Riyadh, Asharq al-Awsat- Informed sources have revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that one member of the 44-member cell affiliated to Al Qaeda captured by Saudi authorities in August was arrested after he was found to be exploiting his position in an official charitable organization to raise money for the terrorist group.
The Interior Ministry statement issued in August following the arrest of this cell revealed that members of the Al Qaeda organizations were exploiting charitable organizations in order to finance terrorist activities; however the statement did not reveal the names of any of those arrested.
According to information obtained by Asharq Al-Awsat, one of the 44 suspects arrested was supervising charity work and collecting financial donations under the slogan “a service to Islam and Muslims.”
The revelation that the terrorist cell arrested in August was attempting to exploit the Saudi public’s passion for charitable donations in order to finance the Al Qaeda organization has resulted in charity work in Saudi Arabia being put under the spotlight one again.
Following the events of 9/11, the Saudi government began to codify fund-raising in Saudi Arabia, as previous to this charity work in Saudi Arabia operated in an almost random manner which was exploited in order to for funds to be raised for nefarious purposes.
As part of the efforts to codify fund-raising, the Saudi government announced earlier this week that it would be codifying fund-raising to [official] voluntary associations or charities and banning the collection of cash donations by [unofficial] organizations. The Saudi Arabian Minister for Islamic Affairs, Endowment, Dawa, and Guidance also announced earlier this week that he was appointing a legal accountant to review the financial statements of such organizations.
Al Qaeda previously raised money under the guise of charity work, however as Saudi Arabia tightened its grip on fund-raising, Al Qaeda was forced to think up increasingly innovative ways of raising money. According to experts, the Al Qaeda organization has begun to raise money via individuals sympathetic to the organizations who are well known for their charity work.
However Interior Ministry spokesman General Mansour al-Turki believes that some people exploiting charity work in order to finance the Al Qaeda organization should not be considered a factor in the general loss of confidence in charitable work.
General al-Turki confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat the importance of the general public being cautious when making financial donations to charity in order to ensure that this donation is not used to finance terrorist operations which ultimately the donor or one of his family may later become the victim of.
This is not the first time that Al Qaeda has exploited charitable work for financing its operations, and Saudi officials have confirmed that funding is the main catalyst of the Al Qaeda organization, as without funding Al Qaeda would be unable to carry out any of its terrorist plots. Saudi Arabia has seized millions of riyals from terrorist cells over the past 6 years, with this money either being utilized or laundered by the terrorist cells in question.
The number of charitable organizations in Saudi Arabia has experienced a great increase, and Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Al Obeikan, an adviser to the Saudi Royal Court, has called upon the authorities to tighten their control on charitable organizations, saying that perhaps some of these charities were not as they appeared at first glance.
Sheik Al Obeikan also confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat the importance of not trusting in people’s outward reputation or religious appearance when making a charitable donation or paying zakat [annual donation of percentage of a Muslim’s wealth].
Al Obeikan added “Annual zakat or almsgiving is being used by deviant groups to achieve their objectives in a time when religious morale is weak and they wear religious dress as a means of gaining sympathy from the public in order to gain as large donations as possible…and then using this in the worst possible way.”
Al Obeikan also told Asharq Al-Awsat “Perhaps many of those who make donations have been misled by them [the terrorist groups] and believe that it [their donation] reaches its recipient, trusting in the reputation, appearance, or position of those collecting [charity]. This embarrasses many people, and perhaps some of them have unknowingly become involved in financing terrorist operations.”
Sheikh Al Obeikan confirmed that there is a duty – especially now – for Muslims to be cautious of unknowingly being drawn into supporting terrorism, or allowing terrorists to appropriate their money and good deeds,, or even supporting those following a deviant ideology.
Sheikh Al Obeikan stressed the importance of not being deceived by outward religious appearance when donating to charity and ensuring that one’s financial contribution reaches its intended recipient through official channels.
The last attempt made by Al Qaeda to exploit Saudi society in order to raise funds came with the video of Said al-Shihri – who is included on the Saudi Interior Ministry’s most wanted list of 85 – endorsing another Al Qaeda member to lead the operation to collect funds in Saudi Arabia from Al Qaeda supporters.