Saudi foreign policy adviser Adel al-Jubeir told reporters at the Saudi embassy in Washington that a number of regulatory changes have been enacted, including extensive audits for Islamic charities, the establishment of a financial intelligence unit to track Saudi money and efforts to prevent money laundering.
“For too long, Saudi Arabia has been wrongly accused of being uncooperative or ineffective in combating terrorism,” Al-Jubeir said. “The unfounded charges against Saudi Arabia have gotten out of control. We recognize that it is now incumbent on us to more openly articulate our anti-terrorism policies and actions.”
The Saudi financial crackdown comes on the heels of a congressional inquiry into intelligence failures ahead of the Sept. 11 attacks, which revealed a possible financial link between the Saudi government and two of the hijackers. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers involved in the Sept. 11 attacks were Saudi citizens.
The FBI is also investigating reports that Princess Haifa al-Faisal, wife of the Saudi ambassador to Washington, may have indirectly aided two of the hijackers through payments made to two Saudi students living in the United States.
One of the largest reforms involves charitable organizations and the protection of the charitable sector’s “vulnerability to abuse by evil-doers,” according to a press release issued by the Saudi embassy. Charity organizations will be subjected to extensive audits and any charity whose activities extend beyond Saudi Arabia will have to report and coordinate their work with the Foreign Ministry, the report said. In addition, a High Commission panel has been set up to oversee the work of all charities.
“Probably the most significant new action we have taken has been in the area of charitable giving,” Al-Jubeir said. “In the past, we may have been naive in our giving and did not have adequate controls over all our donations. As a consequence, some may have taken advantage of our charity and generosity. With the new steps we are taking, this is now changing.”
In comments made to The Washington Post, Al-Jubeir admitted that past charitable contributions may have “inadvertently” ended up in the hands of terrorists.
“That may be the case,” Al-Jubeir told the Post. ” I cannot prove the opposite.”
In additional to tighter regulation of charity financing, the report describes several different initiatives the kingdom has undertaken to combat terrorist activity including the questioning of more than 2,000 people suspected of extremist militant activity and the arrests of several individuals believed to be associated with the al-Qaida terrorist network.
The report also details steps often taken in cooperation with U.S. authorities to investigate the assets and accounts of terrorist suspects as well as its efforts to combat money laundering, including the freezing of 33 accounts belonging to three individuals that total some $5.6 million.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is committed to fight the scourge of terrorism and will do so with vigilance and determination for as long as it takes.” Al-Jubeir added.