Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Islamists funds monitored

From The Australian, May 16, 2007 , by Cameron Stewart ....

ISLAMIC extremists in Australia are being starved of money by an unprecedented crackdown on the secret flow of funds from Saudi Arabia.

ASIO and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have quietly spearheaded the disruption of funding from Saudi charities and Saudi nationals, reducing it to only a trickle after concerns the money could be used to fund terror plots in Australia. The Government's push has robbed local extremists of a traditional source of funding from a country that has invested more than $120 million into Australia's Islamic community since the 1970s.

Saudi Arabian money has been used to build mosques and schools in Australia but it has also helped to promote extreme Wahabist interpretations of Islam. Saudi Arabia has been accused by the US Government of tacitly funding extremism via quasi-government charities that promote Wahabism. Washington says Saudi government-sanctioned charities have secretly bankrolled the Indonesian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah, responsible for killing 92 Australians in the two Bali bombings.

Despite this, Australia has won strong Saudi government backing for its crackdown here, with Riyadh instructing its embassy in Canberra to alert DFAT to any Saudi funds flowing into Australia....

The Australian understands that ASIO has issued confidential reports opposing the proposed use of Saudi funds to build mosques in Belmore in Sydney in 2004 and the Park Holme mosque in Adelaide this year. The ASIO assessments prompted DFAT to express concern to the Saudi Government, which promptly cut the flow of Saudi funds for the projects. The "tip-off" agreement between the two countries was initiated by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer in 2004 after a visit to Saudi Arabia.

"As a result of my visit to Saudi Arabia, they introduced a new system of transparency,' Mr Downer told The Australian yesterday. "Prior to that system we don't know what funding they provided so we can't compare what was done before with what is done now, but we do know that they now report (to us)." Saudi Arabia's co-operation with Canberra on the issue of funding is part of its renewed global effort to rebut allegations that its charities are used as fronts to provide funding for extremists around the world.

....However, Australian authorities remain wary about the possibility of private funds flowing into Australia without the knowledge of either government.

The Government carefully monitors the activities of Saudi diplomats in Australia, who are believed to directly pay the wages of selected imams in Australia. One of these imams, Mohammed Swaiti, was removed this month as the spiritual head of Canberra's Abu Bakr Mosque amid claims he was too radical in his teachings.

In January, the reconstruction of Adelaide's Park Holme mosque was halted when planned Saudi funding was withdrawn by the Saudi Government after DFAT expressed concerns about the project. The mosque is considered Adelaide's most radical prayer centre. It was frequented by an Australian Iraqi Kurd, Warya Kanie, who was captured in Baghdad in October and detained for engaging in anti-coalition activities.

Similarly, Saudi funding of Sydney's Belmore mosque was halted in 2004 after concerns were expressed about the mosque's links with radical sheik Abdul Salam Mohammed Zoud.

The Saudi embassy did not return calls from The Australian yesterday.

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