Last updated: December 6, 2010 12:12 am

US fears Gulf failing to combat terror

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The US is worried that Qatar, which last week won the right to host the 2022 soccer World Cup, and Kuwait are not doing enough to combat the financing of al-Qaeda, say officials and leaked diplomatic cables.

The Obama administration expresses fears that the two countries are in effect allowing al-Qaeda to circumvent tighter controls in Saudi Arabia and that pilgrims on the annual Hajj to Mecca also play a big role in funding the group.

While Washington believes that some critical comments about Saudi Arabia in 2009 have been overtaken by events, it does not hail any similar improvement in Kuwait and Qatar. The same dispatch faults Kuwait for failing even to criminalise terrorist financing. The cable also highlights Qatar as “the worst in the region” for counterterrorism co-operation.

The communication adds that the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and other extremist organisations “exploit Qatar as a fundraising locale”.

But US officials praise Saudi Arabia for stepping up action against terrorist financing with arrests and prosecutions, a May public fatwa by the Grand Mufti and the establishment of a unit to fight terrorist financing.

“Interaction and co-operation with the Saudis has got better over the past year,” said a senior administration official. “Because the US government has made terror financing a high priority and relentlessly raised this over and over with all these countries, we have put substantial financial pressure on al-Qaeda.”

That picture differs in some important respects from the focus of cables published over the weekend as part of WikiLeaks’ trove of some 250,000 US diplomatic documents. While the secret December 2009 cable from the state department says “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide”, officials are unsure that they would make the same claim today.

Washington is still far from wholly content with Riyadh, and faults it for failing to set up a specialised committee to prevent charities from financing terrorism – in spite of promising in 2002 to do so.

The 2009 cable also says that al-Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT and other groups “probably raise millions of dollars annually from Saudi sources, often during Hajj and Ramadan”.

US officials depict their biggest problem as the long-term one of dissuading potential donors from funding extremist groups, rather than merely disrupting financing mechanisms.

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