Nine years after 9/11, US frustrated with millions still flowing into Qaeda coffers

Monday, December 6, 2010

WASHINGTON - Secret diplomatic cables exposed by the whistle-blowing web site WikiLeaks have revealed that senior Obama administration officials are still concerned and alarmed over millions of dollars flowing largely unimpeded to extremist groups worldwide, even nine years after 9/11.

The diplomatic dispatches show American diplomats getting increasingly frustrated by the frequent resistance from allies in the Middle East.

According to the New York Times, the government cables, sent by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and senior State Department officials, catalog a list of methods that American officials suspect terrorist financiers are using, including a brazen bank robbery in Yemen last year, kidnappings for ransom, the harvesting of drug proceeds in Afghanistan and fund-raising at religious pilgrimages to Mecca, where millions of riyals or other forms of currency change hands.

Publicly, American officials have been relatively upbeat about their progress in disrupting terrorist financing, but the internal State Department cables, obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to several news organizations, offer a more pessimistic account, with blunt assessments of the threats to the United States from money flowing to militants affiliated with Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hamas, Lashkar-e-Taiba and other groups.

A classified memo sent by Mrs. Clinton last December made it clear that residents of Saudi Arabia and its neighbors, all allies of the United States, are the chief financial supporters of many extremist activities.

“It has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority,” the cable said, concluding that “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most.

The cables describe the United Arab Emirates as a “strategic gap” that terrorists can exploit, Qatar as “the worst in the region” on counter-terrorism, and Kuwait as “a key transit point”.

The cable stressed the need to “generate the political will necessary” to block money to terrorist networks - groups that she said were “threatening stability in Pakistan and Afghanistan and targeting coalition soldiers.”

While federal officials can point to some successes - prosecutions, seizures of money and tightened money-laundering regulations in foreign countries - the results have often been frustrating, the cables show.

Though Washington has pushed for more aggressive crackdowns on suspected supporters of terrorism, in private meetings, foreign leaders have accused American officials of draconian heavy-handedness and of presenting thin and unconvincing evidence of wrongdoing by Arab charities or individuals, according to numerous cables.

The WikiLeaks expose show the documents as being filled with government intelligence on possible terrorist-financing plots, like the case of a Somali preacher who was reportedly touring Sweden, Finland and Norway last year to look for money and recruits for the Shabab, a militant group in Somalia, or that of a Pakistani driver caught with about 240,000 dollars worth of Saudi riyals stuffed behind his seat.

Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is seen as a rising threat by the United States. The cables do not make clear whether the finances of the Yemen group are tied to Osama bin Laden’s network.

The cables say that Saudi Arabia constitutes the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide. American diplomats said that while the Saudis appeared earnest in wanting to stanch the flow of terrorist money, they often lacked the training and expertise to do it.

Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who leads the Saudis’ anti-terrorism activities, was quoted as telling President Obama’s Special Envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard C. Holbrooke, in a May 2009 meeting that Riyadh is doing its best to prevent fund flows to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, but added that: “If money wants to go” to terrorist causes, “it will go.”

“The U.S. government has been relentless in pursuing sources and methods of terrorist financing, including prioritizing this issue with all countries in the Gulf region,” the NYT quotes Stuart A. Levey, a senior Treasury official, as saying.

He added: “As a result, we have put Al Qaeda under significant financial pressure.” (ANI)

will not be displayed