Saudi Arabia: Terrorist Financing Issues
Updated June 11, 2008
Christopher M. Blanchard
Analyst in Middle Eastern Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
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 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 groups. In April 2008, Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and
Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey told the Senate Finance Committee that the Saudi
government is "serious about fighting Al Qaeda in the kingdom, and they do," and
argued that Saudi officials' "seriousness of purpose with respect to the money going
out of the kingdom is not as high." He added, "Saudi Arabia today remains the
location from which more money is going to terror groups and the Taliban -
terror groups and the Taliban -
Saudi officials insist that their counter-
are not limited to targeting domestic threats. In numerous official statements, Saudi
leaders have said they are committed to cooperating with the United States in fighting
terrorist financing, pointing out that Saudi Arabia has been a victim of terrorism and
shares the U.S. interest in combating it. Saudi leaders acknowledge providing
financial support for Islamic and Palestinian causes, but maintain that no official
Saudi support goes to any terrorist organizations, such as Hamas.
Al Qaeda affiliated terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia from 2003 to 2006 appear
to have given added impetus to the Saudi leadership in expanding counter-
financing efforts. Since mid-
force with the United States to investigate terrorist financing in Saudi Arabia;
shuttered some charitable organizations suspected of terrorist ties; passed anti-
laundering legislation; banned cash collections at mosques; centralized control over
some charities; closed unlicenced money exchanges; and scrutinized clerics involved
in charitable collections. A planned National Commission for Relief and Charity
Work Abroad has not been established. As required by the Intelligence Reform and
Terrorism Prevention Act (P.L. 108-
of the 9/11 Commission Act (P.L. 110-
For more information about Saudi Arabia, see CRS Report RL33533, Saudi
Arabia: Cube updated to reflect major developments.
Since the 1970s, private Saudi citizens, Saudi government ministries, Saudi
government charitable committees, and international Islamic charity organizations
based in Saudi Arabia have provided financial and relief assistance to Muslims
around the world. This has included the provision of assistance to individuals and
groups engaged in or victimized by various nationalist and religious conflicts.
Similar public and private Saudi efforts have financed religious education and
proselytization programs in dozens of Muslim-
countries. In places such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Philippines, Chechnya,
Bosnia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Kashmir, Kosovo, and the West Bank and Gaza, some
of these activities appear to have provided financial or material support to individuals
or groups actively involved in terrorism, armed violence, or the propagation of
divisive religious ideologies. In 2007, the U.S. Department of State reported that,
"Saudi donors and unregulated charities have been a major source of financing to
extremist and terrorist groups over the past 25 years."1
Official U.S. government concerns about this trend were apparent prior to the
September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which amplified public criticism within the
United States of alleged Saudi involvement in terrorism or of Saudi laxity in acting
against terrorist groups. Various critics have accused the Saudi government of
directly supporting terrorism and of creating a permissive environment that has
allowed funding to flow to terrorists and extremists. 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.
The Bush Administration's statements on Saudi Arabia's counterterrorism
policies have praised new Saudi efforts to combat terrorist financing, while generally
confirming accounts that suggest that the activities of some Saudi entities and
individuals have contributed to the spread of terrorism and extremism over time. In
April 2008, Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence
Stuart Levey told the Senate Finance Committee that the Saudi government is
"serious about fighting Al Qaeda in the kingdom, and they do," and argued that Saudi
U.S. Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement,
International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, 2007.
officials' "seriousness of purpose with respect to the money going out of the kingdom
is not as high." He added, "Saudi Arabia today remains the location from which
more money is going to... Sunni terror groups and the Taliban than from any other
place in the world."
This report: reviews allegations of involvement by Saudis in terrorist financing
together with Saudi rebuttals; discusses the question of Saudi support for Palestinian
organizations and religious charities and schools (madrasas) abroad; analyzes recent
steps taken by Saudi Arabia to counter terrorist financing (many in conjunction with
the United States); and suggests some implications of recent Saudi actions for U.S.
Saudi Arabia: Allegations of Terrorist Financing
In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, numerous allegations have been
leveled against the Saudi Arabian government and prominent Saudi citizens
regarding financial support for international terrorist groups. Although many of the
allegations fault the Saudi government for failing to act decisively to close down
channels of financial support, some critics go so far as to accuse Saudi government
officials of responsibility for the September 11 attacks through design or negligence
and for the continuing threat posed by the perpetrators or by like-
groups. Since September 11, U.S. government officials have welcomed "undeniable
progress" in the Saudi Arabian government's efforts to combat terrorist financing,2
while maintaining concern that "wealthy donors in Saudi Arabia are still funding
violent extremists around the world, from Europe to North Africa, from Iraq to
Southeast Asia."3 The following are summaries of the more publicized post-
September 11 reports of alleged Saudi involvement in terrorist financing.
The 9/11 Commission.4 The final report released by the bipartisan National
Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States 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,
U.S. Treasury Secretary John W. Snow, "Statement following Visit to Saudi Arabia,"
September 17, 2003.
Testimony of Stuart Levey, Under Secretary, Office of Terrorism and Financial
Intelligence, U.S. Department of the Treasury, Before the Oversight and Investigations
Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee and the International Terrorism
and Nonproliferation Subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee, May
4, 2005; and Testimony of Daniel Glaser, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Terrorist
Financing and Financial Crime, U.S. Department of the Treasury, Before the Senate
Committee on the Judiciary, November 8, 2005.
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, "The 9/11 Commission
Report," July 22, 2004.
and through charities," and indicates that "charities with significant Saudi
government sponsorship," such as the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, may have
diverted funding to Al Qaeda. (For more on this subject see `Action Against
Questionable Charity' below.)
Specifically, the report describes bin Laden's use of "the Golden Chain," an
informal financial network of prominent Saudi and Gulf individuals originally
established to support the anti-
U.S. officials state that this network collected funds and funneled them to Arab
fighters in Afghanistan, and later to Al Qaeda, using charities and other non-
governmental organizations.5 According to the Commission's report, Saudi
individuals and other financiers associated with the Golden Chain enabled bin Laden
and Al Qaeda to replace lost financial assets and establish a base in Afghanistan
following their abrupt departure from Sudan in 1996. These activities were
facilitated in part, the report argues, by the "extreme religious views" that exist
within Saudi Arabia and the fact that "until recently" Saudi charities were "subject
to very limited oversight."
Although the report highlights a series of unsuccessful U.S. government efforts
to gain access to a senior Al Qaeda financial operative who had been detained by
Saudi Arabia in 1997, the report credits the Saudi government with assisting U.S.
officials in interviewing members of the bin Laden family in 1999 and 2000. The
report argues that these meetings were integral to U.S. efforts to understand the role
of bin Laden's personal wealth in the financing of Al Qaeda. As a result of this
assistance, U.S. officials learned that Saudi government actions in the early 1990s
had in effect divested bin Laden of his share of the bin Laden family fortune, leading
Al Qaeda to rely thereafter on a "a core group of financial facilitators" based in the
Persian Gulf "and particularly in Saudi Arabia" for funding. The report also credits
Saudi government actions following the May 2003 bombings in Riyadh which
"apparently reduced the funds available to Al Qaeda -
Council on Foreign Relations Studies.6 An independent task force
sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations has issued two reports that address
terrorist financing and Saudi Arabia's alleged financial support for terrorism. The
FBI agents discovered a handwritten list of 20 alleged Al Qaeda financiers during a March
2002 raid on a Saudi-
the group as "the Golden Chain." Further details were submitted to the U.S. District Court
for the Northern District of Illinois by federal prosecutors in January 2003. The 9/11
Commission Report cites the following document: "Government's Evidentiary Proffer
Supporting the Admissibility of Co-
Arnaout, No. 02-
Terrorist Financing. Report of an Independent Task Force Sponsored by the Council on
Foreign Relations, October 2002. Available at [http://www.cfr.org/pdf/Terrorist_Financing
_TF.pdf] and Update on the Global Campaign Against Terrorist Financing. Second Report
of an Independent Task Force on Terrorist Financing Sponsored by the Council on Foreign
Relations, June 15, 2004. See [http://www.cfr.org/pdf/Revised_Terrorist_Financing.pdf].
The Council on Foreign Relations does not institutionally endorse the studies produced by
its independent task forces, and notes that task force members are solely responsible for the
content of their respective reports.
task force's October 2002 report strongly criticized what it asserted was Saudi
financial support for international terrorist groups. For example, the report stated
both in its summary and in the main body: "For years, individuals and charities
based in Saudi Arabia have been the most important source of funds for Al Qaeda.
And for years, Saudi officials have turned a blind eye to this problem." The authors
argued that a connection between Saudi donors and Al Qaeda is logical for several
Saudi Arabia possesses the greatest concentration of wealth in the region; Saudi
nationals and charities were previously the most important sources of funds for
the mujahideen [fighters against the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan]; Saudi
nationals have always constituted a disproportionate percentage of Al Qaeda's
own membership; and Al Qaeda's political message has long focused on issues
of particular interest to Saudi nationals, especially those who are disenchanted
with their own government [emphasis added].
The report grouped Saudi Arabia with Pakistan, Egypt, and other Gulf states and
regional financial centers as "source and transit countries," implying that donations
to terrorist causes not only originate in these countries but also that donations from
other countries pass through them en route to terrorist organizations. The Saudi
government responded by charging that the report's allegations were based on "false
and inconclusive information."7 A Treasury Department spokesperson reportedly
described the report as "seriously flawed" because in the Department's opinion it did
not describe new initiatives to combat terrorist financing adequately.8
The task force's second report, released in June 2004, updates the first report
and chronicles the steps the Saudi Arabian government had taken to strengthen its
financial, legal, and regulatory systems and to combat terrorist financing since late
2002. The report acknowledged the Saudi government's announcement of "the
enactment or promulgation of a profusion of new laws and regulations and the
creation of new institutional arrangements... intended to tighten controls over the
principal modalities of terrorist financing." The report welcomed the steps and
concluded that "on a comparative basis" Saudi Arabia had taken "more decisive legal
and regulatory action to combat terrorist financing than many other Muslim states."
The second report also identified several areas in which its authors argued that
Saudi authorities could have done more to combat terrorist financing. It argued that
additional action was essential "because of the fundamental centrality that persons
and organizations based in Saudi Arabia have had in financing militant Islamist
groups on a global basis." The report cited a lack of publicly available enforcement
information as the basis for its questions about the Saudi government's commitment
to implement its new terrorist financing laws and regulations. For example, the
report specifically criticized the Saudi government's "failure to punish, in a
demonstrable manner, specific and identified leaders of charities found to be
Royal Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, "Response to CFR Report," October 17,
2002. Available at [http://www.saudiembassy.net/2002News/Press/PressDetail.asp?cYear=
Douglas Farah, "Report: Terror Funds Flow Through Saudi Arabia," Washington Post,
October 16, 2002.
funneling money to militant Islamist organizations." Saudi authorities claimed at the
time to have prosecuted five individuals "for terror financing" and frozen the assets
"of number of other individuals."9
In response to the second report's release, Adel Al Jubeir, then-
advisor to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and chief Saudi spokesman, charged that
the task force's conclusions were "politically motivated, ill-
incorrect."10 A Treasury Department spokesperson reportedly agreed with the report's
assertion that Saudi Arabia should take further steps to combat terrorist financing.11
The September 11 Lawsuit. In mid-
600 victims of the September 11 attacks filed a suit for approximately $1 trillion
against three members of the Saudi royal family, a number of financial institutions
and individuals, and the government of Sudan. The suit, which the Saudi media have
described as an attempt to extort Saudi deposits in the United States, alleges that the
defendants enabled the September 11 attacks to occur by making financial resources
available to the perpetrators. On November 14, 2003, however, Judge James
Robertson of the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia ruled that two of the
leading defendants, Defense Minister and now Crown Prince Sultan and former
Director of Intelligence and Saudi ambassador to the United States Prince Turki Al
Faisal, were entitled to foreign sovereign immunity for their official acts. [Burnett v.
Al Baraka Inv. and Development Corp., 292 F.Supp.2d 9 (D.D.C. 2003)].12
Arab Bank Lawsuits. Families of victims killed or injured in terrorist attacks
in Israel have filed two civil lawsuits against Arab Bank PLC of Jordan in the U.S.
District Court of New York seeking approximately $2 billion in damages [Linde et
al. v. Arab Bank, 04 CV 02799 (E.D.N.Y. filed July 2, 2004) and Almog et al. v.
Arab Bank, 04 CV 05564 (E.D.N.Y. filed December 21, 2004)]. Although the Saudi
government is not a party to the lawsuit, the complaints allege that the Saudi
Committee for the Support of the Al Quds Intifada used accounts established at Arab
Bank as conduits for funds to charities and individuals in the West Bank and Gaza
Strip associated with the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), Islamic Jihad, and
other terrorist entities (for a full description of the Committee, see Funding for
Palestinian Organizations below). The complaints also allege that the Saudi
Committee used accounts in Arab Bank and Arab Bank branches in the Palestinian
territories to provide "insurance benefits" to the families of suicide bombers and
others killed or detained in confrontations with Israeli security forces.
In court documents filed with the U.S. District Court in response to the lawsuits,
Shukri Bishara, the chief banking officer for Arab Bank PLC, states that "beginning
in December 2000, the Saudi Committee made approximately 200,000 payments into
Adel Al Jubeir, Interview Transcript: CNN Late Edition, June 15, 2004.
Adel Al Jubeir, "Saudi Arabia Blasts CFR Task Force Report," June 15, 2004. Available
Reuters, "Saudis Doing Better Battling Terror Funding-
See also Carol D. Leonnig, "Judge Rejects Saudi Terrorist Link," Washington Post,
November 15, 2003.
Palestine through Arab Bank branches totaling over US$90,000,000."13 According
to the documents, these funds were primarily used to support "unemployed
Palestinians, persons in hospitals, Palestinians that were wounded or injured in the
violence, persons whose houses were destroyed as well as payments to Palestinian
schools hospitals and infrastructure in general." Bishara contends that the lawsuits'
allegations of Arab Bank's involvement in a conspiracy with Saudi officials to
promote Palestinian suicide terrorism are "completely false and untrue." Press
reports quote Bishara as stating that Arab Bank "did not have prior knowledge of
payments to the families of suicide bombers."14 In 2003, the Central Bank of Jordan
(CBJ) ordered all Jordanian banks "to freeze any dealing" with six Hamas figures and
associated charities. In response to the lawsuits' allegations, a Saudi Committee
official stated that the Committee "didn't know that some of the people we were
sending money to were relatives of suicide bombers."15 In the past, however,
Committee officials have indicated that the Committee supported "the families of
Palestinian martyrs, without differentiating between whether the Palestinian was a
bomber or was killed by Israeli troops."16
In a February 25, 2005 announcement, the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the
Currency (OCC) ordered the New York branch of Arab Bank PLC to halt its
traditional banking activities, including the transfer of funds and the opening of
accounts. The OCC order characterized "the inadequacy of the branch's controls
over its funds transfer business"as "especially serious." On August 17, 2005, the
OCC announced a $24 million civil fine against the New York branch of Arab Bank
PLC because of "deficiencies in the Branch's internal controls, particularly in the
area of Bank Secrecy Act and Anti-
2, 2005, U.S. District Judge Nina Gershon dismissed two of the eight counts in
lawsuits filed against Arab Bank PLC but allowed the rest to proceed to trial. In
January 2007, Judge Gershon ruled that Israelis and other foreign nationals could
pursue similar claims in U.S. court under the terms of the Alien Tort Claims Act of
1789. Statements from Arab Bank in response to both rulings declared, "Arab Bank
remains confident that it will prevail at trial. The bank abhors terrorism."18 In July
2007, Representative Anthony Weiner introduced the Arab Bank Accountability Act
Declaration of Shukry Bishara in Support of Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, November
11, 2004. Linde et al. v. Arab Bank, 04 CV 02799, E.D.N.Y.
Bloomberg, "Arab Bank Says it Didn't Know of Payments to Bombers' Families,"
February 10, 2005.
In May 2002, Mubarak Al Biker, the "executive manager" of the Saudi Committee to
Support the Al Quds Intifada, stated "we support the families of Palestinian martyrs, without
differentiating between whether the Palestinian was a bomber or was killed by Israeli
troops." Ra'id Qusti, "Saudi Telethon Funds Go Direct to Palestinian Victims," Arab News
(Jedda), May 27, 2002. Available at [http://www.arabnews.com/?page=1§ion=0
Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Civil Money Penalty 2005-
Associated Press, "Federal Judge Allows Terror Lawsuits Against Arab Bank to Proceed,"
September 2, 2005.
(H.R. 2985), which would require the Secretary of the Treasury to release certain
information related to Arab Bank, would block property belonging to Arab Bank
under U.S. jurisdiction; and would revoke Arab Bank's banking charter.
Joint Congressional Report. The declassification and release in mid-
of the report of the Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities before and
after the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001 also brought attention to the alleged
role of Saudi Arabia in supporting terrorism. In the 900-
on foreign support for the hijackers is virtually all blanked out -
because the Administration refused on national security grounds to release the
chapter in a public forum. There has been speculation about the degree to which the
deleted pages might reveal Saudi complicity in the September 11 attacks. According
to the press, persons who claim to have read the still-
say it covers Saudi links with individuals involved in the attacks.19 The Saudi foreign
minister appealed to President Bush to publish the censored pages so as to enable
Saudi Arabia to rebut these suspicions, but the President refused on the grounds that
an ongoing investigation of the September 11 attacks might be compromised.20
The Brisard "U.N." Report. A controversial private report issued by French
allegations about the involvement of prominent Saudi nationals in the financing of
international terrorist organizations. The United Nations Security Council did not
solicit or endorse Brisard's report, although it has been mischaracterized as a U.N.
report in the public record.21 Although most public allegations of Saudi support for
terrorist activities have not quantified the amounts of money involved, Brisard's
report asserted that Al Qaeda received between $300 million and $500 million during
the decade prior to 2002, by "abusing this pillar of Islam [charitable donations] and
taking advantage of the Saudi regulatory vacuum."22 Brisard described Saudi donors
as "wealthy businessmen and bankers." The report has been the subject of a lawsuit
in the United Kingdom regarding defamation of character, and a British High Court
ruled in July 2004 that allegations contained within the report were "untrue."23
James Risen and David Johnston, "Report on September 11 Suggests a Role by Saudi
Spies," New York Times, August 2, 2003.
Mike Allen, "Bush Won't Release Classified September 11 Report," Washington Post,
July 30, 2003, p. A1; David Johnson and Douglas Jehl, "Bush Refuses to Declassify Saudi
Section of Report," New York Times, July 30, 2003.
An April 29, 2004 correction appended to Joel Mowbray, "Saudis Behaving Badly,"
National Review Online, December 20, 2002, reads, "The Brisard Report was an unsolicited
document submitted to the U.N. by its author." See also a private letter written by former
U.N. Security Council President Alfonso Valdivieso that disassociates the U.N. from
Brisard's report. Available at [http://www.binmahfouz.info/pdf/faqs_5_jsb_12march.pdf].
F i nancing. J CB Cons ul t i ng, D e c e mb e r 1 9 , 2 0 0 3 . A va i l a b l e a t
The full text of the Court's judgment is available at [http://www.binmahfouz.info/pdf/
[Mahfouz v. Brisard & Others, High Court of Justice, Queen's Bench Division,
United Kingdom -
Allegations of Support for Iraqi Insurgents. Since 2004, a number of
statements from U.S. officials and other unnamed sources have alleged that private
individuals and organizations in Saudi Arabia have financially supported insurgent
operations in Iraq.24 News accounts have suggested that insurgent recruiters and
facilitators prefer to deal with Saudi young men because Saudis provide for their own
expenses and often personally finance insurgent operations.25 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.26 The Iraq Study Group report (p. 25)
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.27
Saudi authorities initially denied the claims, but have since acknowledged that
Saudi citizens have traveled to Iraq or otherwise offered material support to the
insurgency. Saudi officials claim to have taken action against suspected insurgent
financiers. The Saudi government administers official aid programs in Iraq under the
supervision of the Saudi Committee for the Relief of the Iraqi People and the Saudi
Red Crescent Society. Prince Nayef bin Abd Al Aziz, the Saudi Minister of Interior,
directs the Committee's operations.28 In May 2003, the Saudi government
established an official government bank account, Unified Account Number 111, to
consolidate public and private donations in support of the Iraqi people.29 Saudi press
reports describing the operations of the Committee and the Red Crescent Society
indicate that numerous shipments of food aid and medical supplies have been
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. 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. John Lumpkin,
"Insurgents Infiltrating Iraq Have Cash," Associated Press, October 22, 2004; and, Royal
Embassy of Saudi Arabia, "Saudi Official Refutes Allegation that the Kingdom is
Neglecting Issue of Funding to the Iraqi Insurgency," October 23, 2004.
"Our brothers in Iraq are asking for Saudis. The Saudis go with enough money to support
themselves and their Iraqi brothers. A week ago we sent a Saudi to the jihad; he went with
100,000 Saudi riyals ($27,000). There was a celebration among his brothers there!" See
Testimony of Stuart Levey, Before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and
Urban Affairs, July 13, 2005.
Tarek El Tablawy, "Iraq Minister Urges Neighbors on Militants," Associated Press, May
Agence France Presse, "Saudi Telethon Raises $11.5 Million for Iraqis," April 28, 2003.
See Royal Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, "Bank Account Ready to Receive
Donations for Iraqi Aid," April 24, 2003. Available at [http://www.saudiembassy.net/
delivered across Iraq since April 2003, including shipments to the former-
stronghold of Fallujah during the summer of 2004.30 Other Saudi based charities,
including the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) have also delivered
aid to Iraq, including to Fallujah and other areas of fluctuating insurgent activity.
According to press reports, the IIRO maintained collection accounts in two Saudi
banks where donations could be made as recently as December 2004.31 U.S. officials
have expressed general concerns about the IIRO's operations and questioned its
exclusion from Saudi charitable account regulations (see below).
Funding for Palestinian Organizations
Support for Palestinian causes and the provision of humanitarian aid to
Palestinians has long been an important component of Saudi foreign policy, and
many Saudis identify strongly with the Palestinian people and view support for
Palestinian causes as a religious, cultural, or, in some cases, political obligation.
Repeated allegations made by Israeli and Western sources have contended that Saudi
support for Palestinian institutions and individuals has directly or indirectly
supported Palestinian terrorist groups, although public reporting has not conclusively
linked official Saudi government support to Palestinian terrorist organizations. Some
reports suggest that Hamas maintains a significant fund-
Saudi Arabia, like other Arab states, recognizes the Palestine Liberation
Organization (PLO) as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. A
2002 Saudi government report stated that overall government and private aid to
Palestinian causes had reached $2.61 billion.33 Currently, Saudi officials say that
government support to Palestinian causes, approximately $80 million to $100 million
per year, goes solely to the Palestinian Authority, which was established pursuant to
Agence France Presse, "Saudi Arabia Sends Aid to Residents of Iraqi Rebel Bastion,"
June 10, 2004; and BBC Monitoring International Reports, "Saudi Arabia Sends Relief to
The accounts reportedly were held in Al Rajhi Bank (Account Number 31900010777023)
and National Commercial Bank (Account Number 10477702000102). International Islamic
News Agency (Jeddah), "IIRO Distributes Aid to Falluja War Victims," December 21, 2004.
Matthew Levitt, "PeaceWatch #521 A Hamas Headquarters in Saudi Arabia?,"
Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 28, 2005; and, CRS interview with
former U.S. Treasury Department official, September 2007.
Royal Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, "Kingdom's Aid to Palestenians (sic.)
Nears Ten Billion Saudi Riyals," May 2, 2002. Available at [http://www.saudiembassy.net/
2002 News/News/ForDetail.asp?cIndex=1122]. It is unclear if this figure included
contributions to the Saudi-
uprising) funds established by 22 Arab leaders in October 2000. See embassy website at
Following the January 25, 2006, elections for the Palestinian Legislative
Council in which Hamas won a majority of the votes, Saudi officials indicated that
funding support for the Palestinian Authority would continue. According to press
reports, Saudi officials promised $20 million to cover immediate needs on the part
of the Palestinian Authority. On March 19, 2006, Prince Saud al Faisal stated the
Saudi position, saying that "humanitarian assistance is not given to a government. It
is given to a people ..." to help them deal with a difficult humanitarian situation.
Saudi Arabia made significant efforts to support a Palestinian unity government prior
to the intra-
pledged between $500 and $750 million to the Palestinian Authority over three
Officially Sanctioned Relief Efforts
Saudi Committees. Within Saudi Arabia, two official charitable committees
solicited and delivered aid to Palestinian institutions, individuals, and causes after the
onset of the second Palestinian intifada in October 2000: the Saudi Popular
Committee for Assisting the Palestinian Mujahideen and the Saudi Committee for
the Support of the Al Quds Intifada (now known as the Saudi Committee for the
Relief of the Palestinian People). According to Saudi press reports, Prince Salman
bin Abd Al Aziz, the governor of Riyadh Province, established the Popular
Committee and directed its operations.36 The Popular Committee's periodic public
reports indicate that it provided approximately $8.8 million to the PLO from October
2000 to April 2003.37
The Saudi Committee for the Support of the Al Quds Intifada served as the main
conduit for Saudi financial and material aid to the Palestinian territories after its
establishment under Royal Decree 8636 on October 16, 2000. A December 31, 2003
report issued by the Saudi Embassy in Washington stated that the costs of the Al
Quds Intifada Committee's 31 relief programs amounted to 524,265,283 Saudi riyals
(SR) [$139,804,075], in addition to the costs of then-
Don Van Natta, Jr, with Timothy L. O'Brien, "Flow of Saudi's Cash to Hamas Is
Scrutinized," New York Times, September 17, 2003, pp. A1, A10.
Howard LaFranchi, "Global donors exceed Palestinian expectations at Paris conference,"
Christian Science Monitor, December 19, 2007.
In one press report, Prince Salman asserted that the Popular Committee had been
established after the 1967 Arab-
is unclear if the Popular Committee operated over a thirty year period or was reactivated in
October 2000. See Arab News (Jedda) "Salman Rejects Terrorism Charges Against
Charities," November 3, 2002.
Data compiled from official and non-
October 2000 to April 2003. See Saudi Press Agency, "PLO gets more than SR 1.8 million
from the Popular Committee for Assisting the Palestinian Mujahideen," April 22, 2003, and
Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) reports: "Press Summary -
Leadership Report,"October 1-
amounted to a further 203,699,433 SR [$54,302,249]. The report also stated that
"the value of the services provided by the Committee to the Palestinian people"
through December 2003 was equal to an additional 727,964,716 SR
The Al Quds Intifada Committee's periodic public reports describe millions of
riyals in monetary aid that its programs provided to the Palestinian people in the form
of financial transfers to the Palestinian Authority (PA), donations to charitable
organizations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and by means of direct assistance to
over 35,000 needy Palestinian individuals. In addition to financial assistance, the Al
Quds Intifada Committee also provided food, blankets, medicine, ambulances, and
other aid in kind through programs aimed at supporting health care, education, and
the provision of basic social services in the Palestinian territories that were disrupted
during the uprising. The Committee also constructed hundreds of homes for
Palestinians who were left homeless due to violence and house demolitions.
Palestinian officials reportedly praised the Committee's support for the Palestinian
In June 2004, the Saudi government announced that the future activities of all
Saudi charitable committees and organizations that send aid abroad (including "the
Palestinian committees") will be monitored and directed by the Saudi
Nongovernmental National Commission for Relief and Charity Work Abroad.39 As
of June 2008, the National Commission was not operational. In October 2006, the
Saudi Ministry of Interior submitted plans for its creation to Saudi Arabia's Shura
Council for review and consultation. Saudi officials reportedly continue to work to
resolve legal and financial hurdles to the integration of the international operations
of Saudi Arabian charities.40 The Al Quds Intifada Committee continues to operate
independently under the name -
Palestinian People." The Committee now provides humanitarian relief and assistance
via a number of partnerships with U.N. agencies. For example, in September 2006,
the Committee announced plans to provide $6.3 million to finance the construction
of 100 housing units in Hebron in cooperation with UN-
Relief Coordination. Since 2000, both Committees have issued public
solicitations encouraging Saudi citizens to make donations to support the welfare of
the Palestinian people. In one often cited instance, the Al Quds Intifada Committee
organized a telethon sponsored by King Fahd in April 2002 that raised over $110
Royal Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, "Humanitarian Relief Handed Over to
Pal e s t i ni a n Of f i c i a l s i n K i ngdom," De c e mber 31 , 2 0 0 3 . See
Adel Al Jubeir, "U.S. and Saudi Officials Hold a News Conference on a Major
Development in the War on Terrorism," Federal Document Clearing House Transcript, June
2, 2004. The Commission's creation was originally announced in late February 2004.
Josh Meyer, "The World; U.S. Faults Saudi Efforts on Terrorism," Los Angeles Times,
January 15, 2006.
September 11, 2006.
million for families of Palestinians killed or injured in the uprising.42 Saudi officials
told their U.S. counterparts that the proceeds of this telethon were funneled through
Unified Accounts. Saudi press reports indicate that the Al Quds Intifada
Committee consolidated the proceeds of its fund-
private donations in support of Palestinian causes in national, government-
unified accounts established in a number of Saudi banks.43 "Unified Account
Number 98" and "Unified Account Number 90" were referred to in Saudi press
reports describing the Al Quds Intifada Committee's activities, although it is unclear
if both accounts existed simultaneously, if they are synonymous, or if one superseded
the other.44 Saudi officials have repeatedly assured their U.S. counterparts that
Account 98 no longer exists, most recently in a meeting with a U.S. Treasury
delegation that visited Saudi Arabia in January 2006. However, Saudi press reports
describe Saudi officials urging Saudi citizens to make donations to the account at
their local banks, including a television advertisement that solicited donations to
Account 98 in August 2005.45
Delivery Mechanisms. Once collected, the proceeds of the Al Quds Intifada
Committee's fundraising efforts were delivered to Palestinian beneficiaries in a
variety of ways. Material aid collected by the Committee, such as food, clothing,
blankets, and vehicles, was delivered in cooperation with third parties such as the
Jordanian Red Crescent Society and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency
(UNRWA). The Committee also developed a special process to transfer financial aid
to Palestinian individuals in cooperation with Jordan's Arab Bank PLC.46
Royal Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, "Telethon for Palestinian Victims
Highly Successful," April 14, 2002. See [http://www.saudiembassy.net/2002News/News/
Saudi Press Agency, "Prince Urges Donations for Jerusalem," October 10, 2000. The
press report lists "the National Commercial Bank, the Saudi-
Banking and Investment Corporation, the Saudi-
Arab National Bank, the Saudi-
Account 98. FBIS Translations GMP20001006001246 and GMP20001021000192. See
also Robert Lenzner and Nathan Vardi, "Terror Inc.," Forbes, October 18, 2004.
Later, in an April 2002 interview, high-
Harithi stated that "All relief agencies that collect funds in support of the Palestinians
deposit the funds in the Committee's Account Number 90." FBIS Translations
GMP20001006001246 and GMP20020419000070.
See Testimony of Daniel Glaser, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing and
Financial Crimes, U.S. Department of the Treasury, Before the Senate Judiciary Committee,
November 8, 2005; and Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), "Saudi
Government Official on Iqra TV: All Muslims Must Support Jihad -
Saudi Committee for Support of the Al-
The Committee's website and Committee officials (see below) state that the Al Quds
Intifada Committee opened accounts in Arab Bank PLC, which operates 22 local branches
In an April 2002 interview Dr. Sa'id Al Urabi Al Harithi, the "chairman of the
Executive Committee in Support of the Al Aqsa Intifada" and an advisor to Prince
Nayef, provided details about the process used to identify beneficiaries and deliver
financial aid to them:47
! Using information provided by "welfare societies" and "official
sources" in the Palestinian territories, the Al Quds Intifada
Committee prepared lists of potential beneficiaries drawn from the
ranks of "the wounded, the families of martyrs, the families of
prisoners and disabled persons," and families that had been affected
by the uprising. The word "martyr" is used to refer to those killed
as a result of violence (usually Israeli actions).48
! Then, a "central committee" conducted a "general study" of the lists
and verified "the names of the beneficiaries, their telephone
numbers, social conditions, addresses, and the date and type of
injury." According to Al Harithi, the Committee would "coordinate
with the Palestinian Authority and the [Palestinian] ambassador on
the information in [the lists]" to confirm that it was "precise, correct,
! Once the information had been confirmed and approved, the
Committee, in coordination with "the National Arab Bank,"49
opened a bank account in the beneficiary's name, into which a
standard amount of riyals or dollars were transferred based on the
individual's circumstances and the criteria set by the Committee for
each of its different programs. For example, "the committee
allocated 20,000 riyals [$5,333] for the family of each martyr,"and
"the sum of 10,000 Saudi riyals [$2,666] for every prisoner."
! After the deposit had been made, a team in the Palestinian territories
followed up "on the process of delivering aid directly to the
throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Committee's website, available at
to transfer funds to beneficiaries.
"Saudi Al Aqsa Intifadah Committee Chief on Delivering Donations to Palestinians,"
Jedda Ukaz, April 2002. FBIS Translation -
According to an official Saudi government statement: "The Saudi government offers
assistance to the families of those killed, and these, the victims of the violence, are often
referred to as martyrs. Nevertheless, the Saudi government does not condone the act of
killing oneself and killing others by means of suicide bombings, and Saudi religious leaders
have condemned the taking of innocent lives." See [http://www.saudiembassy.net/2002
Jordan's Arab Bank PLC owns a 40% stake of Saudi Arabia's Arab National Bank.
Although the Committee clearly states that funds were delivered via Arab Bank PLC
branches it is unclear what role, if any, Saudi Arabia's Arab National Bank played in the
beneficiaries" and filed "regular reports to the Saudi Committee in
Support of the Al Quds Intifada."
Allegations of Support for Palestinian Terrorists
Allegations of Support for the Families of Suicide Attackers. In May
2002, Israeli officials released a report that alleged that the Saudi Committee for the
Support of the Al Quds Intifada had "transferred large sums of money to families of
Palestinians who died in violent events, including notorious terrorists."50 The report
argued that this alleged financial support encouraged Palestinian terrorism by easing
the potential burden on the families of attackers. Saudi officials called the allegations
"baseless and false," and stated "unequivocally that Saudi Arabia does not provide
financial support to suicide bombers or their families."51 Saudi officials also
questioned the claim that Palestinian suicide attacks were financially rather than
politically motivated. Statements made by Committee figures in response to specific
claims that the Al Quds Intifada Committee provided support to the families of
suicide bombers or otherwise supported terrorism have been less consistent.52 Then-
Saudi government spokesman Adel Al Jubeir discussed the possibility that money
from the Committee may have gone to the families of suicide bombers but
categorically ruled out the existence of any quid pro quo arrangement or reward
system similar to that sponsored by former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.53
Saudi Committee Website. The Al Quds Intifada Committee website,
maintained in the name of "the Saudi Committee for Relief of the Palestinian
People,"54 once contained over 40,000 transaction records that featured the names
Ben Barber, "Saudi Millions Finance Terror Against Israel," Washington Times, May 7,
2002. Israel also released allegedly seized documents that featured "the letterhead of the
`Saudi Arabian Committee for Support of the Al Quds Intifada.'"
See Royal Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Responds to False Israeli Charges," May 6, 2002. Available at [http://www.saudiembassy.
net/2002News /Press/PressDetail.asp?cYear=2002&cIndex=36] and Royal Embassy of the
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, "Saudi Arabia Doesn't Reward Terrorism," May 11, 2002.
Available at [http://saudiembassy.net/2002News/News/ TerDetail.asp?cIndex=45].
Dr. Sa'id Al Urabi Al Harithi stated in April 2002 that the Al Quds Intifada Committee
had "nothing to do with terrorism" and "nothing to do with politics," and added that Saudi
Arabia "rejects and fights terrorism." [FBIS Translation GMP20020419000070] In May
2002, Mubarak Al Biker, the "executive manager" of the Al Quds Intifada Committee, stated
"we support the families of Palestinian martyrs, without differentiating between whether the
Palestinian was a bomber or was killed by Israeli troops." Ra'id Qusti, "Saudi Telethon
Funds Go Direct to Palestinian Victims," Arab News (Jedda), May 27, 2002. Available at
See Royal Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, "Saudi Arabia Does Not Support
Terrorism," Interview Published in National Journal, May 11, 2002. Available at
"Palestinians Said to Get Iraq Millions," Boston Globe, May 30, 2002.
available at [http://web.archive.org/web/*/[http://www.alquds-
individuals who received humanitarian aid and financial support from the
Committee. The records portion of the Committee website was deactivated in March
2005. The website states that "many accounts were opened for the harmed persons
at the Arab [B]ank branches in the Palestinian territory, and fixed aids [i.e. donations]
were transferred to the harmed people in their respective accounts."55 One of the
Committee's programs supported Palestinian families whose primary breadwinners
were killed by Israeli forces or under other violent circumstances during the uprising.
Online records for this program contained the names of deceased individuals,
transaction numbers, the date of their deaths, their home towns, and the
circumstances in which they were killed. The Committee's description of the
program indicated that payments of 20,000 SR [$5,300] were transmitted to the
family members of these individuals in their names following their death.
Of the 1,300 names contained in the records for this specific Committee
program, over 60 matched or closely resembled the names of known Palestinian
militants who carried out attacks on Israeli military personnel and civilians from
October 2000 to March 2002.56 These individuals included suicide bombers and
gunmen who were killed during actual and attempted attacks inside Israel and the
Palestinian territories. Most of the Committee records assigned to individuals whose
names matched or closely resembled those of suicide attackers listed "assassination"
as the cause of death -
these records indicated that the individuals they referred to were killed during a
"martyrdom operation."57 The Committee removed all records from its website in
Alleged Support to Hamas. Since the early 1990s, there have been
unsubstantiated reports of Saudi public and private assistance to the fundamentalist
Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), which the U.S. government has designated
cited Royal Decree 8636 as the basis for the establishment of the "Relief Committee."
In archive, see [http://www.alquds-
The Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG) maintains comprehensive
English and Arabic language lists of suicide attackers. These lists contain names that also
appeared on the Saudi Committee website. Further information provided in these and other
Committee records such as individuals' home towns and dates of death matched information
provided in public press accounts of attacks. In some instances, date and name data reflect
slight variations and inconsistencies. Transcriptions of Arabic names often differ in
Western media reporting and there is considerable uniformity in Arabic names. Mohammed
and Ahmed, for example, are very common Arabic names often found among Palestinians.
The PHRMG lists are available online at [http://www.phrmg.org/PHRMG%20Documents/
The Arabic text in the "Details" field of these Committee records read "amaliyah
istishadiyah," a commonly used euphemism for a suicide attack that translates literally to
"martyrdom operation." In archive see, for example, [http://www.alquds-
programs/beneficiaryDetails.asp?id=96940] and [http://www.alquds-
beneficiaryDetails.asp?id=97139], accessed January 2006.
as a foreign terrorist organization.58 The Saudi government has not officially
described Hamas as a terrorist organization. In its annual report on terrorism for the
year 2001 (Patterns of Global Terrorism, 2001), the State Department noted that
Hamas received funding from "private benefactors in Saudi Arabia and other
moderate Arab states." The 2002 and most 2003 editions of the report did not
mention Saudi Arabia as a specific source of funding for Hamas. The State
Department's 2005 Country Reports for Terrorism (released in March 2006)
indicated that "private benefactors in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states" remained
a primary source of funding for Hamas.59 The 2006 report did not cite Saudi Arabia
specifically and the 2007 report stated that Hamas "fundraising takes place in the
Charitable Giving and Madrasas
Charitable giving (zakat) is a religious obligation for Muslims, constituting one
of the five "pillars of Islam." Many wealthy Saudis contribute approximately 2.5
percent of their annual income or more to charitable causes and relief organizations
that fund religious education programs, orphanages, hospitals, and other development
projects both within Saudi Arabia and around the world. One expert estimates Saudi
charitable donations, in general, to be about $3 billion to $4 billion annually, of
in charitable donations are directed abroad each year.61 As part of the government's
effort to combat potential terrorist financing activities, Saudi charities reportedly are
now prohibited from sending funds abroad, although international charities
headquartered in the kingdom continue to raise funds for international activities via
Saudi banks and private Saudi citizens may direct domestic and externally-
to overseas charitable endeavors.
In response to criticism and allegations of involvement in terrorist financing
directed at Saudi Arabian charitable organizations, the Saudi government has taken
a series of steps to provide greater oversight to charitable giving in the Kingdom. In
December 2002, the government announced the creation of the High Commission for
Oversight of Charities to provide assistance to Saudi Arabian charities in reforming
Some individuals and groups in Europe, North America, and the Middle East have argued
that financial support for Hamas is legitimate because of the social services the organization
provides to Palestinians, which they argue are separate from the group's military wing, the
Izzedine Al Qassam Brigades, and its role in conducting terrorist operations.
Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism, April 27, 2005. Hamas entry
available at [http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/45394.htm].
Jonathan M. Winer, Congressional testimony before the Committee on Senate
Governmental Affairs, July 31, 2003. Mr. Winer, a former State Department official, is an
Development in the War on Terrorism," Federal Document Clearing House Transcript,
June 2, 2004.
their operations and improving their transparency.62 At that time, Saudi officials also
indicated that all Saudi charities had been audited; however, the results of those
audits have not been made publicly available.
In February 2004, King Fahd issued a royal decree establishing the Saudi
Nongovernmental Commission on Relief and Charity Work Abroad.63 The
Commission was publicly reintroduced in June 2004, and described as "the sole
vehicle" through which all private Saudi donations marked for international
distribution will flow in the future.64 In June 2005, the Saudi press reported that the
Council of Ministers had decided that all future overseas charitable contributions
must be channeled through the Commission.65 As of June 2008, the Commission
was not operational, and Ministry of Interior officials reported that the Saudi royal
court would need to make a decision regarding the establishment of the
In May 2003, the Saudi government introduced new banking regulations that
prohibited private charities67 and relief groups from transmitting funds overseas until
further regulations could be instituted to ensure that the money would not be
channeled to terrorist organizations.68 The new banking regulations do not place
similar restrictions on the operations of "multilateral" charitable organizations based
in Saudi Arabia, such as the Muslim World League (MWL), the International Islamic
Relief Organization (IIRO), or the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY),
which actively raise funds among the Saudi population.69 Saudi officials have stated
that in spite of the regulatory exclusion, in practice these charities are being subjected
Agence France Presse, "Saudi Arabia to Create Body for All Charity Abroad after Terror
Charges," February 28, 2004.
Development in the War on Terrorism," Federal Document Clearing House Transcript,
June 2, 2004.
P.K. Abdul Ghafour, "Kingdom Streamlines Flow of Funds to Charities Abroad," Arab
News (Jeddah), June 14, 2005.
CRS analyst meeting with Saudi officials, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, February 2008.
It is estimated that there are 267 charities operating in Saudi Arabia. See Jamil al-
"Supervisor of Saudi Charities to al-
in Our Work; Ministry To Apply New Measures Starting Next Year," Al-
in Arabic), October 6, 2003, translation by Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS).
Royal Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, "Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency
Implements New Regulations Regarding Charities," June 12, 2003. Available at
See Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, "Rules Governing the Opening of Bank Accounts
in Saudi Arabia and General Operational Guidelines," April 2003, Section 300-
June 2004, the Northern Virginia offices of the WAMY were raided by FBI and Customs
officials in relation to a terrorism investigation. WAMY spokesmen have repeatedly denied
the group is linked to terrorist organizations.
to identical levels of scrutiny as all Saudi charities.70 Officials from the Defense
Department and Treasury Department have stated that the IIRO, WAMY, and the
MWL "continue to cause us concern" and that the charities "need to be included" in
the oversight of new Saudi charity regulations and regulatory bodies.71
Action Against Questionable Charities
Foundation, a large charity with links to the royal family, after years of sustained
criticism and a series of joint U.S.-
in terrorist financing. U.S. investigators have linked a former Al Haramain employee
to the 1998 U.S. embassy bombing in Tanzania,72 and a June 2, 2004 Treasury
Department statement called Al Haramain "one of the principal Islamic NGOs
providing support for the Al Qaida [variant transcription of Arabic word] network
and promoting militant Islamic doctrine worldwide."73 Since March 2002, the United
States and Saudi Arabia have jointly designated 12 branches of Al Haramain as front
organizations for terrorist activities, including its U.S. chapter. The two countries
have asked the U.N. Al Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee (which monitors
sanctions pursuant to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1267) to add the branches to
the Committee's consolidated list of terrorists tied to Al Qaeda and the Taliban.74
In the United States, prosecutors recently dropped charges against Al
Haramain's U.S. branch, based in Oregon. Prosecutors are continuing to pursue
charges against the branch's founders and corporate officers, including Suliman Al
Buthe, a U.S. designated terrorist financier and Saudi national currently in Saudi
According to Deputy Assistant Treasury Secretary Daniel Glaser, "It is not clear to us that
this de facto prohibition is having true effect and we remain deeply concerned about this
issue. Furthermore, these restrictions do not apply to foreign branches of Saudi-
and charities, which can transfer money among themselves throughout the world with little
accountability to the Kingdom. It is possible, for example, for an IIRO official in Saudi
Arabia to advise IIRO branches in country X and country Y to transfer money to each other,
outside of Saudi regulatory reach." Glaser, Testimony Before the Senate Committee on the
Judiciary, November 8, 2005.
Testimony of Stuart Levey, Before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and
Urban Affairs, July 13, 2005; and Testimony of Caleb Temple, Director of Operations, Joint
Intelligence Task Force for Combating Terrorism Before the Terrorism, Unconventional
Threats and Capabilities of the House Armed Services Committee and the Oversight and
Investigations Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee, July 28, 2005.
U.S. Department of the Treasury, "JS-
Arabia Against Four Branches of al-
January 22, 2004. Available at [http://www.treasury.gov/press/releases/js1108.htm].
U.S. Department of the Treasury, "JS-
Leader Designated by Treasury as Al Qaida Supporters," June 2, 2004. Available at
The designated branches are Indonesia, Pakistan, the Netherlands, Afghanistan, Albania,
Kenya, Tanzania, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Bosnia, Comoros Islands, Somalia, and the United
Arabia.75 Al Buthe maintains his innocence.76 U.S. authorities also designated Al
Haramain's founder and director, Aqeel Abdulaziz Al Aqil, as a supporter of
terrorism in June 2004.77 In early January 2004, Al Aqil had stepped down from his
position and remains in Saudi Arabia. Al Aqil's successor, Dabbas Al Dabbasi,
resigned as director of the organization on July 14, 2004 because of "the freezing of
the establishment's internal accounts and the inability to give charitable support."78
Saudi officials have indicated that Al Haramain's international operations were to be
absorbed by the new Nongovernmental Commission for Relief and Charity Work
Abroad, which is not yet operational.
In August 2006, the Treasury Department designated the Philippine and
Indonesian branches of IIRO, along with the Saudi executive director of the IIRO's
branch in the kingdom's Eastern Province, Abd al Hamid Sulaiman al Mujil.
According to the Treasury Department, Al Mujil "has been called the `million dollar
man' for supporting Islamic militant groups," and "provided donor funds directly to
Al Qaeda" while raising funds for other groups.79 The United Nations designated Al
Mujil on August 4, 2006. Saudi authorities have not prosecuted Al Mujil to date.
Saudi officials maintain that they are working closely with the United States to
combat terrorism, which they say is aimed as much at the Saudi regime as it is at the
United States. A month after the September 11 attacks, the Saudi Government
announced that it would implement U.N. Security Council Resolution1373, which
called for freezing terrorist-
issued a number of "white papers" detailing actions taken by Saudi Arabia to combat
terrorist financing. An update, issued in April 2004, addresses various steps
Les Zaitz, "Tax Case Ends Against Charity," The Oregonian (Portland), August 5, 2005;
and U.S. Department of the Treasury, JS-
Foundation Linked to Terror, September 9, 2004.
Paul Elias, "Wiretap Case Centers on Saudi" Associated Press, August 15, 2007.
The designation of individuals and organizations under the regulations blocking or
freezing terrorist assets requires an administrative determination by the Secretary of State
or the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with one another and with the Attorney
General. The initial determination is conducted without input from the subject of the
determination and, thus, at this stage, the rigorous standards applicable to adversarial legal
procedures such as criminal or civil trials are inapplicable.
U.S. Department of the Treasury, "HP-
Charity Bankrolling Al Qaida Network,"August 3, 2006.
including adopted legislation, implemented regulations and resolutions, and
cooperation with the United States.80
In the past, U.S. officials, while acknowledging Saudi efforts, have expressed
frustration with Saudi reluctance to share information gleaned from Saudi
investigations of terrorist incidents and to move against organizations and individuals
suspected of involvement in terrorism. Since mid-
government seems to have become increasingly convinced of the seriousness of the
terrorist threat and its attendant financing. Many commentators attribute this
increased Saudi concern to the Al Qaeda terrorist campaign that swept the kingdom
from 2003 through 2006.81 The State Department's 2003 Patterns of Global
Terrorism report stated that the May and November 2003 attacks "galvanized Riyadh
into launching a sustained crackdown against Al Qa'ida's presence in the Kingdom
and spurred an unprecedented level of cooperation with the United States."
Joint Task Force. Shortly after the May 2003 attacks in Riyadh, a joint U.S.-
Saudi intelligence task force was set up to help identify the perpetrators. This set the
stage for a more permanent bilateral group with a broader mission. During the first
week in August 2003, a delegation of senior U.S. counter-
National Security Council, the State Department, the Treasury Department, and the
Federal Bureau of Investigation met with Saudi leaders reportedly to urge them to do
more to cut off the funneling of money to terrorists through Saudi businesses and
organizations.82 U.S. officials traveled to Riyadh later that month to set up a joint
task force to investigate terrorist financing in Saudi Arabia. Subsequently, agents
from U.S. organizations including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the
Internal Revenue Service joined Saudi officials to set up a center to focus on bank
accounts, computer records, and other financial data. In addition, the FBI and the
Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigative Division have carried out a program
of terrorism financing training for the Saudi government and have held sessions in
Riyadh and Washington, D.C.83 According to press articles, the task force program
marked the first time that U.S. law enforcement officials had been stationed in Saudi
Arabia to pursue intelligence and financing issues.84 In March 2005, Saudi Ministry
of Interior officials reported that U.S.-
Available at [http://www.saudiembassy.net/ReportLink/SAMA%20INITIATIVES%20
Patrick E. Tyler, "Stability Itself Is the Enemy," New York Times, November 10, 2003.
Susan Schmidt, "U.S. Officials Press Saudis on Aiding Terror," Washington Post, August
6, 2003, p. A12.
U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Hearing of the Subcommittee on the Middle
East and Central Asia of the House Committee on International Relations on Saudi Arabia
and the Fight Against Terrorism Financing, Rayburn House Office Building, Washington,
DC, March 24, 2004; testimony of Mr. Thomas Harrington, Deputy Assistant director of the
FBI Counterrorism Operational Support Branch, Federal News Service transcript, p. 7.
Douglas Farah, "U.S.-
Funding," Washington Post, August 26, 2003.
operations had led to the investigation of 1,098 Saudi bank accounts for suspicion of
involvement in terrorism financing since September 11, 2001.85
Legal and Oversight Measures. Prior to 2003, Saudi Arabia lacked
legislation specifically criminalizing money laundering and terrorist financing.
Following Al Qaeda attacks within Saudi Arabia in May 2003, Saudi authorities
moved forward with a number of draft laws and regulations, including a law adopted
in August 2003 making money laundering and terrorist financing criminal offenses.86
That month, the Saudi Arabian government also introduced new banking regulations
that prohibited private charities and relief groups from transmitting funds overseas
until further regulations could be instituted to ensure that the money would not be
channeled to terrorist organizations. New financial regulations also created a
requirement for charitable organizations to have single disbursement bank accounts
and an approved official with signatory authority to facilitate tighter controls over
charity accounts and transactions.87 The Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA)
continues to serve as the chief regulatory body for Saudi Arabia's banks and financial
A number of other oversight and regulatory mechanisms were also created,
including a ban on cash collections at mosques and new rules governing the
insurance sector and capital markets. All unlicensed money exchange houses were
ordered closed, and authorities put in place close supervision mechanisms on
traditional money transfer mechanisms used to send funds abroad, such as the hawala
system.88 The kingdom's religious authorities also have engaged in closer vetting of
religious clerics and supervision of money given to them by their congregations. The
government suspended more than 1,000 clerics during 2003 and another 900 in
February 2004 reportedly "on the grounds of negligence," which may include
negligent financial accounting procedures.89 In September 2007, Interior Minister
Prince Nayef bin Abd al Aziz urged citizens to comply with directives restricting the
solicitation and collection of donations.90 In March 2008, Minister of Social Affairs
Abd al Muhsin Bin Abd al Aziz al Akkas described his ministry's methods for
Author meeting with Ministry of Interior officials, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 2005.
The implementing regulations for the Saudi anti-
law that was introduced in August 2003 had not been issued as of September 2005.
Again, "multilateral organizations" based in Saudi Arabia like the IIRO, WAMY, and
MWL are not subject to these restrictions.
For background information on hawala transactions see, Patrick M. Jost and Harjit Singh
Sandhu, "The Hawala Alternative Remittance System and its Role in Money Laundering,"
Interpol General Secretariat, January 2000. Available at [http://www.interpol.int/Public/
"Show of Force," Middle East Economic Digest, 26 March-
"Saudi Interior Minister Bans Using Donation Boxes in Public Areas," OSC Document -
GMP20070904614006, September 3, 2007.
supervising the finances of the over 300 domestic charities chartered by his ministry,
including official financial audits and unscheduled inspection visits.91
Financial Intelligence Unit. According to the Financial Action Task Force
(FATF),92 Saudi Arabia has established a Permanent Committee on Combating the
Financing of Terrorism to coordinate its counter-
A Financial Investigation Unit (SA-
Arabia's financial intelligence unit (FIU). The SA-
September 2005.93 Treasury Department officials have welcomed the SA-
establishment, and the U.S. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) is a
sponsor of the SA-
Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and representatives of the Gulf Cooperation
Council (GCC) visited Saudi Arabia to examine Saudi financial practices. The FATF
2004 annual report, released on July 2, 2004, states that Saudi Arabia's legal and
regulatory system is "compliant or largely compliant with most of the FATF 40+8
Recommendations" on terrorist financing.95 The FATF review dealt only with the
adequacy of legal and regulatory provisions and did not assess the degree to which
the laws and regulations were being effectively implemented. The FATF report
concludes that the Saudi government's legal definition of terrorist financing "does
not conform to the international standards as expressed in the UN International
Convention on the Suppression of Terrorist Financing."96
"Saudi Minister on Regular Audits, Controls on Charitable Activity in Kindgom," OSC
The Financial Action Task Force is "an inter-
development and promotion of policies, both at national and international levels, to combat
money laundering and terrorist financing." For more information, see the FATF website at
Prior to September 2005, investigations and prosecutions of financial crimes were being
administered by elements of the Ministry of Interior in conjunction with specially seconded
SAMA personnel. For a full description of Saudi Arabia's current financial regulatory
structure see the State Department's 2005 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.
Saudi Arabia entry available online at [http://www.state.gov/p/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2005/vol2/
The Egmont Group is the international membership organization that formally links
financial intelligence units and facilitates information sharing for money laundering and
terrorist financing investigations.
See "Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Executive Summary -
Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism" in Annex C of the report
Available at [http://www1.oecd.org/fatf/pdf/AR2004-
"40+8" Recommendations on terrorist financing and money laundering are internationally
recognized regulatory and legal benchmarks.
Saudi officials maintain that the wider body of Islamic sharia law that underlies the Saudi
legal system adequately criminalizes material support for terrorism. U.S. and FATF
officials argue that the language of Saudi Arabia's criminal statutes on terrorist financing
should explicitly reflect international standards.
In November 2004, the Saudi Arabian government announced its participation
in the newly established Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force
(MENAFATF). Membership in the regional body commits Saudi Arabia to
implementing the internationally recognized anti-
terrorist financing standards designed by FATF.
Enforcement. According to the State Department's 2007 International
Narcotics Control Strategy Report, "there is little money laundering in Saudi Arabia
related to traditional predicate offenses" such as narcotics trafficking or smuggling.
Since 2003, the Saudi government has undertaken a number of enforcement actions
in response to international concerns about terrorist financing, including freezing
some suspect accounts and jointly designating a number of individuals and
organizations as Specially Designated Global Terrorists along with U.S. authorities.
Saudi Interior Ministry officials reported in March 2005 that security forces had
seized $4.5 million through raids on terrorist safe houses and operatives, along with
$6.5 million in 11 separate bank accounts since early 2003.97 The U.S. Department
of the Treasury also reports that Saudi security forces have killed a number of Al
Qaeda financiers, including Yousif Salih Fahad Al Ayeeri (a.k.a. "Swift Sword") and
Khaled Ali Al Hajj, who reportedly were key financial facilitators for terrorist
operatives in the Persian Gulf region.98 The 2007 Country Report on Terrorism in
Saudi Arabia notes that cooperation with the United States has helped Saudi
authorities arrest "16 Saudi-
officials have criticized the Saudi government for failing to prosecute prominent
individuals accused of financing international terrorism (see below).
Continuing Uncertainties and Questions
Saudi Arabia has undertaken significant administrative reforms in its efforts to
curtail terrorist financing. A FATF official involved in the 2003-
of Saudi practices was quoted as saying that the new regulations to control Saudi-
based charities "probably go further than any country in the world."99 As noted
above, however, the effectiveness of many of these steps will depend on their
implementation. Several uncertainties and unresolved questions remain.
Dilatory Action. U.S. officials have complained in the past that Saudi
officials have been slow to take action against organizations and entities implicated
in terrorist financing. According to the 9/11 Commission Monograph on Terrorist
Financing, "the Saudi government turned a blind eye to the financing of al Qaeda"
before September 11, 2001, and "the Saudis did not begin to crack down hard on Al
Qaeda financing in the Kingdom until after the May 2003 Al Qaeda attacks in
Riyadh." The report recognized the "significantly higher levels of cooperation" that
U.S. officials have received from their Saudi counterparts since May 2003. Securing
Author meeting with Ministry of Interior officials, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 2005.
Ibid., testimony by (then) Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Juan Zarate, p. 8.
Robin Allen, "Saudis meet anti-
March 8, 2004.
timely cooperation remains an important component of U.S. efforts to curb the flow
of funds to terrorist groups.
Private Donors and Accountability. U.S. officials have said that the Saudi
government should give more emphasis to demanding personal responsibility for
terrorist financiers and act against those who tolerate or promote financing of terrorist
activity. The U.S. Treasury Department has observed that "while current regulations
take account of the financial activities of charitable concerns, they do not apply to
direct donations made by private donors."100 The 9/11 Commission terrorist
financing monograph stated that as of 2004, Saudi authorities had "failed to impose
criminal punishment on any high-
assets frozen by Saudi authorities and have been forbidden from traveling outside
Saudi Arabia. However, several prominent Saudi individuals suspected by U.S.
authorities of involvement in terrorist financing have not been charged or prosecuted
in the United States, Saudi Arabia, or other jurisdictions. These individuals are
believed to be in Saudi Arabia. The U.S. State Department has stated that "Saudi
Arabia should demonstrate its willingness to hold elites accountable" for money
laundering and terrorist financing related offenses. On September 11, 2007, Treasury
Undersecretary Stuart Levey stated that, "when the evidence is clear that these
individuals have funded terrorist organizations, and knowingly done so, then they
should be prosecuted and treated as real terrorism because it is."101 Saudi authorities
assert that the availability of sufficient evidence to support courtroom prosecutions
of alleged terrorist financiers is limited by the classification of information in some
Currency Controls and Cash Couriers. Although Saudi Arabia's
financial customer information requirements are more stringent for international
transfers under newly adopted regulations, some loopholes may remain. The FATF
report called on Saudi officials to increase the amount of information required for
foreign currency conversion transactions at money remittance centers in the
Kingdom. Since 2006, Saudi customs authorities have introduced a new currency
and precious items declaration system at all border crossings for amounts under
$16,000. The use of cash couriers has been identified as "primary mechanism for the
transfer of insurgency funds into Iraq" and U.S. Treasury Department officials have
stated that Iraq's neighbors have a responsibility to act to prevent the transfer of large
amounts of cash to insurgent organizations in Iraq. The extent to which couriers may
be ferrying cash from Saudi Arabia into Iraq is unclear. However, press reports have
described insurgent groups' preferences for Saudi recruits because of the large
amounts of personal funding, usually in cash, that some Saudi nationals have brought
with them to Iraq.102
Glaser, Testimony Before Senate Committee on the Judiciary, November 8, 2005.
Brian Ross, "U.S.: Saudis Still Filling Al Qaeda's Coffers," ABC News, September 11,
It seems clear that challenges to internal security and terrorist incidents in Saudi
Arabia have impelled the Saudi leadership to devote heightened attention to
countering the financing of terrorism. This has been particularly true since mid-
when terrorists began mounting a series of attacks on residential and office
compounds, apparently in an effort to target the Saudi government as well as the
western presence in Saudi Arabia. Both U.S. officials and independent observers
have welcomed the mechanisms that Saudi authorities have put in place with the aim
of stemming the flow of funds destined for terrorist groups. They point out, however,
that the effectiveness of these measures will be tested by the degree to which Saudi
authorities succeed in implementing the various regulations that have been
established in recent years. To date, U.S. officials have continued to express approval
of changes in Saudi policy along with disappointment with Saudi enforcement
measures, particularly with a lack of public prosecutions for individuals accused of
financing terrorism outside of the kingdom.
Issues for Congress
Several Committees and Members in the 108th and 109th Congresses expressed
interest in these issues and held hearings and introduced legislation relating to U.S.-
Saudi cooperation in the fight against terrorism and terrorist financing. Section 575
of the FY2005 Omnibus Appropriations Bill (P.L. 108-
from receiving aid or any direct assistance from the United States unless the
President exercised waiver authority and certified that Saudi Arabia was "cooperating
with efforts to combat international terrorism and that the proposed assistance will
help facilitate that effort." The President exercised this waiver by Presidential
financing assistance (NADR-
Terrorism Prevention Act (P.L. 108-
Congress within 180 days a strategy for collaboration with the people and
government of Saudi Arabia, including a framework for cooperation on efforts to
combat terrorist financing.
In the 110th Congress, Section 2043 of the Implementing Recommendations of
the 9/11 Commission Act (P.L. 110-
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has an uneven record in the fight against terrorism,
especially with respect to terrorist financing," and requires the Administration to
submit a report 180 days after enactment describing the long term strategy of the
United States, "to work with the Government of Saudi Arabia to combat terrorism,
including through effective measures to prevent and prohibit the financing of
terrorists by Saudi institutions and citizens." The document submitted in January
2008 does not describe a strategy for future counter-
with Saudi Arabia, but does review in general terms Saudi actions to date to improve
U.S. Department of State, U.S. Strategy Toward Saudi Arabia, Report Pursuant to Section
2043c of the Implementing the Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act, P.L. 110-
Future Steps. Members of Congress may seek to support executive branch
efforts to encourage implementation of new Saudi laws and regulations. Hearings
and inquiries seeking specific information about terrorist financing threats and
monitoring U.S. and foreign government efforts to strengthen regulatory regimes,
implementation capacity, and enforcement may improve public consideration of these
issues. Intelligence considerations may limit the degree to which officials can
publicly discuss terrorist financing threats and U.S. and foreign responses. Domestic
political considerations and information security requirements may continue to limit
the Saudi government's willingness to enforce existing regulations, particularly to
prosecute prominent alleged financiers.
January 30, 2008.
For other versions of this document, see http://wikileaks.org/wiki/CRS-