SAUDI Arabia is the key source of funding for radical Islamist groups including al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Hamas.
This is according to one of the latest cables released by WikiLeaks.
The kingdom especially struggles to police money transfers during the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages, with militants sending agents in the guise of pious Muslim pilgrims.
And other Gulf states, particularly Qatar and Kuwait, are lax in pursuing locals who donate to the groups.
“Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide,” says an assessment from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dated December 30 last year.
“Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups, including Hamas, which probably raise millions of dollars annually from Saudi sources, often during Hajj and Ramadan,” the cable says.
The Saudi government is not implicated in support of militants. In the past two years Riyadh has passed a law and issued a fatwa against donating to designated terror groups.
But the cable says “Riyadh has taken only limited action” to interrupt the flow of money.
The cables reveal that Washington thinks private donations from the Gulf are the main source of Taliban funds – not the drug trade.
The Saudi Interior Ministry “remains almost completely dependent on the CIA to provide analytic support and direction for its counter-terrorism operations”, says a February cable from the US embassy in Riyadh. “As such, our success against terrorist financing in the kingdom remains directly tied to our ability to provide actionable intelligence to our Saudi counterparts.”
Qatar is singled out as “the worst in the region” with a “largely passive” approach on militant financing. Its security services “have been hesitant to act against known terrorists” because they fear being seen as too close to the US.
It also emerged yesterday that Qatar uses the Arabic TV network al-Jazeera, which it funds, as a bargaining chip in negotiations with other countries.
Despite its insistence that it is editorially independent, the channel is “one of Qatar’s most valuable political and diplomatic tools”, according to one cable cited in The Guardian.
The Gulf state – which last week controversially won the right to host the 2022 soccer World Cup – adapts al-Jazeera coverage to suit foreign leaders and has offered to drop critical transmissions in exchange for concessions.
A US dispatch from November last year predicted the station could be used “as a bargaining tool to repair relationships with other countries, particularly those soured by al-Jazeera’s broadcasts, including the United States”.