US demands more Saudi action on terror finance


The Government Accounting Office (GAO) said Saudi Arabia has made progress in the fight against terrorism, arresting and prosecuting suspects and taking steps to curtail fund-raising by extremist groups inside the country.

But it said loopholes remain, including the flow of donations from individuals and charities in Saudi Arabia to support extremist organizations outside the country as well as the nation’s limited ability to crack down on cash couriers who physically transfer funds. The report stressed there was no indication the government of Saudi Arabia is providing funding for terrorism.

But it said Washington should set certain specific performance targets on preventing terror financing to help measure efforts to stop people from bankrolling Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups. The ranking Republican on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee said the report underscored the need for more action. "It is vital that the US demand more from the Saudi government in cutting off the money flow to the Islamist extremist network," Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement.

Citing Treasury Department officials, investigators found that Saudi-based individuals are "a top source of funding for Al-Qaeda and associated terror groups, such as the Taleban." No estimated amounts of these contributions are provided. Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, has said the Taleban militants are receiving more money from Gulf donors than from Afghanistan’s illegal drug trade. Another problem is the increasing use of couriers to carry cash across the border. This low-tech approach is an apparent response to Saudi Arabia’s adoption of stricter rules on formal financial transactions.

The report painted a picture of gradual improvement in Saudi Arabia’s policies to combat terrorism following the Sept 11 attacks on New York and Washington and subsequent attacks on US and Saudi citizens in Saudi Arabia. Among the Saudi efforts are government-run rehabilitation and after-care programs to re-educate those arrested for supporting terrorism and extremism as well as for people returned from the US Guantanamo detention camp.

Saudi officials said the programs had treated 4,300 people overall, but that recidivism -which at one after-care center was put at 20 percent – was a problem. Former Guantanamo detainees account for most of the individuals who resumed extremist activity once leaving the after-care center, the report said. "Saudi officials acknowledge such cases illustrate the difficulties associated with assessing which participants should be released.


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