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U.S. Eyes Money Trails of Saudi-Backed Charities

World  (tags: Al qaeda, charities, middle east, money, National Security, Saudi Arabia, terrorism )

- 1995 days ago -
The collision of Saudi missionary work and suspicions of terrorist financing in San Diego illustrates the perils and provocations of a multi billion-dollar effort by Saudi Arabia to spread its religion around the world.


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Kit B (276)
Saturday December 28, 2013, 5:46 am
Photo Credit: Damian Dovarganes AP

SAN DIEGO -- Omar Abdi Mohamed, a lanky, soft-spoken political refugee from war-ruined Somalia in East Africa, had been preaching the word of Islam in the United States for the past nine years. Two things make him unusual.

In January, U.S. immigration authorities arrested him, saying they suspected him of being a conduit for terrorist funds, federal court records show. At the time, he was on the payroll of Saudi Arabia's government.

Mohamed was one of 30 Saudi-financed preachers in this country. Each month, the Saudis paid $1,700 to the 44-year-old, who taught the Koran at a run-down Somali social center here. He worked with little supervision from Saudi religious authorities 8,000 miles away. In the late 1990s, he set up a small charity to help famine victims in Somalia, and that is how his trouble began.

The charity received $326,000 over three years from the Global Relief Foundation, a private Islamic charity based in Illinois. In October 2002, the U.S. Treasury Department designated Global Relief a terrorist-financing entity linked to al Qaeda.

The collision of Saudi missionary work and suspicions of terrorist financing in San Diego illustrates the perils and provocations of a multibillion-dollar effort by Saudi Arabia to spread its religion around the world. Mohamed worked on the front lines of that effort, a campaign to transform what outsiders call "Wahhabism," once a marginal and puritanical brand of Islam with few followers outside the Arabian Peninsula, into the dominant doctrine in the Islamic world. The campaign has created a vast infrastructure of both government-supported and private charities that at times has been exploited by violent jihadists -- among them Osama bin Laden.

Nearly three years after the devastating Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a number of Saudi-supported Islamic preachers, centers, charities and mosques remain under intense scrutiny. U.S. investigators continue to look into the tangled money trails leading from Saudi Arabia to its embassy in Washington and into dozens of American cities.

At the end of one trail is Mohamed. Another avenue of interest involves the global finances of the al Haramain Islamic Foundation, a large Saudi-government-supported charity set up to propagate Wahhabism and sometimes referred to as "the United Way of Saudi Arabia." Al Haramain, which has an office in Ashland, Ore., sent Mohamed $5,000.

The commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks stated in its July report that al Qaeda had relied heavily on international charities to raise money, "particularly those with lax external oversight and ineffective internal controls such as the Saudi-based al Haramain Islamic Foundation." The report added that al Qaeda found "fertile fund-raising groups" in Saudi Arabia, "where extreme religious views are common and charitable giving was both essential to the culture and subject to very limited oversight."

The Saudis say they have taken more steps than any other country to crack down on terrorist financing. They say the problem is not with their religion but with a small minority of deviants.

The Saudi government has severed ties with Mohamed, who is charged only with immigration violations, but he insists he did nothing wrong. A hearing is set for Sept. 1 in San Diego. The terrorist suspicions against Mohamed appear to rest on financial transactions that raise questions but do not provide answers, court records show. Global Relief denies it funds terrorism.

The Saudis are also shutting al Haramain offices worldwide. In June, the Treasury Department put the charity's former head in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on its list of known supporters of terrorism for providing "financial, material and logistical support to the al Qaeda network."

Wahhabism arose in the mid-18th century in central Saudi Arabia. Mohammad Ibn Abdul Wahab sought to purify Islam and return it to its 7th-century roots. He preached doctrines based on a strict adherence to the literal word of the Koran. He opposed music and adornment, insisted that women be cloaked and disdained nonbelievers, even members of other Muslim sects.

Scholars of Islam find it difficult to precisely assess the impact of 40 years of Saudi missionary work on the United States' multi-ethnic Muslim community -- estimated at 6 million to 7 million. But survey data are suggestive.

The most comprehensive study, a survey of the 1,200 U.S. mosques undertaken in 2000 by four Muslim organizations, found that 2 million Muslims were "associated" with a mosque and that 70 percent of mosque leaders were generally favorable toward fundamentalist teachings, while 21 percent followed the stricter Wahhabi practices. The survey also found that the segregation of women for prayers was spreading, from half of the mosques in 1994 to two-thirds six years later.
****Page One***

John L. Esposito, a religion scholar at Georgetown University, said the Saudi theological efforts have resulted in "the export of a very exclusive brand of Islam into the Muslim community in the United States" that "tends to make them more isolationist in the society in which they live."

The Export of Islam

The worldwide export of Wahhabi Islam began in 1962, when Saudi Arabia's ruling Saud family founded the Muslim World League in Mecca to promote "Islamic solidarity." The Sauds were seeking to counter the fiery pan-Arab nationalism of Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, who was calling for the Saudi monarchy to be overthrown.

The family also saw the export of Islam, which they call "Dawah," as a sacred duty. Their land was the birthplace of Islam and their kingdom host to the religion's two holiest mosques, in Mecca and Medina.

Western diplomats stationed in Riyadh liken the Sauds' fervor to the zeal of the United States' own fundamentalist sects. "For Saudi Arabia to stop Dawah would be a negation of itself," said Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British ambassador to the kingdom. "It would be like Bush telling Evangelical Christians to stop missionary work abroad."

In the 1960s, the kingdom was sparsely populated and still relatively poor. It had no trained foot soldiers to run the Muslim league. So the royal family enlisted scores of Egyptian teachers, scholars and imams belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, a highly secretive movement of political activists dedicated to restoring Islamic rule over secular Arab societies.

By 1982, the Saud family was feeling threatened by the Islamic revolution begun by Shiite Muslim leader Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran and the extremism of some of its own citizens, who had temporarily seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979. Again, the family turned to Dawah.

King Fahd issued a directive that "no limits be put on expenditures for the propagation of Islam," according to Nawaf Obaid, a Saudi oil and security analyst. Saudi Arabia now had the money: Its oil revenue had skyrocketed after the 1973 oil embargo. King Fahd used the cash to build mosques, Islamic centers and schools by the thousands around the world. Over the next two decades, the kingdom established 200 Islamic colleges, 210 Islamic centers, 1,500 mosques and 2,000 schools for Muslim children in non-Islamic countries, according to King Fahd's personal Web site. In 1984, the king built a $130 million printing plant in Medina devoted to producing Saudi-approved translations of the Koran. By 2000, the kingdom had distributed 138 million copies worldwide.

Exactly how much has been spent to spread Wahhabism is unclear. David D. Aufhauser, a former Treasury Department general counsel, told a Senate committee in June that estimates went "north of $75 billion." Edward L. Morse, an oil analyst at Hess Energy Trading Co. in New York, said King Fahd tapped a special oil account that set aside revenue from as much as 200,000 barrels a day -- $1.8 billion a year at 1980s oil prices. Saudi oil expert Obaid confirmed such an account existed in the 1980s and 1990s but said it was recently closed.

Ministry's Far Reach

After the Persian Gulf War in 1991, radical elements in the kingdom and in the Muslim Brotherhood excoriated the Sauds for calling in the Americans to defend them. In response, King Fahd tightened control over the missionary-and-charity campaign and tried to purge it of Brotherhood influence, setting up a new Saudi-supervised charity, al Haramain.

As part of this effort, the Saudis created an Islamic affairs ministry in 1993 that was intended to be the key institution for exporting Wahhabism. The ministry, officially known as the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowment, Call and Guidance, is led by Saleh Sheik, a direct descendant of Ibn Abdul Wahab.

The goal of moderating Brotherhood-like militancy was only partly successful. Saudi scholars and sources say the ministry has become a stronghold of zealots.

The Islamic affairs ministry is located in a nondescript concrete-and-glass structure in the Malaz district of Riyadh, near the city's old airport. There, in an interview at his office in March, Sheik said the ministry meets weekly to "coordinate the Islamic policies of the different ministries outside the country."

The ministry's outreach is formidable. It pays the salaries of 3,884 Wahhabi missionaries and preachers, who are six times as numerous as the 650 diplomats in Saudi Arabia's 77 embassies. Ministry officials in Africa and Asia often have had more money to dispense than Saudi ambassadors, according to several Saudi sources. The Islamic affairs officials also act as religious commissars, keeping tabs on the moral behavior of the kingdom's diplomats. In the United States, a 40-person Islamic Affairs Department established in the Saudi Embassy in Washington became something of an independent body, with little supervision from the often absent ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan.

Sheik estimated the Islamic affairs ministry's budget at $530 million annually and said it goes almost entirely to pay the salaries of the more than 50,000 people on the ministry payroll . That figure does not include the hundreds of millions of dollars in personal contributions made by King Fahd and other senior Saudi princes to the cause of propagating Islam at home and abroad, according to a Saudi analyst who insisted on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. The real total spent annually spreading Islam is between $2 billion and $2.5 billion, he said.
***Page Two***
Please continue reading the full article will give the reader a better idea of this is about. This is part of a continuing series.

By: David B. Ottaway | Staff Writer | Washington Post |


Justin Vale (13)
Saturday December 28, 2013, 9:19 am
snowden knows what the NSA knows about the connections of the house of saud and 9/11.

JL A (281)
Saturday December 28, 2013, 9:43 am
Illuminating interplay of politics and religion in the countries involved

Barbara K (61)
Saturday December 28, 2013, 1:08 pm
Why haven't all these people been deported? They are tolerated and allowed to do this stuff right under our noses, while Latin people are being deported, and they only wanted a better life for themselves, not to do harm to our country. Something is wrong with this picture.

Roger G (148)
Saturday December 28, 2013, 1:42 pm
this report is dated Thursday, August 19, 2004;
hopefully things have changed for the better in the last nine years !

Robert O (12)
Saturday December 28, 2013, 1:54 pm
Thanks Kit.

Lois Jordan (63)
Saturday December 28, 2013, 4:44 pm
Well, that was an interesting little nugget of history. Thanks for posting, Kit. That Prince Bandar.....isn't he the one who financially supports Fux Noise Channel? In my mind, there seems to be similarities with what the Wahhabi's are doing and the Crusades. It also gives an interesting parallel picture of radical evangelicals and their global pursuit (esp. here in the U.S.) of anti-feminist patriarchy, along with their other "conservative values." I wonder if they realize that it is they, in fact, who are aligned closely with this offshoot of the Muslim religion.

Kit B (276)
Saturday December 28, 2013, 5:48 pm

Yes, Roger but this whole situation is back in the current news and I thought this would help, going back to the beginning of the series on this.

Mitchell D (82)
Saturday December 28, 2013, 6:33 pm
The Saudis have established professorships at various U.S. Universities, by way of their ability to donate huge sums of money .
This is just more poison for our culture to absorb, nor would it matter if this push came from any other fundamentalist group.

. (0)
Sunday December 29, 2013, 9:58 am
Oh really? It couldn't just be that he's a Sunni and Saudi supported while the present POTUS now supports the Shia could it?
When W was POTUS they didn't bother to put the biscuit on CAIR or other groups that were active in the US; some of which openly funded from America Hamas and Hezbollah. They didn't bother to vet the Wahabbi imams teaching in the prisons who were actively recruiting and preaching a militant extremist Islamic view. They didn't put the kibosh on all the Saudi funded mosques or centres funded by Saudi dollars and then once established became fund raising; Wahabbi infiltrated centres for recruiting; planning and funding?
The only reason I can see comes from a change in policy at Foggy Bottom.

Past Member (0)
Sunday December 29, 2013, 11:44 am
Saudi Lobby is very powerful and dangerous. I bet they employ much more than 30 imams in US, spreading the radicalism and fanaticism. Saudis used to fund any mosque, as long as the Muslims would agree to accept the Saudi imam.

Under Obama, all the branches of Muslim Brotherhood and their associates are doing very well: CAIR, ISNA, MPAC, HAMAS, etc.

It is bad development.

Theodore Shayne (56)
Sunday December 29, 2013, 12:24 pm

Birgit W (160)
Sunday December 29, 2013, 2:00 pm
Noted, thanks.

Nelson Baker (0)
Sunday December 29, 2013, 2:39 pm
I believe we are letting too many questionable people into this country and some day we are really going to suffer due to these people.

Past Member (0)
Sunday December 29, 2013, 4:00 pm
Green star sent to Nelson Baker

Sunday December 29, 2013, 7:21 pm

Janis K (129)
Sunday December 29, 2013, 8:31 pm
Thanks for sharing

Thomas M (8)
Monday December 30, 2013, 6:39 am
Take a look at our friends in Great Britain and the difficulty they are having thanks to the radical segment of this religion. Just recently, I read that Saudi Arabia is concerned about our putting the brakes on the "relationship" we've had with them. It is about time. Oil controlled our "relationship", but no more. I would support immediate deportation of any Imam spreading hatred of other religions in this nation. Be peaceful, act peaceful, and live peacefully among all. This includes the American Christian zealots among us - send them back to Kindergarten to be retrained.

Lloyd H (46)
Monday December 30, 2013, 6:39 am
Interesting, but just what is the point, that the Saudi government or others are funding directly or indirectly religious proselytizing. That is about as revelatory as Snowden making public that the US like every other Nation on Earth spies on both its friends and adversaries. And just how does this differ from the USA keeping the Shaw of Iran in power or putting him back into power or arming and training and funding Al Qaeda or the Taliban to fight the old USSR in Afghanistan, helping Sadam Hussein get power and the propping him up for years, only the means, methods and Islamic sect differ. And I simply do not have the time to mention all of the Despots and Dictators empowered and maintained by the US. And then one can never forget SOA, School of the Americas, or what ever its new name is, that has for decades trained the members of Military and Intelligence and Police for some of the worst monsters in power in Central and South America and around the world into death squads and torturers. Then there would be the question of just exactly when The Family via its members in the US House and Senate began funneling money and political favors in to Africa along with all of the Evangelicals, the original "Kill the Gays Bill" and the current "Imprison all the Gays Law" did not spring unaided from the current ruling part of Uganda is mostly members of The Family. By the BY Scott Lively is not currently going on trial for selling Girl Scout Cookies in Uganda. Lively, Brown, Fischer, Perkins, and even Rick Warren, who unfortunately Obama picked for his Inauguration, have been very, very, very busy boys, along with others, in Africa, Sudan, Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Somalia, Malawi, Ethiopia if they can get their Charities in so follows the hate, Russia - Brown and who knows who else gave seminars to Russian government officials on writing their current laws et alia exporting Christian Taliban of America hate around the world.
I am not condoning the Saudis but I do believe that people with Crystal Cathedrals should be among the last to throw stones.
As for the isolationism of American Muslim communities in the USA I am just so totally damn sure that it could not possibly be the result of knowing that they are being illegally spied upon. And it surely could not be from the well funded Islamophobic Hate spreaders like Pamela Geller et alia. The USA does a far better job of recruiting terrorists for various organizations than any one else. Any one ever hear of the Bible verses on US military gun sights or the cover pages for US Military briefings, Quran burnings, or perhaps GITMO.

Past Member (0)
Monday December 30, 2013, 5:05 pm
Lloyd, you missed the main point. In all the places that you listed, external power was at war with the internal power.

In US, Saudis play "good friends" while setting up the future terrorist networks. Wahhabism is as much against US, as Communism was at the time, if not more. Great Satan played roles in both shows.

Add here its followers training with ready of-the-shelf self-demolition, and you get the explosion ready to blow up trade center or a subway station.

"As for the isolationism of American Muslim communities in the USA", most of it comes from criminal in spirit actions of Islamist lobbies like CAIR, which claim to represent Muslims in US at the same time, as giving advices to these very Muslims "Do not talk to FBI".

The real Islamofobs are those be-smirching the religion of Islam with militancy and extremism, like CAIR, MPAC, ISNA and other Saudi lobbies, spreading real hate. Those brave souls protesting those lobbies - like Pamela Geller - support Moderate Muslims and have nothing to do with the libel you are trying to attach to them.

And, mind you, their fight is not done on even terms, because brave individuals standing up to Islamic Lobbies have way less power and oil dollars than their Saudi counterpart.

Winn A (179)
Tuesday December 31, 2013, 7:23 am
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