The foregoing facts show that Saudi counterterrorism efforts are lackluster at best. Saudi financial support continues as one of the major bloodlines of international terrorism, and Saudi nationals are active within the deadliest terrorist groups.


But Saudi support for terrorism extends much beyond direct deposits to openly radical elements. Direct financing of terrorist activities is but one of several means to further their agenda.


The Saudi aim at spreading Wahhabi Islam globally. To advance their goal they are said to have invested well over $1 trillion thus far. The money has gone toward the establishment of Saudi cultural and political influence in the West. Generous funds went to build mosques, to nonprofit Islamic organizations engaged in dawah (proselytization for Islam), to create a well-developed network of charitable organizations that provide financial aid to prisoners (including non-Muslims) in Western jails, as well as to fund academic chairs in Middle East Studies in universities around the world, and to lavishly fund student-exchange programs, to mention but a few.


In 2002 the Saudi government English weekly Ain-al-Yaqeen bragged that the royal family and the Saudi Kingdom have spent billions of dollars “to spread Islam to every corner of the earth.”[76] According to Ain-al-Yaqeen, the Islamic Center in Brussels, Belgium, received a total of more than $5 million; the Islamic Center in Geneva, Switzerland, receives annual support of close to $7 million; and the biggest Islamic Center in Europe, which the Saudis built in Madrid, Spain, received close to $8 million in total. The Saudi Kingdom’s efforts, under the leadership of King Fahd bin Abd al-Aziz, has been astronomical, amounting to many billions of Saudi Riyals.[77] “According to official Saudi information, Saudi funds have been used to build and maintain over 1,500 mosques, 202 colleges, 210 Islamic Centers wholly or partly financed by Saudi Arabia, and almost 2,000 schools for educating Muslim children in non-Islamic countries in Europe, North and South America, Australia and Asia.”[78]


Saudi Arabia has “fully or partially financed Islamic Centers in Los Angeles; San Francisco; Fresno; Chicago; New York; Washington; Tucson; Raleigh, N.C. and Toledo, Ohio as well as in Austria, Great Britain, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Russia, [and] Turkey.”[79] The Saudis also continue an aggressive global campaign to promote Islamic fundamentalism by generously funding initiatives for Islamic outreach and indoctrination to Wahhabi fundamentalism in Asia, the former Soviet republics and Africa.[80] They face growing competition from Iran, which is also engaged in an effort to proselytize the locals in these same areas to the radical Shiite version of Islam.[81]


From 1973 to the end of 2002, the Saudi Kingdom’s spending to promote Wahhabism worldwide (lately particularly in the West and especially in the US) was estimated by Reza F. Safa, the author of Inside Islam, at $87 billion.[82] As we shall see, Saudi investments continue at full throttle.


Saudi spending on religious and educational institutions in the United States and Europe went into high gear after the 9/11 attacks on the US.


Europe, the cradle of Western civilization, is home to more than 6,000 mosques,[83] many of which propagate radical Sunni views. For instance, a 2007 Times investigation revealed that the Deoband Islamic movement controlled almost half of the United Kingdom’s mosques and 17 of its 26 Islamic seminaries at the time.[84] Tablighi Jamaat (TJ), an offshoot of the radical Sunni Pakistan-based Deoband Islamic movement, has chapters in 120 countries.[85] The Saudis are major funders of this group.[86]


Ostensibly a peaceful missionary movement, Tablighi Jamaat is connected to the London Underground Bombings, an attempted bombing in Spain, and several attacks in the United States.[87] It serves as a recruiting ground for al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups[88] and also as a funder of terrorist groups such as the Pakistan-based Harakat ul-Mujahideen (HUM, a.k.a. Jamiat ul-Ansur),[89] which was designated by the US as a terrorist organization in 1999 and had ties to the abduction and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in January-February 2002.[90] It also funds Harakut ul-Jihad-I Islami (HUJI), which operates in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and India and was designated a terrorist organization in August 2010 by the US Department of State.[91]


By the end of 2008, the Saudis had poured over $700 billion into the Balkans. Conscious of the radicalizing influences of mosques and Islamic cultural centers, some European countries have taken a stand against Saudi-financed Islamic projects.[92] The IIRO has been identified as one of the most active organizations in the Saudi Balkan effort.[93]


In March 2010 the Sunday Times reported that the Saudis are transferring hundreds of millions of dollars to the Balkans to spread Wahhabism by funding a series of mosques, community centers, and charities.[94] Some are currently under investigation for terrorist ties. Also in 2010, the Norwegian government blocked the construction of a Saudi-financed mosque in Oslo and halted the construction of the planned mosque in Tromsoe in the Arctic Circle after a Saudi businessman pledged approximately 2.5 million Euros to the project.[95] In 2007 Tablighi Jamaat’s plans to build Europe’s biggest mosque near the site of the 2012 Olympics in London stalled after a public outcry[96]-an online petition against the construction drew over 255,000 signatures from the United Kingdom.[97] The plans to build the 12,000-person complex were finally aborted in January 2010 after the UK branch of the Pakistani Tablighi Jamaat failed to submit the required paperwork.[98]


The United States, where freedom of religion is protected by the Constitution, self-preservation instincts have been slow to develop. In his 2003 testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security, Stephen Schwartz, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, estimated that approximately 80 percent of the 1,200 American mosques at that time received Saudi funding and were under Wahhabi control.[99] In August 2010 the Washington Post estimated that the US had more than 2,000 mosques, but it did not provide information on Saudi direct and indirect funding.[100]


In New York City, news of the prospective construction of a mosque a few hundred yards from Ground Zero, has stoked months of tension and dispute.[101] One of the leading figures promoting the controversial Islamic Cultural Center is Imam Abdul Faisal Rauf, a self proclaimed moderate Muslim, who has a number of suspicious connections to Muslim Brotherhood fronts in the United States, Malaysia, the Gulf, and Saudi Arabia.[102] Rauf heads the American Society for Muslim Advancement and is a board member of the Malaysia-based Cordoba Initiative.[103]


One of Rauf’s partners in the Cordoba Initiative, Jamal Barzinji, was among the founding members of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT),[104] the Muslim Brotherhood’s forefront think-tank in the US, which “had been demonstrated by the Justice Department to be an unindicted coconspirator” in the Hamas front, the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) terror financing trial.[105] Barzinji, who leads IIIT, is considered “closely associated” with terrorist organizations such as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.[106] He is also a trustee of the Saudi-funded North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), which was named an unindicted coconspirator in the HLF terror financing case as well.[107] NAIT holds the deed to the terror-linked Dar al-Hijra Mosque,[108] whose development Barzinji authorized.[109]


Rauf has drawn Saudi support in the past. Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s Kingdom Foundation who owns many shares in American businesses, lavishly funds Muslim Brotherhood offshoots in the US,[110] such as the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA),[111] also donated $300,000 to Rauf’s American Society for Muslim Advancement.[112] Ironically, Talal has gone on record as opposing the construction of Cordoba House so close to Ground Zero. Nevertheless, Rauf has insisted that the project proceed and,[113] in an effort to smooth public sensibilities, Cordoba House is now being referred to instead as the Park51 Islamic Center.[114]


The Ground Zero mosque controversy is hardly the only debate raging on mosque construction in the United States. Many other mosques are planned for the United States, and some already exist.[115]


The state of Tennessee may soon hold three large Islamic complexes in the cities of Murfeesboro,[116] Antioch,[117] and Memphis. While Staten Island, in New York, recently scrapped unpopular plans for a mosque,[118] Brooklyn, New York, will soon be home to an Islamic Cultural Center.[119] Atlanta, Georgia, opened a $10 million mosque complex-the largest mosque in the state-in 2008.[120]


The Boston neighborhood of Roxbury, in Massachusetts, welcomed a $22 million, 60,000-foot Islamic Cultural Center with known radical ties in 2009.[121] Saudi financing is confirmed in the case of the Roxbury mosque,[122] which is run by the Muslim American Society,[123] another important Saudi-financed Muslim Brotherhood front in the United States.[124]


Other multimillion-dollar structures are constructed in or slated for construction in Sheboygan, Wisconsin;[125] Temecula Valley, California;[126] and Florence, Kentucky.[127] The sources of funding for these mosques are not known. But given the Saudis’ active role in Islamic promotion worldwide, and their special interest in influencing the US, it is likely that Saudi money is playing a major role in most of these mosque constructions.




Saudi money heavily influences academic institutions in the United States. Saudi donations to American universities have been going on for decades. Lately, however, the Saudis have signed agreements, worth at least $25 million each, with several major universities to help with the development of academic curriculums for the new King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in the Kingdom.[128] Such agreements were signed in 2008 with the University of Texas at Austin; the University of California, Berkeley; and Stanford University.[129] In September 2010 the Kingdom’s General Investment Authority (Sagia) signed the Georgia Institute of Technology to build a center to provide applied science degrees to students in Saudi Arabia.[130]


In the meantime, the Saudi government sponsors foreign study programs for approximately 60,000 Saudi nationals worldwide.[131] Since 9/11, the number of Saudis studying in the United States has spiked markedly, from 3,000 to over 30,000.[132] Of all Middle Eastern countries, Saudi Arabia sponsors the highest number of students in the United States.


In addition to fostering institutional partnerships, Saudis have donated millions of dollars to American schools, buying sway over the way Islam and Middle Eastern Studies are taught in the US. Saudi tentacles are even more deeply sunk into British universities. A 2008 report by Britain’s Centre for Social Cohesion shows that Saudi Arabian and Muslim organizations have poured over $460 million into British universities including Oxford, Cambridge, and the London School of Economics.[133] Oxford alone received over $39 million from the late Saudi King Fahd for its Centre for Islamic Studies.[134]


Billions of dollars worth of investments in Western campuses have reaped the Saudis’ massive dividends, rewriting the Middle East narrative in curricula of universities around the world and intimidating critical assessment of Islam and Muslims. Britain’s University and College Union has repeatedly tried to launch an academic boycott of Israel while Middle East studies-related activities at premier universities in the UK and the US are often fiercely anti-Israel.[135]


The radicalization of the young, wealthy and lonely Nigerian student Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab happened in the Islamic Society at University College London, which he attended, and in the London mosque he frequented, which was funded by the Saudi MWL. Abdulmutallab, better known as the 2009 failed Christmas underwear bomber, travelled to Yemen and was later recruited to al-Qaeda.[136] Further investigation by Britain’s counter-extremism think tank, Quilliam Foundation, revealed that members of the Islamic Society at London’s City University, a Wahhabi hotbed, are urging violence and preaching fundamentalist Islam.[137] Another UK survey showed that 60 percent of active members in Britain’s universities’ Islamic societies agree that killing in the name of religion can be justified, and that nearly the same number supports the imposition of a global caliphate.[138]




As with other contagious diseases, to successfully fight the spread of virulent Islamic radicalism, one must identify the origins of the outbreak (Saudi Arabia), as well as the contributing factors to its spread (Saudi oil revenues).


While Western cultures place a premium on coexistence, negotiation, compromise, and multiculturalism, Islam does not. Sharia-law-requires the subjugation or destruction of all non-Muslims. Its adherents value only the sharia, and join the jihad for its global domination, to create the ummah (Islamic nation). Exposing sharia and its radical proponents, be they states, organizations, or individuals, is crucial to our ability to protect ourselves and to take the necessary measures to curtail the spread of radical Islam.


Successive US Administrations have demonstrated willful blindness and recklessness vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia’s cultivation of Islamic radicalism and terrorism financing activities. The United States still trusts the Saudis to self-report on the progress of their counterterrorist financing efforts. When it comes to Saudi investments or contributions in the United States, the American government does not disclose information, making it difficult to discover the true extent of the Saudi financial, political, educational and social influence in America.


CAIR, ISNA, and other Saudi and Muslim Brotherhood organs enjoy ties to the American political establishment and are often portrayed in the media as religiously moderate and socially positive advocacy organizations. Legitimizing radicals as if they are moderates fosters the spread of terrorism throughout the world, including the new phenomenon of “homegrown” terrorism in the United States.
Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the Virginia-born psychiatrist, massacred 13 people at Fort Hood in 2009.[139] Eyebrows were raised when Pennsylvania native and Muslim convert Colleen LaRose, a.k.a. “Jihad Jane,” pled guilty in 2011 for plotting to murder Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks because he had lampooned the prophet Muhammad in one of his cartoons.[140] In upstate New York, the “Lackawanna Six” were local Yemeni-Americans who had attended al-Qaeda terrorist training camps in Kandahar prior to September 2001; they pled guilty to supporting terrorism in Buffalo two years later in a case that received little public attention.[141]
FoxNews reported in March 2011 that data compiled by the Department of Justice indicated “there has been a class-one terrorism case with a direct link between U.S. citizens … and foreign terrorist groups on average every two weeks since January 2009.”[142]


The mosques, Islamist NGOs and advancing homegrown terror starkly symbolize the depth of Saudi penetration into American civic life. Yet, because the US is so dependent on Saudi oil, little has been done to stop this penetration, and it is unlikely to be addressed anytime in the foreseeable future. The media, public and Congress should demand full transparency from the government and full disclosure of Saudi investments in and contributions to the US.


I. The US must impede the growth of the Saudis’ radicalizing influence on American education, business and politics. An important step towards achieving this most difficult task should be the ban of contributions to American educational institutions, nonprofits – including religious and charitable organizations from countries that prohibit religious freedom.


The 2010 annual report of the US Department of State on International Religious Freedom,[143] and the 2011 annual report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom,[144] designated countries that have “engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom” as Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs).[145] The list includes Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Pakistan, Egypt, Eritrea, Afghanistan, China, to name a few.[146] There is an additional Watch List of countries where the government engages in serious violations of or that tolerate violations of religious freedom.


While Saudi Arabia is the only country on the CPC list that enjoys “indefinite waiver of Presidential actions under section 407(a)(2) of IRFA,” it is also the largest contributor to US educational institutions, charities and non-governmental institutions (NGOs).[147] Direct and indirect large contributions are also sent by the United Arab Emirates, Iran and Kuwait.


The influence of Saudi and Gulf largesse on the radicalization of their American recipients has been widely documented, but no attempts have been made to stem the flow of the money that advances the agendas of regimes, which openly oppose the fundamental democratic freedoms provided by the US Constitution. Moreover, such contributions fund the development of subversive elements that use our First Amendment rights to undermine those rights.


The US would not be the first to ban such contributions. In November 2010, when the Norwegian government halted construction of that Arctic Circle mosque due to the Saudi pledge, the foreign ministry spokeswoman explained, “It would be paradoxical and unnatural to approve financing coming from a country where religious freedom does not exist.”[148]


Following in Norway’s footsteps, the US Congress should pass a bill that would require the disclosure of all contributions in cash and in kind to US charities, NGOs, educational and religious institutions from countries listed by the State Department as prohibiting religious freedoms or severely discriminating against religions other than the official religion. To deter Americans from receiving and/or soliciting such contributions, the US Justice Department should impose large fines and publish the violators’ names. This would be an important step towards curbing Islamic radicalization and influence.


II. The proposed Justice Against Terrorism Act (JASTA), an important bill to deter terrorism and provide justice for victims, was first introduced in December 2009 by Senators Arlen Specter (D-PA) and Charles Schumer (D-NY). The bill proposed removing the existing prohibition against suing foreign states or foreign officials civilly for damages related to acts of terrorism. JASTA would “expand the liability of foreign states for tortuous acts committed against U.S. citizens during a terrorist act and allow civil actions against a foreign state” and its officials, as well as “impose liability on any person who aids and abets an act of international terrorism, provides material support or resources to terrorist organizations, or conspires with terrorists.”[149]. Increasing the courts’ jurisdictional reach would allow plaintiffs to sue for appropriate damages and help deter individual or corporate entities from transacting with terrorist groups.[150] This critical bill never became a law, and, as of this writing, has yet to be reintroduced in Congress.


III. Saudi and Gulf terror financiers use libel laws and suits, mostly, but not only, in the UK, to silence investigations into their funding of radical Muslim organizations. After the 9/11 attacks, this tactic of lawfare known as libel tourism successfully chilled freedom of speech in the US and the world over.[151] By pressing frivolous and extortionate libel suits in British courts, one Saudi billionaire, Khalid bin Mahfouz, alone managed to muzzle over 45 major media outlets and authors, including many Americans.[152]


The threat of libel tourism to American authors and publishers ended in the summer of 2010. This was accomplished under costly and difficult personal efforts. The unwavering support from the Board of Directors of the American Center for Democracy, which I head-in particular, R. James Woolsey, Michael Mukasey, and Nicholas Rostow-and my brilliant, patient and generous attorney, Daniel Kornstein, made my struggle more tolerable. And the perceptive Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee with their dedicated staff, and many other supporters, made the passage of the SPEECH Act possible.


Rather than caving in after being threatened with a libel suit in London in 2005, I sued in New York, to block the enforcement of the English default judgment in the United States and then engaged in a multiyear campaign to pass remedial legislation at both the state and federal levels. New York, Illinois, Florida, California, Utah, Tennessee, Maryland and Louisiana all passed laws to protect against the enforcement of libel tourist suits. These, along with the federal SPEECH Act which became law in August 2010, provide protection to all American authors and publishers in print and on the Internet from frivolous libel suits abroad.[153] No longer intimidated by the threat of foreign libel judgments, American investigative researchers are now free to take advantage of the uniquely strong protections for freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.


IV. To curtail the frivolous libel suits in the US, by Saudi-linked organizations such as Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) file against their critics, Federal Anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) legislation is under consideration in Congress.[154] Together with the SPEECH Act, the anti-SLAPP legislation will deter frivolous libel suits within and outside the US and help secure the free speech rights Americans need to protect their freedom of expression.


V. But the battle does not stop there. In addition to following the Saudi money trail, Americans should be encouraged to openly criticize and pressure their own government’s obfuscation of Saudi Arabia’s role as the world’s primary sponsor of radical Islam and Islamic terrorism. As the Wikileaks cable on Saudi Arabia shows, this cover-up rises to the highest levels of government-American presidents, their Cabinet members, government officials, and diplomats continue to publicly praise Saudi Arabia while fully aware of its role as the primary global terrorism funder.[155]


VI. Cutting off the money lifeline to terrorists requires effective and evenhanded enforcement of counterterrorism and finance regulations. Instead, the US Government uses a selective process that allows activities of known terrorism fronts to continue. While authorities have arrested several members or affiliates of the primary Islamist organizations, the organizations remain open.


The terror ties of CAIR-a documented Muslim Brotherhood front-have long been laid bare in numerous court cases, the most recent of which is the aforementioned 2009 Holy Land Foundation (HLF) case.[156] That case exposed HLF as a Hamas fundraising front, declared ISNA “one of the chief conduits through which the radical Saudi form of Islam passes in the United States,”[157] and implicated both ISNA and CAIR as unindicted co-conspirators of HLF.[158] At least 15 CAIR officials have been identified in terror investigations, including CAIR founder, Ghassan Elashi.[159]
As the primary endorser of chaplains of the Muslim faith assigned to federal prisons, ISNA hand-picked imams to preach to inmates until the Bureau of Prisons discovered ISNA’s true agenda during the course of an investigation into the spread of radical Islam in American prisons and suspended the organization.[160] CAIR and ISNA should be shut down.


The US Treasury should freeze the assets of such groups and similar seemingly nonprofit organizations that are, in actuality, tools for spreading fundamentalist Islam through cultural influence and the sponsorship of terrorism. Such organizations include a host of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated entities, such as the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), the Muslim World League (MWL), and the Muslim Student Association (MSA). [161]


Congress should also demand an explanation of why the government allowed the reopening of an office of a terrorism front-the Florida office of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), designated as a terrorist organization by the US Department of the Treasury. Another disturbing example was described in the September 2010 testimony of attorney Eric Lewis before the House Committee on Financial Services regarding the possible laundering of up to $1 trillion(!) through the United States by “the Money Exchange,” a Saudi-based remittance company.[162]
Spearheaded by Maan al-Sanea, the chair of Saad Group and a major stakeholder in HSBC Bank, the Money Exchange operated internationally through a series of shell companies and correspondent banks, funneling billions of dollars annually through American bank accounts. The nature of the business and its transactional volume should have triggered close monitoring by US banks. Yet Lewis’s testimony reveals an utter lack of due diligence on the part of US financial institutions and the resulting silence on the part of the press and the American government.[163]


Such silences, if unchallenged, will jeopardize the national security of the US and lead to the suppression the freedom and democracy that are unique to America. Saudi and other radical-Islam promoting regimes’ direct and indirect involvement in and support of terrorism must be fully exposed and addressed if we are to maintain our security protect our liberty.


Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld is the Director of the New York-based American Center for Democracy (ACD) and the Economic Warfare Institute (EWI). She has authored hundreds of articles and several books on terrorist financing and political corruption.



* This article was first published in “Saudi Arabia & the Global Islamic Terrorist Network,” Chapter 10, pp-123-151, PalgraveMacMillan, November 2011.


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