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US Lawmakers Question Saudi Help in Fight Against Terror Financing

U.S. officials say progress continues to be made against the financing of terrorist groups in the Middle East. A congressional hearing looked at what has been done since the September 11, 2001 al-Qaida attacks in the United States.

As with previous hearings on terrorist financing, the focus was mostly on Saudi Arabia and its efforts to date to help the United States in the war on terrorism by cracking down on charities and other organizations funneling money to terrorists.

Opening the joint hearing of two House subcommittees on international terrorism and financial issues, Republican Congresswoman Sue Kelly said terrorist financing remains a difficult problem nearly four years after the September 2001 terrorist attacks.

But where Saudi Arabia is concerned, she says there is good reason for continuing concern, because of the activities of a government-backed charity, the Saudi Relief Committee for Palestinians.

“Though it has provided legitimate relief aid, it also apparently provided a structured financial reward system for the families of Palestinian suicide bombers,” she said. “This abominable practice was advertised openly on a government-run website that was only taken down about two weeks ago.”

Congresswoman Kelly and other lawmakers also referred to the controversy surrounding The Arab Bank, which has been under investigation amid allegations it was knowingly part of a money-raising for Palestinian terrorists.

The Jordan-based bank has denied the charge, but Congresswoman Kelly and other lawmakers referred to findings of the U.S. government Office of the Comptroller of the Currency that the bank violated money laundering and other regulations.

Asked about The Arab Bank issue, Treasury Department official Stuart Levey declined to comment on the case, but said the U.S. government continues to tackle head on the problem of terrorist financing.

“Since September 11 [2001] we have designated dozens of corrupt charities, including the Holyland Foundation, the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, the Islamic-African Relief Foundation, and many others. We have truly worked as a team, coordinating criminal actions with designations and diplomatic engagement to get the maximum impact,” he explained.

Mr. Levey noted the latest action, designation of the Elehssan Society as a charitable front for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which has carried out terrorist attacks against Israelis.

Congressman Stephen Lynch believes U.S. efforts since the September 2001 attacks are still insufficient.

“This September will be the fourth anniversary of the attacks of September 11 and this process is taking too long. We don't have a financial intelligence unit in Amman yet, we don't have one in Riyadh, I don't believe we have one in Beirut, [or in] Cairo,” he said.

On Saudi Arabia, Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman, who is known for his sharp criticism of the government in Riyadh, says Saudi cooperation is still unsatisfactory.

“Whatever positive developments the [Bush] administration will tell us about today, Saudi cooperation preventing terrorism seems to apply only to those terrorists who have attacked Saudi Arabia's ruling elite,” he said.

Congresswoman Sue Kelly says she is determined to throw more light on Saudi Arabia's role.

“The public will learn more about the Saudi Charity Committee, the role of institutions used as conduits for supporting terrorism, and the response of our government to these circumstances. The public and particularly the victims of these attacks and their families deserve nothing less,” she added.

Additional hearings are expected in coming weeks, including one involving American victims of Palestinian terrorist attacks.