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

Backed by Saudi money, this presence grew rapidly. King Fahd's Web site now lists 16 Islamic and cultural centers that the kingdom has helped finance in California, Missouri, Michigan, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Virginia and Maryland. The largest is the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City, a suburb of Los Angeles. The mosque, built with $8 million in private donations from the king and his son, Crown Prince Abdullah ibn Abdulaziz, was officially inaugurated in 1998 for 2,000 worshipers. It includes a Koranic school, an Islamic research center and a bookstore.

The Islamic Affairs Department at the Saudi Embassy in Washington spearheaded the campaign. At its height, the department had 35 to 40 diplomats and an annual budget of $8 million, according to a Saudi official.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, a number of Saudi-supported Islamic mosques -- such as the King Fahd Mosque -- have been under scrutiny. (Damian Dovarganes -- AP)

An Aug. 19 article on Saudi religious influence in the United States incorrectly reported that Crown Prince Abdullah ibn Abdulaziz is the son of King Fahd and joined with the king in donating $8 million to build the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City, Calif. The donation with the king was made by his son, Prince Abdulaziz bin Fahd.

_____Audio Analysis_____
David Ottaway David Ottaway, a Washington Post investigative reporter, explains Saudi-financed missionaries and possible ties to terrorist groups.
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Impervious Shield Elusive Against Drive-By Terrorists (The Washington Post, Aug 8, 2004)
About This Series

Nearly three years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the U.S. government has begun extensive efforts to root out Islamic terrorists around the world and defend potential targets at home. This article is the second in a series that will look at the nature of the elusive enemy and the problems authorities confront in finding and bringing terrorists to justice and protecting the United States. The first article dealt with the threat of truck bombs.

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In 1989, the Saudis also set up a high-powered Islamic learning center, the Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences in America, in Fairfax. The institute is an outpost of the Imam Muhammed Ibn Saud Islamic University in Riyadh, the main citadel for Wahhabi instruction.

The Islamic affairs ministry sent imams and itinerant preachers to the United States as well: As late as last year, it had 31 on its payroll, including Omar Abdi Mohamed in San Diego.

The ministry also flooded the American Muslim community with Saudi-published Korans and publications. "The great majority of books and magazines were authored by Saudi agencies," said Maher Hathout, chairman of the Islamic Center of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Hathout, an outspoken critic of Wahhabism, said the result was the increasing isolation of women in American mosques starting in the 1980s. "Mosques became gender-segregated, which didn't make any sense at all," he said.

The commentary accompanying the Saudi-published Koran, Hathout said, was "very alien to the spirit of tolerance" in U.S. society. "This may have sense over there [in Saudi Arabia] but doesn't make any sense here," he said.

In the 1990s, a "sharp debate" raged in U.S. mosques over Saudi fundamentalism, said Ihsan Bagby, chief author of the study "The Mosque in America." Radical "nongovernmental Saudi sheiks" became very active in pushing a far more militant brand of Wahhabism than the government-appointed imams, Bagby said. These radicals cultivated American Muslims, who used Saudi money to build their own mosques, he said.

In May 2003, the State Department refused reentry to the chief imam of the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City, Fahad al Thumairy, who also was a Saudi diplomat at the consulate in Los Angeles. The Sept. 11 commission report later said the State Department had determined "he might be connected with terrorist activity."

The report also said that two of the Sept. 11 hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, "spent time at the King Fahd mosque and made some acquaintances there." Al Thumairy, who reportedly led an "extremist faction" at the mosque, denied knowing the two hijackers. While his denial was "somewhat suspect," the report said there was no evidence connecting him to the hijackers.

Last December, the State Department ended the practice of allowing religious scholars and missionaries to work here on Saudi diplomatic passports, forcing at least 24 out. The best-known deportee was Jaafar Idris, a Sudanese scholar well known in the Islamic world and founder of the American Open University, based in Alexandria, which in 2002 had 540 registered students pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees in Islamic studies.

Also crippled by the crackdown was the Institute for Islamic and Arabic Sciences. Eleven of its scholars on diplomatic passports were ordered to leave. In early July, dozens of FBI, customs and IRS agents raided the institute's premises and questioned its six remaining non-Saudi teachers.

Late last year, the Saudi Embassy in Washington dissolved its Islamic Affairs Department, reducing the number of diplomats dealing with religious issues to one. The embassy also stopped distributing the Koran in the United States. At the same time, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs began reviewing its 31 missionaries and preachers in the United States. As of March, six had been fired.

The only one to go to jail was Omar Abdi Mohamed, the Somali teacher in San Diego.

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