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LAGOS, NIGERIA.     Wednesday, July 02 2003






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U.S. links Saudi group in Nigeria to terrorism
From Laolu Akande, New York (with agency reports)

NIGERIA has been mentioned in connection with a Saudi Arabia charity organisation, Al-Haramain, which has been linked by the United States to terrorism.

In March this year, the U.S. State Department alleged that the group, which raises about $53 million yearly, retains terrorist offices in Bosnia and Somalia.

The State Department is the American government's equivalent of Nigeria's Foreign Affairs Ministry. It listed the group's offices in the two countries as "terrorist organisations."

An official from the U.S. Treasury Department (Finance Ministry) also told a congressional hearing in Washington recently that the group had shut 10 of its offices overseas after the May 12 suicide bombings in Riyadh and that its board of directors had been purged.

But a report by Reuters yesterday said the group still has branches in some countries, including Nigeria, Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, Mauritania and Bangladesh.

An official of the charity group, however, stated that all the existing offices "have a legal position" in the countries in which they are still operating.

The countries in which the group has had to close its offices include Bosnia, Somalia, Pakistan, Tanzania, Kosovo, Indonesia, Kenya and Ethiopia.

The group is irked that it had to close the offices because the governments in those countries chose to co-operate with the U.S. after the Americans accused it of having terrorists links.

It was reported that the governments of those countries have been carrying out raids on the charity group's offices in their domains.

The group has denied having any international terror links, or militant connections. It says that the overseas offices were shut to allow it focus on tackling domestic poverty in Saudi Arabia. The decision was not taken until after being linked with terrorism by the U.S.

The charity, according to the report, promoted Islam in moderation and had distanced itself from violent groups when it was established 10 years ago.

The Saudi Arabian government has since September 11, 2001, however, stopped the group from public fund raising and has made it to tighten its accounting practices.

"We set up this institution to preach Islam peacefully. It's very strange that we are described as terrorist... maybe there was a mistake. We have absolutely no inclination to violence, " the charity's Director, Sheikh Aqil al-Aqil, was quoted as saying.

Al-Haramain has provided aid to moslems around the world for a decade, and has always carried out relief work while promoting Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi Islam.

Since September 11, the U.S. government has been mounting pressure on Saudi Arabia to clamp down on any support or funding from the country that may be going to militant groups. The September 11 hijacks were carried out mainly by Saudi nationals.

The Charity group says it has provided assistance and food to moslems in East Africa, the Balkans, Chechnya and several Asian countries. It has also built 1,300 mosques, sponsored 3,000 preachers, and produced 20 million religious pamphlets. Many of the group's activities, including funds to build mosques, are believed to have come to Nigeria.

According to Reuters, an adviser to Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah said in Washington last month that Al-Haramain would shut all its offices outside Saudi Arabia and that it would be illegal for any Saudi charity to have an office abroad.

But Aqil said Al-Haramain still had branches in Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, Mauritania, Nigeria and Bangladesh.

The official of the group, quoted by the report, Aqil, said public support for Al-Haramain had soared, even though its public funding had reduced corporate donations.

"We are like heroes in the Islamic world because America is against us," he added.


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