Saudi Arabia remains the world’s leading source of funds for al-Qaida and other extremist groups, according to the Bush administration’s top financial counter-terrorism official.
Stuart Levey, a Treasury undersecretary, told the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday that the Saudi government has not taken sufficient steps to stem the flow of money to terrorist organizations or to bar wealthy citizens from funding extremism through charitable contributions.
“Saudi Arabia today remains the location where more money is going to terrorism, to Sunni terror groups and to the Taliban than any other place in the world,” Level told the committee.
Committee member Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said the Saudi failure to cut off terrorist funding means that Americans who pay more than $100 a barrel for Saudi oil are in fact bankrolling extremism because wealthy Saudi’s “back-door” their profits into charities that fund extremists, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Levey expressed frustration over U.S. efforts to convince the Saudis and others to take action against terrorist funding.
“We continue to face significant challenges as we move forward with these efforts, including fostering and maintaining the political will among other governments to take effective and consistent action,” he told the panel.
He also said the Saudis had not lived up to promises to set up “the kind of financial intelligence unit needed to trace the money trails of terrorists,” or “a charity oversight commission to track whether donations end up I the hands of extremists,” according to the Times.
At the end of the hearing, Sen. Max Baucus, D.-Mont., announced an independent review of the anti-terrorism program of Treasury’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, which was created in 2004 and is headed by Levey.
U.S. anti-terrorism efforts may have gotten a boost from a senior Saudi cleric, who is urging Saudis not to donate to charities that might be channeling money to terrorist groups.
Grand Mufti Sheikh Abd Al-Aziz Al Sheikh warned against giving money to groups financing what he called “harmful groups,” the Jerusalem Post reported.
His warning came days after it was reported that al-Qaida’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was sending messages through cell phones asking Saudis to donate money to charities for needy people in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Saudi Interior Ministry has warned that anyone responding to al-Zawahiri’s petition would be penalized unless they contacted the ministry to “clarify their position.”
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