Saudi Finance

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SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY

 Loretta Napoleoni

Late in the day, on September 11, 2001, when the news broke that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens, the White House and the Saudi Embassy were already engaged in collateral damage control. Throughout September, George W. Bush appeared in public accompanied by the Saudi Ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and by several other distinguished Muslim and Arab-American friends, who had generously contributed to his presidential campaign. Paradoxically, most of them had links with radical Islamist groups. On September 14, in a display of solidarity for Bush’s “war on terror”, Muzammil Siddiqi, president of the Islamic Society of North America, was photographed at the White House with the President and 15 other prominent American Muslims.  A year earlier, Siddiqi had addressed a pro-Hezbollah crowd in Washington, predicting that the wrath of God would soon land on American soil. In the same picture, sandwiched between Siddiqi and Bush, was Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, who, on the afternoon of 9/11, had stated on a Los Angeles public radio station that "we should put the State of Israel on the suspect list" for the terrorist attacks. On September 17, during his historic visit to the Islamic Center in Washington, the President was filmed with Khaled Saffuri, former deputy director of the American Muslim Council, a radical Islamic institution, whose director, Abduraman Alamoudi, had publicly supported Hamas and Hezbollah.

As investigations were carried out across the world, the Saudi connection with Islamist terror kept re-surfacing and the White House began to struggle pretending that the Kingdom was a loyal ally. A new reality emerged: Saudi Arabian involvement in terrorism was by no mean limited to Osama bin Laden and his entourage. Beyond the 15 Saudi hijackers stood not an isolated group, Al Qaeda, but rather a global financial network. Americans learned that, for decades, Islamic banks had funneled Saudi charities’ money, via subsidiaries and corresponding banks, to terror groups and cells scattered across the world. Businessman, traders, bankers, individuals, even members of the Saudi Royal family, had contributed, in one-way or another, to this pool of money. Prince Bandar’s own wife, a personal friend of the Bush family and the Saudi King’s daughter, was caught in this web when the media unveiled that some of her personal charitable donations had ended up in the pockets of two 9/11 hijackers.

Against this extraordinary background, the US has not taken any serious measure against Saudi Arabia. After the destruction of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the second chapter of Bush and Blair’s ‘war on terror’ unfolded north of Saudi Arabia, inside Iraq, where a controversial war was fought against Saddam Hussein and his dictatorial regime. Why did coalition forces not hunt down those who have been funding terrorism? Why did the White House censor the sections referring to Saudi financing of the Congressional Report on 9/11? Because of a shocking paradox: for the last 25 years, the US government has been in bed with Saudi Arabia, the hot bed of Wahhabism, the root of Islamist terror.  

Conceived in the middle of the 18th century by Wahhab, an obscure mullah from the tiny Central Arabian settlement of Uyana, in the region of Nejd, Wahhabism emerged as a reaction to the decadence of the Ottoman Empire. In essence, Wahhab blamed the insufficient purity of the Islamic faithful for the political crisis then engulfing the Muslim world. Stripping religion of 1000 years of civilization, custom, and culture, Wahhabism became, in the 1920s, a powerful political tool in the hands of an aggressive tribe - the future House of Saud – determined to carve a kingdom out of the crumbling Ottoman Empire.   “So strong was the religious drive,” explains Matt Levitt, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and former terrorist analyst for the FBI, “that the partnership between political and religious powers became integral to the legitimacy of the Saudi royal family.” Today, one of the pillars upon which the House of Saud’s power rests is the propagation of Wahhabi Islam in Saudi Arabia and throughout the world. All other religions are banned and condemned, and their adherents attacked as blasphemers. The belligerent and militant proselytism of Wahhabism - unaltered for almost three centuries - is at the root of the Saudi policy of religious colonization of the Muslim world; a policy implemented by financing Islamist groups.

In the 1980s, the anti-Soviet Jihad - a $5 billion per year joint venture between the CIA and the House of Saud - kicked the Soviets out of Afghanistan and led directly to the Islamization of that region. “The Saudis propagated Wahhabism,” admitted Hameed Gul, former head of ISI, the Pakistani CIA. Instead of carrying a pro-Western, pro-democracy message, the Mujahedin spread the revolutionary creed of Wahhab. The Taliban movement was the direct consequence of the Saudi indoctrination of Afghanistan; according to Ahmed Rashid’s best selling book, The Taliban, its members modeled themselves upon Wahhab. When the war ended, some Mujahedin moved on to Kashmir, Bosnia, Chechnya and Indonesia, merging into local Islamist armed groups; others headed home to Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, where they strengthened old - and gave birth to new - terror organizations. The Islamic Jihad in Egypt and the GIA in Algeria are some of their offspring. Islamist groups proselytized and fought for a common cause: the implementation of a confederation of Islamist states (what Osama bin Laden called The New Caliphate) ruled by the strictest adherence to the Wahhabi creed. Saudi money, an estimated $2 to 3 billion per year, flowed ceaselessly into their coffers; “Al Qaeda alone,” reads a UN report prepared for the Security Council, “received 20% of Saudi GNP over the last ten years”. To channel the money, the Saudis used the international network of Islamic banks, which had been established during the anti-Soviet Jihad and, conveniently, had never properly been disbanded.

 “The idea that Islamist terror uses offshore banking is a myth,” reads a UN report on terror financing. Funding comes predominantly from legitimate institutions scattered around the Muslim world; this is an intricate, vast and almost impenetrable web, a souk of subsidiaries, correspondent banks and financial institutions. Islamic banks are its lifeline. Created in the late 1970s, after the first oil shock produced a massive capital inflow into Saudi Arabia and other oil producing countries, Islamic banks are the product of another unique alliance between the emerging Saudi bourgeoisie and the Wahhabi religious elite. The former provided the money and the latter advised upon the structure to a new breed of banks, institutions shaped according to the teaching of Islam.

The cornerstones of Islamic banking are two Saudi banks: the Dar Al Maal Al Islami (DMI) and the Dallah Al Baraka (DAB). Each has vast networks of subsidiaries and corresponding banks in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.  Very powerful men run these banks: Mohammad Al Faisal, brother of Prince Turki, former head of Saudi Intelligence and son of the late Saudi King, founded DMI; Saleh Abdullah Kamel, the Saudi magnate and the king’s brother-in-law, created the DAB holding group, a banking empire with 23 branches and several investment companies scattered across 15 countries.  Saleh is the stereotypical Islamic capitalist, a visionary character who is at his best when swimming against the tide; a workaholic, who is proud to have created over 60,000 jobs; the patriarch of an immense extended family, he is, at the same time, a simple man who honors the old desert tradition of frugality.  According to Forbes Magazine, he is the 137th richest man in the world, with a fortune worth $4 billion.

Saleh was also among the founders of the Al Shamil Islamic Bank in Sudan. The US State Department claimed that Osama bin Laden controlled this bank, after paying $50 million towards its ownership.  It is more likely that he only became a large shareholder when, in the mid 1990s, Osama moved several of his businesses and assets to Sudan. Former bin Laden business associate Jamal Ahmed Mohammad al Fadl, who testified at the trial against Al Qaeda operatives responsible for the 1998 bombing of two US embassies in Africa, confirmed that bin Laden used the Al Shamil, as well as the Faisal and the Tadamon Islamic Banks, to channel money to his followers around the world. Interestingly, the Faisal and the Tadamon are both among the largest stockholder of the Al Shamil.

The Tadamon is the second largest banking institution in Saudi Arabia. Among its shareholders are several Islamic banks from the Gulf, such as the Bahrain Islamic Bank, the Kuwait Finance House, the Dubai Islamic Bank and the National Company for Development and Trade of Khartoum, which controls 15 per cent of the Tadamon. The bank has 21 operative branches in Saudi Arabia and a considerable network in Sudan, where it is particularly active in the agricultural, industrial and real estate sectors. Because of this network, the Tadamon is ideally placed to channel to Islamist armed groups Saudi funds from zakat - the religious almsgiving required of all Muslims.

 The zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam, the others being the iman, the belief in one god and in the role of Mohammed as his prophet: the salah, the daily prayers performed five times a day; the sawm, the fasting during the month of Ramadan; and the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, at least once in a lifetime.  The zakat is a form of giving to those who are less fortunate, an obligation upon all Muslims to part from 2.5 % of their wealth and assets each year. It is an act of worship because it is a way of offering thanks to God for the material well-being that one has acquired. Naturally, the zakat has been incorporated into the structure of Islamic banks, which apply it to every contract or transaction they handle. Zakat transactions are kept off the balance sheets and are, therefore, untraceable; as soon as the transfers are complete, all records are destroyed.

In Saudi Arabia zakat is a large potential source of income - the 6,000 members of the Saudi royal family alone, for example, are worth $600 billion, making their zakat potentially equivalent to a yearly $15 billion. Recent UN estimates set the yearly Saudi zakat at about $10 billion.  These funds are controlled by the Department of Zakat of the Saudi Ministry of Finance and National Economy, which in turns channels them to the 241 Saudi charitable institutions. Charities also attract a yearly $4 billion in independent donations.

Zakat paid to charities is one of the many stratagems used to finance Islamist groups,” confirms Ayesha Siddiqa-Agha, a Pakistani military specialist. “During the 1980s, the Saudis channeled $1 billion per year towards militant Islamist organizations in Pakistan, mostly under the guise of donations to charitable organizations”.  Saudi and Palestinian documents released in April 2002 (found in the headquarters of the Tulkarm Charity Committee, an organization based in the Occupied Territories and linked to Hamas), during operation Defensive Shield, proved that the Saudis have been funding suicide bombers and other terrorist activities via charitable channels. Monies disguised as donations by the Committee for Support of the Intifadat al-Quds, a Saudi charity headed by Saudi Interior Minister, Naif Ibn Adeb al Aziz, regularly reached the Occupied Territories. Funds arrive monthly to the Cairo-Amman Bank, an agent of Western Union Money Transfer Service, via two major banking routes: one from Damascus via Jordan, the other from Saudi Arabia through Egypt. The Cairo-Amman bank has 21 branches in Palestine; its network includes 51 branches in Jordan and a web of corresponding banks in Egypt.

Islamic banks, not charities, are the life-line of Wahhabi insurgency, they are the feeder of Islamist armed groups; without them ‘terror-donations’ could not reach the end users scattered around the world. Members of the Saudi elite manage this complex financial network and therefore, are fully responsible for terrorist attacks. This is the essence of a 1 trillion-dollar lawsuit filed by relatives of 9/11 victims against distinguished members of the Saudi elite. Among the defendants are Saudi top bankers: Saleh Abdullah Kamel and his brother, Omar Abdullah Kamel, for their roles in the Faisal Islamic Bank, and the Dallah Al Baraka, named parties in the lawsuit; Mohammed al Faisal, chairman of Dar-al-Maar al Islami, a Swiss-based holding which owns the Islamic Investment Company of the Gulf, whose subsidiary is the Faisal Islamic Bank. Interestingly, plenty of the defendants’ money has been invested in the United States. The day after the lawsuit was filed, $200 billion of Saudi assets were withdrawn from the US.

 Most Saudi bankers are masters of financial dissemblance, an art they perfected at the Cold-War school of clandestine money movement.  Among them is Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz, brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden and banker of the Royal Family, a man whom Forbes considers the 251st richest man in the world, with a fortune worth $1.9 billion.  Like most rich Saudis, Mahfouz is a man of amazing connections - including the Bush family, whose support facilitated his purchase of a section of the Houston airport to ease traveling to his Texas residence. According to a US Senate report, in the 1980s, Mahfouz’s Saudi National Commercial Bank bankrolled deals in the Iran-Contra affair where Israel brokered US arms to Iran. Another distinguished Saudi citizen involved in the affair was Adnan Khashoggi, arms dealer, playboy, jet setter and tycoon, who acted as guarantor of $17 million US government secret arms sale to Teheran. The Monte Carlo branch of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), at the time the main conduit for laundering money for CIA clandestine operations, handled the money transfers involved in the transaction.

BCCI was an Islamic bank controlled by three families, the Mahfouz of Saudi Arabia, the Geith Pharaon of Abu Dhabi and the Gokan of Pakistan. Though it was a Pakistani-registered bank, it was funded by the Saudis and their friends: Mahfouz’s National Commercial Bank, for example, owned 20%; another leading shareholder was Kamal Adham, a former head of Saudi Intelligence, whose business partner was the former CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia, Raymond Close. William Casey, the former head of CIA, was so impressed by the ‘special’ services provided by the bank that he personally hand picked it to channel secret CIA funds to the Mujahedin in Afghanistan. It was thanks to the BCCI, in fact, that Ronald Reagan convinced the Iranians to release the American hostages right after his election as President, in what has become known as operation ‘October Surprise’.

Throughout the 1980s, until its collapse for fraud, the BCCI’s seedy banking network supplied the Americans with ad hoc tools to defeat the Soviets and supported the Saudis in their effort to win leaders of Muslim countries away from the influence of Iran. “The Saudis see Iran as a real threat to their leadership in the Muslim world,’ explains Al Faghi, a prominent Saudi dissident; Teheran is the toughest competitor in the process of religious colonization pursued by Riyadh. “It was in the wake of the Iranian Revolution, that the Saudis began funding Pakistani anti-Shia and anti-Iran organizations,” admits Arif Jamal, a Pakistani specialist in militant religious organizations. Saudi money played a big role in turning religious organizations into Wahhabi hot beds which in turn became violent against Shias and Iranians”.  This ruthless hegemonic war between the two main interpretations of Islam is far from over.   “In the 1990s, after the collapse of the Albanian economy, Saudi and Iranian banks went head to head to gain control over this Muslim foothold in Europe,” reveals Matt Levitt from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The Iranian revolution marked a major turning point in the US-Saudi relationship; it laid the ground for the “special” bond between Washington and Riyadh.  From 1978 onwards, each US administration has worked hard at molding the House of Saud into America’s most valuable Muslim ally, a role that transcends the provision of a steady supply of oil. As long as the House of Saud contained and counter-balanced Iran in the region, the US did not interfere with Saudi Arabia’s religious colonization, even if this meant ignoring the ‘donation’ of a billion dollars to Pakistan for its nuclear program or the funding of Islamist armed groups in Kashmir or Chechnya.

‘The final task of Islamic banking is to serve and promote Islam’ an Arab banker explained several years ago. For the Saudis banks are mere instruments to proselytize and spread Wahhabism. Egypt, a key US ally in the Middle East and the largest recipient of US aid after Israel, also fell victim to this expansionist and aggressive policy. According to Rifaat El-Said, general secretary of the Egyptian opposition party Tagammu (Progressive Union), in 1993 the Saudis offered money to Mubarak’s government on the condition that it would encourage the Wahhabization of Egyptian society. The primary vehicles for this have been the media and the banking system.  In a country starved of cash, the Saudis successfully promoted the proliferation of Islamic investment houses and penetrated the banking system. Among them is the Islamic Development Bank, part of the IDB Group (the Islamic Corporation for the Development of Private Sector), created by the Organization of Islamic Conference, a Wahhabi anti-Zionist institution founded in 1969. Naturally, Islamic banks’ loans are conditional on strict adherence to Islamic laws and traditions. 

In Egypt, the arrival of Saudi cheap credit coincided with the reactivation of fundamentalist armed groups, primarily Islamic Jihad. In 1995, members of this organization made an attempt on the life of Mubarak, and, in 1997, they succeeded in killing 58 people, mostly tourists, in Luxor. “This is a familiar pattern in Muslim countries,” commented an Italian aid worker in Sarajevo. “Albania, Kosovo, and Bosnia have all experienced this phenomenon: Islamic banks bring cheap and plentiful cash while Islamist groups target the sector of traditional economy which generates hard currencies, such as tourism”. The aim is to maximize the dependency of the society on Islamic finance, a crucial first step towards the Wahhabization of the economy. Is Syria next in line? Anticipating the liberalization of the economy of the new Syrian president, Bashar al Assad, a team of Muslim investors formed a consortium and put $100 million into the Syrian economy.  Some of the members are well-known names in the murky world of Islamist terror financing: the Dallah Al Baraka of Saleh Abdullah Kamel; the bin Laden consortium of Osama’s brother Saleh; the Saudi Oger, a contracting concern of Lebanese premier Rafiq Al Hariri; and the First Saudi Investment Company of Syrian businessman Wafiq Said.

 Wahhabism and Saudi financing form a dual track in Riyadh’s religious colonization. The strategy is simple:  Islamic banks prepare the ground for Saudi fundamentalism to penetrate deep into the Muslim world. For over two decades, Saudi money have paid for mosques and madrasses - the religious schools where children are indoctrinated, studying exclusively the Qur’an and the Quranic laws. Inside, Wahhabi mullahs preach and teach a bellicose vision of Islam.  This is a phenomenon that affects every single country where Muslims live. In Punjab, for example, government officials admit that the Saudis have targeted the region.  “By the end of 2001 there were 2,715 Wahhabi seminars with 250,000 students in the Punjab alone”, wrote The Tribune, a leading Pakistani political magazine. Punjabi Wahhabi students are tutored in ‘unusual’ skills ranging from religious propaganda to guerrilla combat.  Why are these schools so popular? “Wahhabi’s violent and radical message reached Muslim populations at a time when they were struggling with exceptional demographic growth and high unemployment,” explains Mehvish Hessein, deputy editor of the Tribune. “Young disillusioned and unemployed Muslims responded enthusiastically to it, streaming into mosques and madrasses from which some of them joined newly formed Islamist armed groups.” Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world: in the mid-1990s, the annual demographic growth of the Muslim population was 6.4 per cent versus a modest 1.5 per cent for the Christian population.  This is an immense reservoir for Islamist terror.

Today, Wahhabi Islam has become the unifying ideology for Islamist warriors in the same way as Marxism-Leninism had been for the communists. Old and new mosques provide the necessary network, the mirror image of the Islamic banking one, guaranteeing that the process of colonization runs smoothly and spreads at a fast rate. The Mosque Network also reaches deep into the Western world. In Birmingham, England, just as in Mardan, in the North West Frontier of Pakistan, mosques are supplying funds and fighters for the world-wide Jihad against the hegemonic power of the West. Money is raised in many ways; for example, through the Kafil, a type of funding which in the 1980s proved to be one of the most effective methods of recruitment and sponsoring of the Mujahedin. “On Friday”, explains K.M. Mustafa, a former Egyptian Mujahedin residing in Peshawar, “the katiba (fund raiser) in the Mosque urges people to join or finance the Jihad. If someone is unable to participate, he can sponsor someone else”.  The sponsor pays for all expenses of the Mujahedin, including transportation and weapons. According to Saudi dissidents, the Kafil system is very much alive inside Saudi Arabia. 

Calculating the pool of money raised via the Mosque Network is an impossible task for many reasons, amongst which the difficulty in quantifying the wealth and commitment of the various ethnic communities. Britain, for example, is the second largest benefactor of Muslim Kashmir, after Kashmiris living in the Middle East. In 2001, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamist terror group active in Kashmir and India, alone received £2 million in donations from British Muslims. A realistic estimate, however, would set the Mosque Network’s contribution at one third of terror financing, with the other two-thirds coming from direct sponsorship and illegal and criminal activities.

“The religious character of the alliance between the Royal family and the Ulema, the highest religious authority inside the Kingdom, is at the root of the idiosyncrasies of Saudi politics,” explains Al Faghi. In the mid-1990s, it was the Ulema that put pressure on the King to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan, at a time when the Taliban hosted Osama bin Laden, enemy number one of the House of Saud. Again it was the Ulema that prevented the Saudi ruling elite from actively prosecuting bin Laden when, at the onset of the first Gulf War, he accused them to have betrayed Wahhabism by allowing US soldiers to be stationed inside the Kingdom and to have prevented him to organize an Arab militia to fight Saddam. Why? Because Saudi Arabia’s blackest sheep and the Ulema share a common goal: to rid the Muslim world of western influence in order to facilitate the spreading of Wahhabism. 

Ambiguity also permeates Saudi’s anti-terrorism policy. In March 2002, a US-Saudi joint order froze the funds held in Bosnia and Somalia by al Haramain Islamic foundation, a Mecca-based charity headed by Sheikh Saleh bin Abdul Aziz al-Ashaikh, Saudi minister for Islamic affairs. On August 2002, after persistent pressure from the Saudis, the Bosnian authorities released the assets and renewed the operating licenses of al Haramain. In September 2002, a Saudi newspaper even reported that the charity was expanding its activities in both Bosnia and Somalia, and had opened an Islamic center costing $530,000 in Sarajevo.  “So far, Saudi restrictions imposed on Islamic charities have had only a temporary impact on the flow of terror money, mostly because state-paid religious leaders sit on the boards of these organization,” explains Matt Levitt. The Government is also reluctant to curb donations for fear of being unpopular among the population, who openly support Islamist causes around the world. The classified results of a poll conducted inside Saudi Arabia show that 95% of educated Saudis aged 25-41 support bin Laden’s cause. “These are people who want a regime change inside Saudi Arabia,” explained a Saudi dissident,  “people who consider blasphemous the pro-American attitude of some members of the Saudi Royal family, people who see Osama as a hero, the men who purify the Kingdom by bringing it back to the roots of Wahhabism.”

The fiscal structure of Islamic countries makes it particularly difficult to monitor the flow of money going into charitable organizations. In Saudi Arabia, for example, there is no tax system or internal revenue service; consequently no one is able to audit the accounts and keep track of monetary inflows and outflows. The structure of the Islamic banking system, shaped by the Wahhabi religious elite according to the teaching of Islam, is of no help either. Most transactions are in cash and go unrecorded. Unsurprisingly, “the Saudi banking system is not totally transparent and Riyadh does not maintain strict oversight,” admitted Carl W. Ford Jr., assistant secretary of State for Intelligence and Research to the Senate Committee on Intelligence on February 6, 2002. The failure to curb terror funds has left the pool of money available to Islamist groups almost untouched - an estimated $5 to $16 billion per year.

Well before 9/11, the international financial world and the US authorities were aware of the idiosyncrasies of Saudi politics and knew too well the role that Saudi bankers and members of the Saudi elite played in the deadly game of Islamist terror. In 1999, the Saudi government discovered that Mahfouz, bin Laden’s brother in law, had used the National Commercial Bank to transfer $3 million to charitable organizations acting as fronts for bin Laden’s network. From the Saudi audit acquired by US intelligence, it transpired that the money originated from five top Saudi businessmen.  Part of this sum was sent to the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) in the Philippines, a Saudi charity set up in the early 1990s by Mohammad Jamal Khalifa, another bin Laden’s brother in law, who was married to a Filipina from Mindanao. The December 2002 UN Security Council report describes the IIRO as a ‘pipeline’ for bankrolling local Islamist armed groups such as Abu Sayyef, which is fighting to turn Mindanao into an Islamic state. US intelligence investigators believe that Khalifa managed via IIRO terror funds for his brother-in-law in several countries, including Malaysia, Mauritius, Singapore and the Philippines. Vincent Cannistraro, the former CIA chief of counter-terrorism, even accused Khalifa of being involved in the funding of the Islamic Army of Aden, the group that claimed responsibility for the bombing of the USS Cole.

The suspicion that Saudi charities were used to channel funds to Islamist armed groups was backed by plenty of more evidence. A secret list of 31 suspected charities, including several from Saudi Arabia, circulated among anti-terrorist specialists as far back as 1996. The FBI even investigated some of them, amongst which the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), based in Alexandria, Va. WAMY was founded in 1972 in Saudi Arabia with the aim of blocking ‘Western corruptive ideas’. By 2002, it was controlling 450 organizations in 34 countries. In the early 1990s, it began acting as a channel for Saudi donations to radical Islamist groups. Among them was the Student Islamic Movement of India, which supports Islamist armed groups in Kashmir and seeks to transform India into an Islamist state. In the late 1990s, the Philippine military denounced WAMY for its funding of Islamist insurgency.

None of the FBI investigations really came to fruition. Why? “Because of disturbing interferences from the White House,” reveals BBC reporter Greg Palast, author of the best selling book, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. In the specific case of WAMY, FBI agents were prevented from acting on their request to investigate it as "a suspected terrorist organization fronted by two members of the bin Laden family in the US”, adds Palast. Abdullah bin Laden, was the US director of the charity, and his brother Omar, was very active inside the organization.  Restrictions on the FBI investigations were imposed during the Clinton administration, who wanted to maintain ‘good’ relationship with the Saudis; they increased when President Bush was elected, to the point where agents were specifically told to ‘back off’. “By the time the shackles were removed from the inquiry, those bin Ladens had left the States,” concludes Palast.  On September 18, 2002, members of the bin Laden family were whisked out of America  on a privately-chartered plane for a flight back to their country of origin, Saudi Arabia, where US investigators could not reach them. Ironically, the administration that launched the ‘preventive strike doctrine’ has prevented the FBI from properly investigating the funding of Islamist terror.

So far, the ‘special’ treatment granted to the Saudi elite in the US has survived 9/11, the war in Afghanistan (where many Saudis citizens fought alongside the Taliban) and plenty of undisputed evidence of the Saudi role in funding Islamist terror. In April 2002, the Bosnian police handed over to the US Justice department a report entitled ‘Golden Chain Link’. It listed the names of 20 top financial backers of Islamist terror. The document had been found during a raid in an al Qaeda safe house in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Among the bankers are the usual names, Saleh Kamel; Mohamed al Jumaih, chairman of IIRO and president of First Islamic Investment Bank; Kalid bin Mahfouz; and Ahmed Turki Yamani, former head of Aramco and ex-Saudi oil minister. The US Justice Department has refused to declassify the report pending the investigation. However, the Bosnian authorities have had no problem in making it public. For how much longer will Washington protect Riyadh?

 “The war on terror will not be won without addressing the Saudi ambiguity towards financing Islamist groups,” admonishes Matt Levitt. This will never happen as long as Saudi Arabia continues to enjoy a ‘privileged’ relationship with the US.  For The Economist, the essence of this bond rests upon the nature of US-Saudi diplomacy, which has been forged around personal ties.  This habit, one should point out, is typical of nomadic tribal societies - like the Saudi Bedouins used to be, living in tents, migrating from one oasis to the next while looking after their animals - but alien to a post-modern, multi-ethnic democracy like the United States. The man who brought Bedouin diplomacy inside the White House is Prince Bandar. For years, the Saudi ambassador has practically been a member of the Bush family. “You are my friend for life, one of my family,” wrote Bandar in a letter to Bush senior. In 1985, he threw a lavish party at his residence in Washington, in honor of George Bush Senior. In August 2002, he was one of four foreigners invited to lunch at President Bush’s Texas ranch; all the other guests were heads of state.

Prince Bandar’s Bedouin diplomacy complemented Saudi Bedouin business practice. Over the last 20 years, the Bush family had several opportunities to become acquainted with it, thanks also to a close friend, James Bath. Bath, who in 1979 bought for $50,000 a 5% stake in George W. Bush’s Arbusto Energy, was at the time the sole representative of Salem bin Laden, head of the bin Laden family, in Texas. In 1988, when Salem died, his friend, partner and son in law, Mahfouz, inherited his interests. At that time, Bath was already running a business for him in Houston and had established a partnership with the Saudi banker and Geith Pharaon. In 1986, when Harken Energy Corporation, a ‘rejuvenated’ Arbusto Energy, got into financial trouble, it was another partner of Pharaon and personal friend of Mahfouz, Saudi Sheik Abdullah Taha Bakhsh, who solved George W’s cash crisis by purchasing 17% of Harken. BCCI handled most of the transactions.

Bandar’s ties with the Republican Party go back to 1978, when the Carter administration was battling with the first Islamic revolution of modern times. Prince Bandar was asked to convince Ronald Reagan, then Governor of California, to back the $2.5 billion sale of sixty F-15 fighter jets to the Saudis, the first major US arm sales to Saudi Arabia. Since then, all US administrations have sold arms to the Saudis, the US major Muslim ally against Iran, thereby also providing the royal family with a special ‘security blanket’ against strong and violent internal opposition. The Washington arms lobby loves him, commented a retired lawyer, because he makes their job so much easier. Prince Bandar’s ties with US arms producers were cemented during the Reagan era, when he personally acted as an intermediary in the Iran-Contra affair, arranging $32 million, mostly via Swiss bank accounts, in Saudi financing to arm the Nicaraguan Contras.

From 1990 to 1999, the Saudi government paid US arms makers $30 billion for weaponry, including F-15 fighter aircrafts, M-1A2 Abrams tanks and Apache attack helicopters. Americans have also provided operational and maintenance training. In exchange, the Saudis have been extremely generous. No presidential library has been built and no political campaign has been financed without Saudi ‘donations’. US Ivy League universities have been showered with millions; some, like Harvard, even received money from the bin Laden family. The Saudis have also played a vital role in maintaining stable oil prices, in support of US foreign policy. During the Iran-Iraq war, they used their surplus production to supply the West; during the Gulf War they released, with a few other Gulf producers, 5 million extra barrels a day to offset the Iraqi and Kuwaiti quota, and, in the two weeks following 9/11, they shipped an extra 9 million barrels of oil to the US, helping to avoid a surge in inflation caused by the panic following the attack.  During the recent war in Iraq, the Saudis released an additional half million barrels of oil per day. Together with Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, they more than offset the Iraqi quota. Total oil supply actually rose from February to May 2003.

As his Bedouin ancestors taught him, Prince Bandar spreads funds across the political spectrum, to cement friendships with outgoing and incoming Presidents and administrations.  However, Saudi generosity is clearly biased towards the Republican party. “The Saudis have become to the Republicans what the Jews are to the Democrats - major fund raisers,” said a Washington lobbyist, an evolutionary process orchestrated by Prince Bandar in co-operation with Grover Norquist. Norquist, a well-known Republican fund-raiser and master of coalitions, is co-founder of the Islamic Institute with Khaled Saffuri, one of the distinguished Wahhabi Muslims photographed with Bush at the White House on September 17, 2001. It was Norquist who engineered the Republican outreach to the fast-growing American Muslim community, which today stands at 7 million, on the basis that Muslims are well-off and socially conservative. In the summer of 2001, he wrote in the American Spectator “American Muslims look like members of the Christian Coalition,” a comparison that to Wahhabi’s ears sounds like the ultimate insult, and which is in sharp contradiction with the Wahhabi propaganda which circulates inside the US.  “Judaism and Christianity are deviant religions,” admonishes the Deen al Haqq (The True Religion), one of the many hate booklets printed by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs in Riyadh and distributed in the US by the Institute of Islamic and Arab Sciences in America, based in Fairfax, Va. Its web page lists, among hate literature centers, the Royal Saudi Embassy Office for Islamic Affairs, whose offices are on the second floor of the Saudi Embassy in Washington, and WAMY. In the US, WAMY even promotes the ideas of one of its employees, Sheikh Saad al Buraik, the religious advisor of Prince Abdul Azziz bin Fahd, a son of King Fahd, who, in 2001, called for the enslavement of Jewish women and the death of all their children. So well-received was Buraik’s anti-Jewish exhortation in his homeland that it got him a job as the host of a weekly TV show on the Middle East Broadcasting Company (MBC), owned by Azziz and his uncle, Waleed al Ibrahim.

These are the beliefs of Wahhabis, members of a militant, violent, ultra-conservative sect, set to colonize the world - a goal which, in their eyes, justifies any type of atrocity. Today, the United States is no longer safe; Wahhabi terrorists have destroyed its defences.  The illusion that America can keep political violence from penetrating its borders has evaporated. So has the notion that Washington can manipulate Islamist armed groups to its own advantage. What remains is America’s fear of energy deficiency, the result of its addiction to oil and the fear of Iran. For how long, in the service of these phobias, will Washington carry on sleeping with the enemy?

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