Saudi Charity Still Open Despite Order to Close

A charity that Washington accuses of helping finance terrorist activities was still open Thursday — the deadline that the government ordered for its operations to be dissolved — and an official said employees do not know when their last day of work will be.

The official, who would not give his name, said the Riyadh-based al-Haramain Foundation (search) has been notified of the government decision to close it, but a committee entrusted with setting a time for the closure had not decided when that day will come.

"Come here Saturday, come here Sunday and you will see employees reporting to work," the official said. "The closure cannot happen with the push of a button."

A Saudi official speaking late Wednesday said the foundation was as good as closed and any employees still be reporting to work are merely dealing with paperwork to end contracts of the staff and dissolve the foundation.

Earlier this month, a Saudi official said the government had ordered the charity's closure and dissolution of operations by Oct. 15.

The U.S. government, as part of its anti-terrorism strategy after the Sept. 11 attacks, has sought to cut off the sources of terrorists' financing. Al-Haramain came under scrutiny on suspicion of funding Al Qaeda (search) terror activities.

Last month, the Bush administration designated al-Haramain as a group suspected of supporting terrorism through its Springfield, Mo., mosque and its main location in Ashland, Ore., saying the charity "shows direct links between the U.S. branch and Usama bin Laden." Assets of the two properties have been frozen since February.

The charity's branches in 10 countries, mostly in Africa and Asia, have been shut down for suspected ties to Al Qaeda and other terror groups.

Al-Haramain repeatedly has denied it funds terrorist activities.

Interior Minister Prince Nayef said the decision was taken against al-Haramain as a "correctional" measure, and there was no evidence it was financing terrorism.

"Actually, this organization's administration and work is not well-organized," Nayef told reporters in Kuwait during a weekend visit. "And that is why it was decided it could allow leaks ... that could harm the country."

Asked if there was any evidence that money from the charity ended up in terrorists' hands, Nayef said: "There might have been something against some individuals, but as far as material evidence, there was none."

On Thursday, more than a dozen employees emerged from the cream-colored, glass-fronted building for prayers at a next-door mosque. Employees who have answered the telephone at the foundation in the last few days say staffers are being laid off. Notices on boards at the entrance of the building say: "We're sorry we cannot accept donations."

The action against al-Haramain is part of a clampdown the government began after the Sept. 11 attacks. The campaign gained momentum after the May 2003 attacks on residential compounds in Riyadh that killed 35 people.

Last year, Saudi Arabia banned all private relief and charitable groups from sending money overseas until regulations were in place to ensure funds do not go to terrorist groups.

Al-Haramain's previous activities included sending relief to Muslims in war-torn countries, including to Palestinians, Afghans and Bosnians.

Zakat (search), or the giving of alms, is one of Islam's main tenets, and Muslims are encouraged to donate to the needy.