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US Officials Cite Success in Effort to Cut Off Terrorist Funding - 2003-09-25

The FBI says a handful of terror attacks have been thwarted by cutting off funding to terrorists. But government officials agree there is still a lot of work to do to end the financing of terrorism.

U.S. officials have called money the lifeblood of terrorism, and say cutting off its supply is a key goal.

Assistant Director of the FBI's counter terror division, John Pistole says this financial fight has already reaped rewards. "We've [also] been able to disrupt overseas, four planned terrorist attacks because of our relationship with a particular foreign intelligence service and relationship with certain financial services entities here in the U.S. that led to specific identification of individuals picking up money overseas that was going to be used in terrorist attacks," he explained.

Mr. Pistole told the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee Thursday that more must be done in countries known to finance terror.

Many of the officials testifying before the committee said Saudi Arabia has made major headway in ending its own funding to groups such as al-Qaida and Hamas. But Senator Charles Schumer accused the Saudi royal family of making a deal with the devil by propagating radical Islam schools, called madrasses, around the world.

"I believe that Saudi Arabia has done more to fund terrorism than any other country," he said. "So if the Saudis want to show that they're part of the family of nations that are not being two-faced, telling the West they hate terrorism and allowing the funding, I would suggest that they cut off the funding of these madrasses immediately."

Mr. Schumer asked for evidence of specific strides the Saudi government has made.

Treasury Department General Counsel David Aufhauser said Saudi Arabia has arrested some terror fundraisers. He added that the Saudis agreed to cut off financial support to charities that funnel money to terrorists, and prohibited cash collections in some of the country's mosques. He said the kingdom's efforts have widely improved since the deadly bombing of a housing complex in Riyadh last May.

"What they've done, particularly post May 11," he said, "is nothing short of a new era for our dialogue with them. If we can get full cooperation out of the Saudi government in policing what are undoubtedly significant money flows to Hamas and others out of Saudi Arabia, we would significantly deplete the financial resources of terrorists."

Mr. Aufhauser says the real test will be to see how well the Saudi government follows through with a new joint task force on terrorist financing. Last month, Crown Prince Abdullah said his country was in a decisive battle against terrorism, and warned of severe punishment for any Saudi citizens involved in terrorism.