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U.S., Saudis Seek to Freeze Charity's Assets

The United States and Saudi Arabia are seeking international support to choke off funding to four branches of a Saudi charity that authorities say diverted money to help bankroll Al Qaeda's terrorist activities.

The branches of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation (search) are in Indonesia, Kenya, Tanzania and Pakistan, the U.S. and Saudi governments said Thursday in a joint announcement.

The United States and Saudi Arabia want the United Nations to add the four branches to its blacklist of suspected terrorist financiers, which member countries must honor.

"These branches have provided financial, material and logistical support to the Al Qaeda (search) network and other terrorist organizations," the Treasury Department said.

Al-Haramain has denied any link to terrorist activities and said it was only involved in charity work for the poor.

Officials did not say how much money in charitable contributions at the four branches may have been diverted to support suspected terrorist activities.

At its height, Saudi-based Al-Haramain raised $40 million to $50 million a year in charitable contributions worldwide, said Adel Al-Jubeir, foreign policy adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.

Also Thursday, the Bush administration ordered U.S. banks to freeze any assets found in this country that belong to the four branches. It was not known whether the branches have bank accounts or other assets in the United States.

"The four branches of Al-Haramain have cloaked themselves in the virtue of charity done so only to fund and support terrorist organizations around the world," said Treasury Secretary John Snow.

With this latest action, the United States has acted to freeze the assets of six branches of the charity. The United States and Saudi Arabia have not moved to shut down the charity's main office in Saudi Arabia, officials said. Investigation continue, they said.

The two countries acted on March 11, 2002, to block the funds of the charity's branches in Somalia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Authorities believe contributions were diverted to support terrorism.

Last month, the Saudis and the United States asked the United Nations to add Vazir (search), a nonprofit organization with headquarters in Travnik, Bosnia, to its list of suspected terrorist financiers. U.S. officials said Vazir was picking up where the closed Bosnia branch of Al-Haramain left off.

The Saudi government in 2003 ordered Al-Haramain to close all of its overseas branches, according to the Treasury Department.

"Al-Haramain stated it closed branches in Indonesia, Kenya, Tanzania and Pakistan, but continued monitoring by the United States and Saudi Arabia indicates that these offices and or former officials associated with these branches are either continuing to operate or have other plans to avoid these measures," the department said.

Some in Congress have raised questions about Saudi Arabia's cooperation in the fight against terrorism and have criticized the administration's relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and other lawmakers have contended that in an attempt to maintain good relations with the kingdom because of its oil, U.S. officials ignore Saudi Arabia's lack of democracy, its religious intolerance and what critics say are less than aggressive efforts against terrorism.

Officials from the administration and the Saudi government said Thursday that the two countries are working closely together to combat terrorists and to shut down the flow of money to them. Saudi authorities have imposed new restrictions on Islamic charities to ensure donations do not end up in terrorists' hands.

"Both of our countries are targets of Al Qaeda," said Al-Jubeir. "Today we stand shoulder-to-shoulder in this war against evil."