Human Lives Human Rights: Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba – but the Saudi government is reluctant to stem the flow of money, according to Hillary Clinton.
“More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaida, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups,” says a secret December 2009 paper signed by the US secretary of state. The memo called on the US diplomats to redouble their efforts to stop Gulf money reaching extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
She said: “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”
Three other Arab countries are listed as sources of militant money: Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
The problem is particularly acute in Saudi Arabia, where militants soliciting funds slip into the country disguised as holy pilgrims, set up front companies to launder funds and receive money from government-sanctioned charities.
One cable provides detail on how the Pakistani militant outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the 2008 Mumbai attacks, used a Saudi-based front company to fund its activities in 2005.
Meanwhile officials with the LeT’s charity wing, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, travelled to Saudi Arabia seeking donations for new schools at vastly inflated costs – then siphoned off the excess money to fund militant operations.
Militants seeking donations often come during the hajj pilgrimage – “a major security loophole since pilgrims often travel with large amounts of cash and the Saudis cannot refuse them entry into Saudi Arabia”.
Militants often use the annual Haj pilgrimage for laundering money and cash from pilgrims was used to finance the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, a confidential US embassy cable published by whistle-blower website WikiLeaks said.
A Sky News report cites the New York Times as detailing a long list of possible methods terrorists might have been using to fund their activities. One memo claims militants often used the annual Haj pilgrimage for laundering money and cash from pilgrims was used to finance the Mumbai bombings.
Other documents have claimed the US believes donors from Saudi Arabia are “the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide”. A memo sent by the US secretary of state Hillary Clinton in December 2009 referred to the kingdom as a “cash machine” for Al Qaeda.
Meanwhile, the Indian National Investigation Agency (NIA) has been focusing on a hawala racket relating to the annual Haj pilgrimage and trade fraud along the Line of Control (LoC) as two funding channels being used by separatists and terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir.
As part of its probe, which recently led to the arrest of seven Kashmiri separatists, the NIA is examining what it regards as a ‘deep conspiracy’ to ‘keep the Valley burning’, and not just individual acts of terror.
According to the NIA, some travel agents who send Indians on the Haj pilgrimage are hand in glove with associates of separatists based in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. A part of the money collected from pilgrims is diverted for terror and separatist activities, while the cost of accommodation and food are borne by these associates.
An NIA official: “Some of these travel agents charge around ₹2 lakh per pilgrim and purchase tickets as per the subsidy scheme of the government. Around ₹1.5 lakh cash given by the pilgrims is pocketed by them and transferred to separatists. The pilgrims were taken care of during their pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia by associates of the separatists in Pakistan.”
With the Hajj attracting millions of Muslims every year to Mecca, there are ample opportunities to make connections and fundraise with people from all over the world. It is relatively easy to get money for many things in Saudi Arabia—and there is certainly money to be had. And terrorist groups can receive cash (or other convertible instruments) from individuals and groups even today, because there are still people who believe in the actions of these groups.
The move opened up a “ready stock of legitimate cash” for illegal activities. So far, 80 witness statements have been recorded by the NIA on funds generated to organize terror in Kashmir.
Reluctance of Saudi officials to fight terrorism
Saudi officials are often painted as reluctant partners. Clinton complained of the “ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist funds emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority”.
Washington is critical of the Saudi refusal to ban three charities classified as terrorist entities in the US. “Intelligence suggests that these groups continue to send money overseas and, at times, fund extremism overseas,” she said.