The LWOT: WikiLeaks: Saudi citizens "most significant" terrorism funders

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WikiLeaks reveal role of Saudis in terrorist financing

Despite progress in blunting the movement of money destined for terrorist groups, U.S. State Department cables released by the website WikiLeaks reveal concern among officials of the continued flow of money to groups like al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the Taliban, and Hamas (AJE, Bloomberg). While the cables cover various means terrorist groups use to raise money, from tours of Scandinavia to bank robberies in Yemen, cables from Washington expressed concern about the role of Saudi citizens in funding these groups, especially during the Hajj pilgrimage and the holy month of Ramadan (CNN).

According to one cable signed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide," though countries like Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates also reportedly pose problems in policing terrorist financing (Guardian, WSJ). Other cables noted Saudi improvement in prosecuting terrorism financiers, while senior administration officials privately expressed divergent opinions of the financial strength of al Qaeda and its affiliates (NYT).

Separately, Jordan has stepped up efforts to protect the Jordan-headquartered Arab Bank PLC, currently facing lawsuits in New York over payments from the bank that allegedly went to support the families of Palestinian suicide bombers and terrorist groups (WSJ).

WikiLeaks lists foreign sites, Assange arrested in London

WikiLeaks this weekend also released a State Department list of key infrastructure sites whose loss "could critically impact" the national security and public health of the United States, ranging from Bauxite mines in Guinea to a snake-bite anti-venom manufacturer in Italy to a hydroelectric dam in Canada (NYT, BBC, AFP). The lists' release prompted concern that the sites could become targets for terrorist attacks.

In other documents, diplomats reported that Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh offered the United States an "open back door" for dealing with terrorists in his country, while others detailed the sometimes frustrating relationship between Saleh and American officials (Guardian, Washington Post). Yemen's Deputy Prime Minister faces a parliamentary inquiry due to a leaked cable implying a Yemeni coverup of American airstrikes in Yemen (Reuters). And an unreleased cable given to the New York Times reportedly notes that 23 Australians, many of them women, were added to a U.S. terrorism watch list this year due to their activities in Yemen (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).

After threatening to release over 250,000 remaining classified State Department documents in the event of legal action against him, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange surrendered to U.K. authorities on Dec. 7 to face a Swedish arrest warrant for suspicion of rape (NYT, Washington Post, LAT, CNN, AJE, BBC, Guardian).

Headley interrogations provided new Mumbai details

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Indian Home Secretary G.K. Pillai said that during interrogations with Indian agents in early June 2010, Mumbai attack plotter David Coleman Headley identified the voices of three out of four "handlers" who supervised and coordinated the devastating attacks on India's economic hub allegedly perpetrated by the militant LeT organization (WSJ). Pillai said that despite information given to Pakistan on those responsible for attacks this summer, he believed that Pakistan is making "no progress" towards their arrest; Pakistani officials say they have been unable to identify the six names of attack planners given to them by Indian officials.

Tawwahur Hussain Rana, accused of helping cover Headley's trips to Mumbai to scout targets for the attack, is scheduled to face trial in Chicago starting February 14, 2011 (Fox, AP). And a State Department cable from June 2009, released by WikiLeaks, claimed that LeT plotted to assassinate the Hindu nationalist minister of India's Gujarat state, and scouted possible training camp locations in India (Telegraph).

Trials and Tribulations

  • Jerry Markon tells the story of a former FBI informant currently suing the Bureau, who claims he was asked to spy on a California mosque, and "entrap Muslims as he infiltrated their mosques, homes and businesses" (Washington Post). His behavior and comments while undercover prompted mosque-goers to report the informant to the FBI, on the suspicion that he was a terrorist.
  • New York magazine this weekend profiles Evan Kohlman, the jihadi internet watcher who has become a go-to "expert witness" for the prosecution in federal terrorism cases, but has amassed serious criticisms of his work along the way (New York).
  • Federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment (available here) last Friday against a San Diego man, Ahmed Nasir Taalil Mohamud, for conspiring to provide material support to the Somali al-Shabaab group (AP, WSJ, Sign On San Diego). Mohamud allegedly conspired with three other San Diego men already indicted in the case, Basaaly Saeed Moalin, Mohamed Mohamed Mohamud and Issa Doreh. And the AP writes about the two lives and personalities of Mohamed Osman Mohamud, arrested in a sting operation after he allegedly tried to explode an inert bomb during Portland, Oregon's Christmas Tree lighting ceremony (AP).
  • Several Guantánamo Bay detainees, including Omar Khadr, have filed petitions related to several provisions about relocating detainees to third countries derived from a 2008 judge's ruling (Lawfare Blog). And the former chief military prosecutor at Guantánamo, Col. Morris Davis, is battling to get his job back at the Congressional Research Service a year after he says he was fired for writing two op-eds criticizing the Obama administration's detainee policies (LAT).
  • Greek security forces raided several purported terrorist safe houses this weekend, reportedly seizing weapons and explosives, and arresting at least 10 members of a suspected left-wing group (AP, AFP).
  • Saudi officials told Al Jazeera this week that interrogations of alleged al Qaeda operatives rounded up in recent months reveal that the group planned to send "poisoned gifts" to the offices of Saudi government and security officials, as well as members of the media (AJE).
  • The AP looks at how anti-terrorism measures have changed New York City in obvious and also subtle ways, especially as the holidays approach (AP). And Benjamin Weiser this weekend spoke to six jurors from the 2001 trial of four defendants convicted of plotting to blow up the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, as they reflected on the conviction, on one count of conspiracy in the same case, of former CIA and Gitmo detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (NYT).

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images


The LWOT: Mohamud arrest sparks debate on entrapment; terrorist-linked passport forging ring broken up

Foreign Policy and the New America Foundation bring you a twice weekly brief on the legal war on terror. You can read it on or get it delivered directly to your inbox -- just sign up here.

Mohamud arrest continues to raise questions about stings

After the arrest last week of Mohammed Osman Mohamud in Oregon, experts and commentators continue to question the FBI's use of sting operations to arrest terrorism suspects, who are often caught as part of plots shaped and heavily assisted by federal agents and informants (Washington Post).These operations are time and resource-intensive, and concerns that authorities are manufacturing plots and targeting Muslims could strain the relationship between local and federal authorities and Muslim communities (NYT, Guardian).

Mohamud's lawyers have stated their intention to argue that their client was entrapped, though no one has argued a successful entrapment defense in a terrorism case since 9/11 (NYT, WSJ, NPR, NYT).Mohamud's lawyers have also filed a court order requesting that the FBI's tapes and recording equipment be preserved, in light of a malfunction that ruined the crucial recording of a July 30 meeting between undercover agents and Mohamud ( and community members continued to express disbelief at Mohamud's alleged attack planning, as news emerged that Mohamud was investigated for a drunken sexual assault last year at Oregon State University, where he was a student at the time (NPR, CBS).

In a speech Dec. 1 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) Director Michael Leiter highlighted the dramatically accelerated danger from homegrown terrorists, and warned that a successful attack in the near future was likely (ABC, CNN). Still, he cautioned that in the face of this threat, or that posed by al Qaeda linked groups (Telegraph):

We should not assume that the terrorists are ten feet tall. The fact that they get through at times in a relatively free and open society does not mean that they are all-powerful. We have to be taller than them. We have to be more resilient than them.

Authorities break up forging ring linked to al Qaeda

Authorities in Spain and Thailand have arrested 10 men, seven in Spain and three in Thailand, who allegedly formed an "important" passport theft and forging ring connected to al Qaeda, the Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba group, and the Tamil Tigers (AFP, BBC, AJE). According to police, the ring, reportedly led out of Thailand by Pakistani national Muhammad Athar Butt, stole passports in Barcelona before sending them to Thailand, where they were altered and then passed to terrorist groups (NYT, Telegraph). 

The U.S. Treasury Department on Dec. 2 designated as terrorists three Pakistanis wanted by Pakistani authorities for involvement with the militant groups Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) (CNN, Treasury).The militants are LeJ senior leader Amanullah Afridi and chief operational commander Mati ur-Rehman, and JEM leader Abdul Rauf Azhar.

Wikileaks reveal new Gitmo details

Wikileaks documents continue to reveal new details surrounding the efforts to repatriate Guantánamo Bay detainees and investigate Bush-era abuses and renditions; one cable shows concern among U.S. officials in Spain over investigations into "extraordinary rendition" flights that may have passed through the country, as well as Spanish anti-terrorism judge Balthazar Garzón's investigations into detainee treatment (Guardian, Guardian). Others detail Britain's refusal to take in additional detainees in February 2009; European concerns of Chinese pressure not to take Uighur detainees; and American efforts to praise Belgium in the hopes of securing an agreement on the country taking more detainees (Guardian, Guardian, Guardian).

The leaks also detail a February 2009 meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then-French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, in which Kouchner asked Clinton to intervene to considering freeing detainee Omar Khadr, who was captured after a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002 at the age of 15, and in October pled guilty to the killing of a U.S. Special Forces soldier during the fight (Globe and Mail, Toronto Sun).  The cable also quotes Clinton describing Guantánamo as a "cancer" during the meeting.

A Washington court has granted a Gitmo detainee who has been on a five-year hunger strike, Abdul Rahman Shalabi, access to outside doctors who will evaluate his condition and help with his treatment (AP). Carol Rosenberg this week discusses improvements in the camp's once-dreaded Cell Block 6, which now has big screen TV's and a relaxed atmosphere, where more than half of the base's remaining 174 detainees live (Miami Herald).And the Columbia Journalism Review this week profiles Rosenberg's coverage of the prison since 2002, noting (CJR):

As much as any single person, she has been the keeper of the record of what has been one of the most controversial chapters in America's response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11: the government's experiment in detention-without-trial for the hundreds of men scooped up around the world for their alleged connections to al-Qaeda and other U.S. enemies.

Trials and Tribulations

  • Documents released as part of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union show that certain legal limits on the surveillance of Americans were violated inadvertently during wiretap investigations under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and that violations continued to occur as of March 2009 (Washington Post).
  • A British man currently serving a life sentence for membership in al Qaeda and running a terrorist cell, Rangzieb Ahmed, is appealing his conviction on the grounds that British agents were allegedly complicit in his torture at the hands of Pakistani intelligence (BBC, AJE, Guardian). The case has already caused controversy over government attempts to have some arguments heard in closed, secret court sessions.
  • Transportation Safety Administration chief John Pistole announced Nov. 30 that all air passengers traveling in the United States will be screened against a terrorism watch list maintained by the FBI (Washington Post).
  • Mohammed Wali Zazi, the father of New York Subway bomb plotter Najibullah Zazi, faces eight new charges in his son's case, including obstruction of justice and witness tampering (WSJ).
  • EU Counterterrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove told representatives of the bloc's countries in a meeting Dec. 2 that the organization must spend more on counterterrorism assistance, and take strides to deal with Europeans traveling to war zones to fight and train with militant groups (Reuters). And German officials are questioning the reliability of an informant whose information about "hit teams" dispatched to Germany prompted the country's recent - and ongoing - heightened terror alert level (WSJ).
  • A Saudi former Gitmo detainee, alum of the Saudi extremist rehabilitation program, and member of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Mohammed al-Awfi, appeared this week on Yemeni television to urge others to give up violence and seek "the right track" (AFP).And the Wall Street Journal reports that despite progress combating terrorist financing, Saudi Arabia is "almost completely dependent" on U.S. intelligence and advice, according to a State Department cable from this past February (WSJ).
  • Nearly seven months after his arrest in Chile at the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, authorities there decided not to press charges against a Pakistani man they initially thought had explosive residue on his person (AFP).

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