Almost five years after the 9/11 attacks, and after months of internal debate within the US administration, the Treasury Department finally decided to take action against the International Islamic Relief organization (IIRO), a Saudi so called “charitable organization” identified since at least 1992 as being connected to the Al Qaeda network.
Since the inception of Al Qaeda, the IIRO has played a crucial role in building and improving the logistical and financial infrastructure of the terrorist group.
According to historical Al Qaeda documents seized in Bosnia in March 2002, that were later made public after I persuaded the Bosnian authorities to turn them to the 9/11 families, the IIRO was among the few Saudi charities to have been selected to be part of an Al Qaeda committee formed to “receive donations”. According to Abdullah Azzam, Al Qaeda co-founder, the IIRO was at the “forefront” of the Islamic foundations that contributed to the “Jihadist arena”.
In the 90s, an array of facts and evidence emerged from several governments confirming that the IIRO was at best a front of terrorist organizations and that most of the funds it raised were diverted to these groups.
The IIRO was present at every stage of the terrorist process, from the provision of ideological and propaganda tools and materials, to the provision of arms and military training for the terrorists. The IIRO also provided transportation, protection, facilities and cover to Al Qaeda members, in addition to its essential role in financially supporting the terrorist infrastructure.
The IIRO was also active on every single Jihadi front, from Afghanistan to Chechnya, from Bosnia to Sudan and more recently in Iraq. The organization was also linked to several terrorist actions and plots, including the 1998 Embassy bombings in Africa and the “Bojinka plan” that inspired the 9/11 attacks.
The numerous facts and evidence collected against the IIRO included the following, to name only a few:
– In 1994, Philippine authorities detained Mahmoud Abdel-Jalil, the Jordanian regional director of the International Islamic Relief Organization on charges of financially supporting the Abu Sayyaf organization, an Islamic extremist group linked to Al Qaeda.
– In 1996, a CIA report on Islamic charities mentioned the IIRO as “affiliated with the Muslim World League, a major international organization largely financed by the government of Saudi Arabia”. The CIA reported that “[t]he former head of the IIRO office in the Philippines, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa (brother-in-law to UBL), has been linked to Manila-based plots to target the Pope and US airlines (Bojinka)”. In addition, US intelligence mentioned that “The IIRO helps fund six militant training camps in Afghanistan”.
– In 2001, a French intelligence report mentioned that the IIRO funded the Darunta terrorist training camp, a facility used by Al Qaeda for chemical and biological weapons testing.
– In 2002, Omar al Farouq, Al Qaeda representative in Southeast Asia testified that the IIRO directors in Indonesia interacted with local organizations to finance and provide military training for Jemaah Islamiyah members.
I was among the many experts and officials who, for years, have been lobbying for the step partially achieved today with the designation of two IIRO offices and a Saudi director for the organization. The UN Al Qaeda Monitoring Group played a major role in recommending the listing of the IIRO in 2003. More recently, during Congressional hearings held in 2005, several Treasury officials acknowledged that the IIRO was a major cause of concern.
It’s worth mentioning that the designation was not announced as a joint initiative with the Saudi government but as a unilateral action by the US Treasury. Saudi official reaction will be interesting to follow as this government, despite its repeated promises, failed to implement regulatory rules to severe the control over its charities.
The US Designation is a first step that should now be fully implemented by the international institutions, including the UN. It is still a limited step that does not reflect the full range and extent of the support and assistance provided by the IIRO to terrorist activities in various countries.