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US Urges Saudis to do More to Halt Terror Funding

A Bush administration official says Saudi Arabia has made progress in curbing terrorist financing but it must do more. He made his comments before a Senate panel Tuesday.

In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Daniel Glaser praised Saudi cooperation with the United States in the war on terrorism.

The Bush administration says that cooperation began in earnest in May 2003, following a deadly terrorist bombing in Riyadh. That was nearly two years after the September 11th attacks on the United States in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi.

Mr. Glaser says Saudi Arabia has made progress in regulating religious charities within the kingdom that once funneled billions of dollars to promote religious ideology around the world. But he said the government is not doing enough to regulate Saudi charities located outside the country.

"They must recognize that organizations so closely associated with Saudi Arabia anywhere in the world are de facto Saudi responsibility. These organizations must become an integral part of Saudi focus and policy," Mr. Glaser says.

Under questioning from Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Glaser said he remains concerned about one particular Saudi account with ties to terrorism.

"Account 98 has been described as a Saudi government account that funds Palestinian terrorist groups. The Saudis say Account 98 no longer exists," Mr. Leahy says. "Is Treasury convinced it no longer exists?"

"We are concerned with respect to the existence of Account 98. We are looking into the existence of Account 98. We have asked the Saudis to look into it as well," Mr. Glaser says.

The Judiciary Committee also heard testimony about the effort Saudi Arabia is making to remove intolerant material from school textbooks and official websites.

Terrorism expert Steven Emerson says the effort has been woefully inadequate:

"Saudi organizations and leaders operating with the permission or acquiescence of the Saudi regime continue to promote a virulent anti-western propaganda and raise serious questions as to whether the regime itself is trying to comprehensively crack down on the sources and support for Islamic terrorism," Mr. Emerson says. "While there have been efforts to sanitize Saudi websites and publications, the fact of the matter is there are still significant websites, including those officially attached to the Saudi government that call for jihad, and disseminate anti-Christian and anti-Jewish theology."

Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom, a division of the human rights organization Freedom House, agrees. She cited passages in a particular Saudi school textbook:

"A fourth grade Saudi state textbook, and again this is not a cleric or a sect somewhere, this is the government's own publication, they talk about 'Israel being a thorn in the back of Muslim nations and a window through which colonialism can sneak up through the ranks of Muslims to work on dividing them and light the fire of hatred between them," she says. "The Muslims will not rest until they cut off this disease and purify the land of Palestine from the plague of Zionism and its rightful owners reclaim it.'"

But Anthony Cordesman, co-director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies says there has been progress in removing intolerant material from textbooks. He says it is an ongoing effort that is going to take time.

"The efforts which began after 9-11 (September 11, 2001) by the Ministry of Education and particularly with Prince Salman's leadership, which now have taken on considerable momentum, have begun to change the textbooks. Do I like the rate at which this progress has occurred? No, I do not. But is there progress? Yes," Mr. Cordesman says.

Judiciary Committee chairman, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said his panel had invited a Saudi representative to appear at the hearing, but the government declined.

But in a speech in Washington, Saudi Arabia's new ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al Faisal, rejected criticism that his government has not done enough to fight terrorism. He said his country does not support or fund terrorism, and that Saudis have suffered as a result of terrorism.