Charities to figure in US-Saudi anti-terror talks: report
A high-level US team visiting Saudi Arabia for anti-terrorism talks will discuss the establishment of a mechanism to supervise the activities of charities, a newspaper reported Saturday, December 8. Al-Watan said the 10-member delegation wants to coordinate with the Saudi government to oversee fund-raising and spending by all charity organizations which collect hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
The delegation, comprising officials from the US Treasury, Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department and National Security Council, began discussions with Saudi officials. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Thursday the team would "discuss ongoing cooperation with Saudi Arabia in the financial war against terrorism." A senior administration official denied that the mission was a sign of a much-reported rift between Washington and Riyadh on efforts to freeze assets of terrorists and entities that support them.
The general supervisor of non-governmental organizations in Saudi Arabia, Daifallah Al-Balwi, said Saturday that the charities had collected one billion riyals ($267 million) so far this year. Their sources are donations from businessmen, members of the charities, charity work, zakat (Islamic taxation) and returns on investments, Balwi said. The money is used for charitable projects, including medical treatment, housing and other services in addition to direct aid inside and outside of the oil-rich kingdom.
There are more than 230 charitable organizations in Saudi Arabia, including 21 for women. All are under government agencies which appoint accountants and auditors to monitor their financial activities. The main charity, the International Islamic Relief Organization, acts in coordination with the Saudi government in sending aid to Muslims across the world. Saudi charities have offices and representatives in some 55 countries and have in the past two decades contributed hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Palestinians, Bosnians, Afghans and others.
Following the September 11 attacks in the United States, Western media have accused Saudi charities and businessmen of funding terrorist activities. The charges were categorically denied by the charities which said they were prepared for an investigation. They said the US campaign was an attempt to suppress Islamic charitable activities. Saudi Arabia was also accused of not doing enough to crack down on bank accounts of people suspected of funding terrorism, and a number of Saudi businessmen figured on a US list of suspected terrorism financiers.
Riyadh has maintained that it will cooperate with the anti-terror campaign, but has demanded evidence from Washington over suspected bank accounts before taking any action. US President George W. Bush received Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal in Washington Friday on the prince's third visit to the White House since September 11. — (AFP, Riyadh)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)