Saudis shut down charity after pressure from U.S.

Friday, May 16, 2003

ABU DHABI Saudi Arabia, under heavy U.S. pressure, has ordered the closure of offices of a kingdom-supported charity accused of financing Al Qaida.

The Al Haramain Foundation has been ordered to close offices in Africa, Asia and Europe and Islamic sources said additional offices abroad would be shut down by the end of the year. The sources said Al Haramain has been ordered by Saudi authorities to drastically reduce its presence abroad amid accusations that the foundation serves as a treasure chest for Al Qaida.

On Wednesday, the foundation announced the closure in a range of countries as part of a reorganization of activities. The offices closed were said to have been located in Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kenya, Kosovo, Pakistan and Tanzania.

The directive for the closure was relayed by Saudi Islamic Affairs Minister Saleh Al Sheik, Middle East Newsline reported. Islamic sources said Al Sheik oversaw the appointment of a new board as well as administrators of the foundation. Under the shakeup, many foreigners on the board were replaced by Saudi nationals.

"The decision came after a series of meetings with the new board of directors," foundation director Aqil Al Aqil said.

The United States has asserted that Al Haramain was a leading conduit for Saudi funding to Islamic insurgents abroad. The foundation was said to have transferred tens of millions of dollars to Al Qaida members as well as financed activities meant to stir unrest against non-Muslims in Africa, Asia, Europe and the United States.

U.S. officials said Al Haramain provided a cover for Al Qaida and aligned groups such as the Egyptian Gamiat Islamiya by hiring their members in foreign countries. The foundation has been sponsored by leading members of the Saudi royal family.

In March 2002, the Bush administration said Saudi Arabia agreed to block funds of Al Haramain branches in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Somalia. Days later, both the kingdom as well as Al Haramain denied that funds had been blocked, an assertion later confirmed by U.S. officials. Al Aqil said the foundation plans to focus its activities within Saudi Arabia to meet what he termed the rising needs of Muslims in the kingdom. But he denied that U.S. pressure was a factor in the decision to close Al Haramain offices abroad. "There has been not been any pressure from U.S. authorities to close the offices," Al Aqil said. "There were some indirect reasons for the closure."

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