Saudi Arabia announced today that it is dissolving a large Muslim charity, which the United States has accused of helping to fund the al Qaeda terrorist network, and transferring its funds into a new national entity that will be the sole vehicle for Saudi charitable donations for international causes.
The announcement at the Saudi Embassy in Washington came as the U.S. Treasury Department disclosed that the U.S. and Saudi governments have designated five additional branches of the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation as supporters of al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, making the branches subject to international sanctions including the freezing of their assets.
The Treasury Department also announced that it was designating the former leader of al-Haramain, Aqil Abdulaziz Aqil, as an al Qaeda supporter. The Saudi government did not join in this move, saying it was still investigating Aqil, although it has frozen his assets in Saudi Arabia.
In a press conference at the Saudi Embassy, Adel Jubeir, the foreign affairs adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah, said the consolidation of charitable fundraising in the kingdom and the distribution of those funds abroad showed Saudi Arabia's commitment to ensuring that such donations are not used to support terrorism.
"We are determined to crush this evil from our midst," Jubeir said. He said the actions of al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia "have grown more desperate," and that "as they grow more desperate, our resolve grows stronger." He added, "Our leaders are committed to fighting terrorism no matter how long it takes."
Jubeir's comments followed a violent hostage-taking by suspected al Qaeda members that left 22 people dead in the oil center of Khobar over the weekend.
Jubeir said Saudi Arabia has arrested "hundreds" of terrorists, seized large arms caches and worked to "educate the public" about terrorism by ensuring that Muslim clerics in the kingdom present Islam as "a religion of peace and tolerance and not one of violence and murder."
He said Saudi authorities also have decided to "go after the finances" of terrorist networks, in part by cracking down on charities that send money to foreign beneficiaries. To that end, he said, a new organization is being created, the Saudi National Commission for Relief and Charity Work Abroad.
"The new entity that is being set up will be the sole vehicle for private Saudi contributions that are raised in Saudi Arabia" for foreign causes, Jubeir said. All Saudi charities sending money abroad "will be folded into this new national commission," he said. He said the commission would "operate with total transparency," with an accounting every three months and audited statements every year.
The move, following a freeze on Saudi donations overseas a year ago, allows Saudis to resume charitable donations to overseas groups.
"Charity is a part of our faith," Jubeir said. "And charity is noble."
Al-Haramain, a huge charity in Saudi Arabia, raised as much as $50 million a year at its peak, Jubeir said. He said he expects the new commission to raise and distribute about $100 million a year.
In their joint action today, the U.S. and Saudi governments designated the branches of Haramain in Afghanistan, Albania, Bangladesh, Ethiopia and the Netherlands as al Qaeda supporters. Previously, the United States had named the charity's branches in Bosnia, Somalia, Indonesia, Kenya, Tanzania and Pakistan as terrorist supporters.
Al-Haramain has denied any links to Islamic terrorist groups.
The Treasury Department said Aqil, 55, the founder and former chief of Haramain, "was responsible for all [Haramain] activities, including its support for terrorism." It said in a statement that although Aqil was no longer in charge of Haramain as of March, he "may still be in a position to exercise control or influence" over the organization.
It described Haramain as "one of the principal Islamic NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] providing support for the al Qaeda network and promoting militant Islamic doctrine worldwide.
The Treasury statement said numerous Haramain field offices and representatives in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America "appeared to be providing financial and material support to the al Qaeda network."
Under Aqil's leadership, it said, the charity has operated in more than 50 countries all over the world.