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Saudis Criticized for Not Stemming al-Qaida Money Flow


Saudi Arabia came under criticism in a report by anti-terrorism experts for not doing enough to crack down on the money flow to al-Qaida. The report by the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations finds much of the funding for the terrorist organization flows through Saudi Arabia. The Bush administration also was criticized for not putting enough pressure on Riyadh to stanch the flow of al-Qaida financing.

The task force, made up of former officials from both Democrat and Republican administrations, finds that money continues to flow directly and indirectly to al-Qaida through charities based in Saudi Arabia, some with branches in countries such as Sudan, Bosnia or Chechnya.

Lee Wolosky, who served on the National Security Council under the current administration and under President Clinton, says there are two areas that must be carefully analyzed.

"The first is the passive acquiescence in the financing of terrorism in these manners by the Saudi leadership," he said. "And the second, perhaps more troubling is the possibility that charities that are founded by members of the royal family themselves are knowingly or unwittingly financing terrorism."

The report also blames the Bush administration for failing to confront the Saudis about the problem.

In response, a U.S. Treasury Department spokesman, Robert Nichols, says that the report is flawed because the task force only had access to public information.

"They did not have the underlying information, a lot of it is sensitive classified information to actually make a judgment on how the financial war on terrorism is going. So they are ill-equipped to develop some of the consensus's that they did," he said. "However, that said, we are certainly not claiming victory. We are not saying we won the financial war on terrorism but we are off to a very good start."

Mr. Nichols says the United States is pleased that Saudi cooperation has helped target at least two suspected charities. Task force member Lee Wolosky says the United States should "openly and bluntly point out instances" when governments, including Saudi Arabia, a key oil supplier and U.S. ally in a possible conflict with Iraq, fail to take adequate steps to combat terrorism.

"I think there are many reasons why this has not happened," he said. "Oil might be one, Iraq might be another. An additional reason involves concerns regarding the long-term stability of the Saudi government and its ability to take these decisive steps without threatening its own survival."

The report urges the Bush administration to reconsider a recent policy to lean more heavily on foreign leaders to curb terrorist financing. It also recommends the appointment of a special assistant to the president to track terrorist funding.

The Treasury spokesman disagrees, arguing that plan would just create more bureaucracy.

The Saudi embassy in Washington responded to the report by reissuing a previous statement that it has reviewed charitable organizations to ensure that there are "no links to suspect organizations."

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