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Saudi Arabia-based charities still funding terrorists, GAO says

Though the kingdom has done well in blocking such support from within its borders, foreign branches of charities continue to get money to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, U.S. investigators tell Congress.

September 30, 2009|David G. Savage

WASHINGTON — Despite success in shutting down the financing of terrorist groups within its borders, Saudi Arabia remains a top source of funding for Al Qaeda elsewhere and Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, the Government Accountability Office said in a report to Congress.

The report does not name individuals or estimate how much money might be flowing to the terrorists.

Since 2003, the Saudis have barred charities from transferring money outside the kingdom, but the GAO said that this hadn't prevented Saudi-based charities with branches abroad from serving as funding sources for terrorist groups. Some of the money is being smuggled out of the country in cash through the use of couriers, it said.

The report cites the International Islamic Relief Organization and its branches in Indonesia and the Philippines as having provided fundraising support for Al Qaeda. It also points to the many branches of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation.

In 2004, the Saudi government said that Al-Haramain was being dissolved, but the organization's leadership reconstituted under different names and has continued to operate. Last year, the U.S. Treasury Department listed "all branches of Al-Haramain, including its headquarters in Saudi Arabia, for having provided support to Al Qaeda as well as other terrorists and terrorist organizations."

Despite the tightened financial controls within Saudi Arabia, the GAO concluded, charities with operations in several countries can still "move money out of the country."

However, U.S. officials don't blame the Saudi government.

Officials emphasized that "this funding allegedly comes from individuals or multinational organizations, not from the Saudi government," the report says, "and that the government of Saudi Arabia is pursuing terrorism financiers and cooperating with the United States to counter terrorism funding."

"Further, experts we spoke with agreed that there is no indication that the Saudi government is providing funding for terrorism," it says.

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david.savage@latimes.com

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