WASHINGTON – Islamic charities and similar groups in northern Virginia recently raided by federal officials all have something in common — Saudi Arabia.
Investigators are looking into the Safa Trust, the Saar Group, the Wafa Humanitarian Organization, and 16 other Islamic charities with ties to the Saudi royal family.
The Saudi's have pledged to help choke off terrorist financing. And publicly, U.S. officials say Saudi Arabia is trying to be part of the solution
"We're fully satisfied with Saudi Arabia as we work together on the important financial aspect of the war against terrorism," State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said.
Privately, however, investigators complain that powerful factions of the Saudi government are part of the problem because they're associated with — or look the other way — when some Islamic charities funnel cash to terrorists.
The Treasury Department's terror financing investigation, Operation Green Quest, has raided nearly four dozen American Muslim organizations with ties to Saudi officials.
They include offices of the Muslim World League, the International Institute of Islamic Thought and various others groups. In addition, hundreds of other warrants, raids and arrests have been conducted by other federal agencies across the country.
In the United States, more than 1,000 Islamic centers, mosques and schools operate, many legitimately, and are both furious and heartbroken that terrorists are giving Muslims a bad name.
But the problem is pervasive, cash donations are almost impossible to trace or control. Donations could be paying for sandals for orphans or explosives for suicide bombers.
The FBI has investigated several militant Islamic groups over the last 15 years but few if any charges have ever been filed. But now, two lawsuits have been filed against the United States, alleging that investigators blew it.
One suit sites a federal official's affidavit in Florida that the Clinton administration halted terror-financing investigations linked to the Saudi royal family and Palestinian extremists.
Another suit alleges that fundraising for Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda had been discovered by a separate federal investigator but his evidence was ignored.
Bush administration Justice Department officials are giving the Clinton administration investigations the benefit of the doubt, saying before Sept. 11, the world and the laws were different.
In fact, they say many of the recent raids and arrests were not possible seven months ago, because the Patriot Act, which gives investigators greater authority to pursue terrorism, did not exist until six months ago. Since then, those investigations are being pursued with vigor.