IAN WISHART reports on the infiltration of New Zealand’s Muslim community by Islamic fundamentalists.
An Islamic “charity” involved in fundraising for Al Qa’ida and the South East Asian terror network Jemaah Islamiyah is trying to set up a front organisation in New Zealand, and may get Government approval to do so. Al Haramain operates in more than 60 countries worldwide, and its attempts to get a toehold in New Zealand hit the headlines last month when a group of Muslim community leaders sent a letter to the New Zealand Government, warning that the Saudi-backed Al Haramain would bring chaos and disaster to New Zealand if their application in Christchurch is approved.
That application includes setting up an Islamic school to teach Wahhabi Islam – the radical branch of the religion – and establishing an “Islamic Bank” in New Zealand. The proposal is said to involve “millions of dollars”.
In return for the huge investment, Al Haramain have asked for a stake in running the Christchurch city mosque.
While daily news media have played down Al Haramain’s links to terrorism, Investigate has now confirmed an extensive relationship between the “charity” and Al Qa’ida.
Those links include Al Haramain’s involvement in a series of Al Qa’ida suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia earlier this year – the Saudi government shut down ten offices of Al Haramain as a direct response after discovering it was funding Osama Bin Laden’s organisation.
Additionally, a senior figure in Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiyah arrested three months ago, Omar al Faruq, has told investigators that his organisation has received extensive funding and money laundering services from Al Haramain.
Two senior figures with Al Haramain, Sheik Abdul Majeed Ghaith Al Gaith, and Sheik Menea Al Dakeel, toured New Zealand mosques in May, according to the website iman.co.nz, in what appears to have been a precursor to their attempt to take over the Christchurch Mosque.
The group is said to be fostering closer links between Saudi Arabian radical Islamic organisations and moderate Islamic groups in New Zealand, sparking the warning letter that’s now in Government hands.
Yet in a plot that could rival Lord of the Rings, the New Zealand Government’s response has so far been hobbit-like in its disbelief that anything so sinister could be happening in sleepy little New Zealand. A spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff largely dismisses the warnings from within the Muslim community, saying the Government is “leaning towards the view that it’s mainly an internal conflict in the Muslim community in Christchurch that they need to sort out amongst themselves”, and describing al Haramain as “largely a distinguished and peaceful charitable organisation focusing on the education and welfare of the Muslim community around the world.”
Internationally, however, al Haramain is developing a bad reputation.
“Nothing better illustrates the Saudis’ intransigence — and the US administration’s timidity in dealing with it — than two cases of U.S.-Saudi “cooperation” that recently came to light,” Middle East analyst Alex Alexiev wrote in the American journal National Review recently.
“On March 11, the Treasury Department announced with great fanfare that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia had jointly blocked the funds of the Bosnia and Somalia offices of the “private, charitable, and educational” Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation because it was diverting funds to terrorists. This action, according to Treasury, “opened a new phase in international cooperation to destroy terrorist financing” and proved the “strength of the anti-terror coalition.”
“In reality, Al-Haramain — alongside the World Muslim League — is the Saudis’ largest Islamist front organization, controlled directly by the minister of religious affairs and in charge of spending huge amounts of (mostly government) money to promote the radical-Islamist agenda worldwide. It has offices in over 50 countries and operates through Saudi embassies in another 40; as for its Bosnia and Somalia operations, business even there is continuing as usual, despite additional evidence of terrorist ties unearthed by Bosnian police in a raid on June 3. Al-Haramain’s director, Aqeel al-Aqeel, noted with satisfaction in early September that “America has tried to establish a link between terrorism and Islamic charitable societies and failed” — and went on to assert that Al-Haramain’s donations and activities both have intensified since 9/11. Indeed they have: Al-Haramain has opened three new offices since then.”
One very significant development – in danger of being crushed by the New Zealand Government’s obtuse response to the crisis – has been the willingness of Islamic leaders in New Zealand to break their normal cone of silence and issue a public warning about extremist infiltrators. The danger is that if the Government does ignore the warning, Saudi Arabian extremists whose spiritual teachings are similar in every way to Osama bin Laden’s will have carte blanche to import radical Islam to New Zealand and will move, as they have elsewhere, to silence the moderates. In other words, this could be the Government’s only warning on the issue.
The tricky path of separating the radicals from the moderates is also acknowledged by Alex Alexiev.
“Just as important, any organized campaign to de-legitimize extremism among Muslims should be accompanied by assurances that we know and respect their religion. The extremists do everything possible to present the West’s anti-terrorist struggle as a war against Islam. Unfortunately, they are occasionally assisted in this objective by intemperate and uninformed remarks by prominent and otherwise well-meaning people.
“A case in point is the spate of recent media utterances by leaders of the U.S. evangelical community accusing the Muslim religion of being intolerant, ignorant, or worse. This is grist for the mill of the extremists, and it doesn’t even have the benefit of being true: A good case could be made that Islam, for much of its history, was both more tolerant and less obscurantist than Christianity. (It was, for example, the Muslim Ottomans who saved the Jews from the Inquisition in 1492.)
“Our campaign should also expose the Wahhabis’ aggressive tactics in penetrating Muslim communities around the world. Their activities are so extensive that they now threaten not only traditional religious establishments but, in some places, the government itself. A broad backlash is underway, and the U.S. should align itself with and manage — lead — that backlash. Such an alliance against extremism would make the coalition against terror more effective, by focusing on the very specific threats of extremism on our allies’ home turf.
“All of this is predicated on Washington’s long-overdue realization that the failure to confront global Saudi subversion has grave security consequences. The evidence of Saudi misdeeds is so overwhelming that it will be more and more difficult to delay this realization. At some point, continued failure to face the problem will start to look like dereliction of duty.”
When al Qa’ida terrorists carried out suicide bombings in the Saudi capital Riyadh, earlier this year, the initial response of Saudi Intelligence was to arrest dozens of people from the al Haramain charity. Despite denying to the west that al Haramain was financing terror, the organisation was the first port of call for the Saudis themselves.
“Before the attacks,” the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Matt Levitt told a radio interviewer, “there was no action being taken against the vast array of Saudi charitable organizations financing terror.
“Yet in the days after the attacks, suddenly the Saudis announced that they were shutting down up to ten branch offices of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, which is only one of a large number of such foundations that have been linked to terrorism. And one has to wonder why that action is suddenly being taken now and it wasn’t taken beforehand.
“We’ve known that this organization was linked to terror. Two of its offices were shut down by U-S and Saudi authorities, although they’re believed to have been reopened. And then we know from the interrogation of Omar al-Faruq, who was captured in June and is believed to have been al-Qaida’s representative to the Jemaah Islamiyah network in Southeast Asia, that the Jemaah Islamiyah was being funded, according to Omar al-Faruq by wealthy Saudis and the money was being transferred and laundered through Al-Haramain. And yet, no action was taken until these bombings.”
By June this year, the gorilla in the corner had be-come too big to ignore. While the US desper-ately needs Saudi Arabia as an ally in the Middle East and the US has beliberately withheld portions of the report on 9/11 showing Saudi involvement, it’s been forced to acknowledge that the kingdom is perhaps the primary sponsor of international Islamic terrorism worldwide.
“Saudi Arabia’s huge investment in financing the spread of Wahhabi doctrine in the United States has been tied to the threat posed by Al Qaida sleeper cells in as many as 40 states,” the World Tribune reported at the end of June.
“Administration officials said the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement community has linked the threat from Al Qaida to Saudi financing of Wahabi institutions that promote an anti-West ideology.
“Treasury Department general counsel David Aufhauser, who has negotiated extensively with Riyad, said Saudi Arabia has become the epicenter of financing for Al Qaida and related movements. Aufhauser said Saudi Arabia’s efforts to disseminate its Wahabi doctrine comprise a “very important factor to be taken into account when discussing terrorist financing.”
“It needs to be dealt with,” Aufhauser told the Senate subcommittee on terrorism.
“The problem we are looking at today is the state-sponsored doctrine and funding of an extremist ideology that provides the recruiting grounds, support infrastructure and monetary lifeblood to today’s international terrorists,” subcommittee chairman Sen. Jon Kyl said.
“Administration officials said Saudi Arabia has responded to U.S. pressure to curb organizations that spread Islamic doctrine meant to promote insurgency attacks against the West. They said Riyadh has restructured a major Islamic charity, al Haramain, and closed many of its offices around the world.”
Not in Christchurch, it would seem. And the warning at the Senate hearing is arguably one New Zealand’s Phil Goff needs to hear before deciding whether a Wahhabi Islamic school should set up in New Zealand.
“The Wahhabi presence in the United States is a foreboding one that has potentially harmful and far-reaching consequences for our nation’s mosques, schools, prisons and even our military,” Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said. “My fear is, if we don’t wake up and take action now, those influenced by Wahhabism’s extremist ideology will harm us in as of yet unimaginable ways.”
“The focus of the Saudi efforts to spread Wahhabi doctrine is the Al Haramain Foundation which until earlier this year had a network throughout Asia, Africa and Europe. The United States has deemed Al Haramain a financier of Al Qaida and ordered the foundation’s assets frozen.”
“The paper trail of Saudi money, funneled through a network of charities and religious organizations, leads to some of the most violent terrorist groups in the world, including al-Qa’ida and Hamas,” said Steven Emerson, executive director of the Investigative Project, a group that conducts research on Islamic terrorists.
Closer to home, Australian ABC TV’s Four Corners programme found links between al Haramain and Osama bin Laden in Indonesia.
“Much of Al Qa’ida’s funding is thought to come from charities, either unwittingly or siphoned off. In Islamic culture, Muslims are expected to donate 2.5 percent of their net revenue to charity, known as zakat. There are some 200 private charities in Saudi Arabia alone, including 20 established by Saudi intelligence to fund the Mujiheddin that send some $250 million a year to Islamic causes abroad.
“Zakat taxes are common throughout Southeast Asia, indeed in late-2001, the Indonesian government agreed to make zakat tax deductible in order to encourage charitable donations. Yet unlike the West where NGO’s and charities are closely regulated and audited, they are almost completely unregulated in Southeast Asia, allowing for egregious financial mis-management and the diversion of funds to terrorist cells.
“Bin Laden’s initial foray into the region came in the form of charities run by his brother-in-law in the Philippines. Al Qa’ida’s most important charity in the region was the al Haramain Islamic Foundation, based in Saudi Arabia,” reported Four Corners this year.
Regardless of whether the New Zealand Government can link individual members associated with al Haramain in New Zealand to terrorism, the bigger issue is whether New Zealand actually wants or needs radical Saudi Islam setting up schools and Islamic banks here, and that’s a political question, not a town planning one.