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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Washington Misled: Saudi Arabia’s Financial Backing of Terrorism

Filed under: Al-Qaeda and Global Jihad, Hamas, Saudi Arabia, Terrorism, U.S. Policy

Vol. 1, No. 23     6 May 2002


As a result of Israel’s Operation “Defensive Shield,” new documents have been uncovered from Palestinian offices that directly link the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with financial backing of terrorist attacks against Israel. The Saudis have repeatedly denied such connections. Last month, for example, Saudi state television held a telethon for the families of “Palestinian martyrs” that raised over $100 million.

Responding to charges that with the telethon Saudi Arabia was backing terrorism, Adel Al-Jubeir, foreign policy adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, told Fox television: “We have made it very clear in terms of where Saudi funding has gone to provide humanitarian assistance to the families who have suffered as a result of the Israeli occupation and the recent Israeli aggression.” Adel Al-Jubeir added: “We do not support suicide bombers. Our objective is to put food on people’s tables and medicine in their pharmacies” (Fox News, April 28, 2002).

Earlier in the month, the U.S. government was apparently given similar assurances by the Saudis. Thus, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer responded to a press briefing on April 12 by saying: “As I said, we have received assurances from the Saudi Arabian government that the money is going to the Palestinian people, and not to support terrorism.” Fleisher was sufficiently confident about Saudi assurances that he even compared the Saudi aid from the telethon to U.S. financial assistance to the Palestinian people.

One new Saudi document found in Palestinian offices demonstrates that the Saudis were not providing general humanitarian aid as they told the U.S. government and explained to American television audiences. Riyadh had misled Washington, for the Saudis itemized their allocations line by line, detailing the circumstances of the death of Palestinians whose families received assistance; the Saudis themselves explain that the allocation was for suicide attacks.


Rewarding Suicide Bombers

Among the documents found in Tulkarm was a table from Saudi Arabia itemizing the tenth set of payments to the “Martyrs of the Al-Aqsa Intifada.” The table details how $545,000 was allocated to 102 families. The logo at the top of the table reads: “Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Committee for Aid to the Al-Quds Intifada.” This committee was established in the fall of 2000 under the Saudi Minister of the Interior, Prince Nayef bin ‘Abd al-Aziz. Prince Nayef’s organization was also responsible for collecting Saudi contributions during the April 11 telethon for Palestinian “martyrs” on Saudi state television.

The table explains the type of activity that entitled a family to receive Saudi assistance:

  • According to the document, Abd al-Fatah Muhammad Musalah Rashid, number 15 on the list, died in a “martyrdom act.” The individual involved was a member of the pro-Iranian Islamic Jihad who died in a car-bomb attack at Beit Lid on September 9, 2001, for which he was responsible. Eight Israelis were wounded.

  • Abd al-Karim Amr Muhammad Abu Na’sa, who appears as number 17 in the Saudi table, is described as having died in a “martyrdom act in Afula.” This is a reference to his suicide bombing on behalf of Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Afula on November 27, 2001. Forty-six Israelis were wounded.

  • There is no doubt that when the document refers to a “martyrdom act” — amliyya itishaddiyya — it is referring to suicide attacks. A martyr, or “shahid” in Arabic, is an individual who gave his life in a holy war — or in a Jihad — and is therefore entitled to automatic entry into Paradise after his death, according to Islamic tradition. The term “martyr” has thus become synonymous with suicide bombers or those who died attacking Israelis. Israel has been able to determine that at least eight of the beneficiaries of Saudi aid are the families of suicide bombers.

  • Other “martyrs” on the Saudi list may not have been suicide bombers, but were well known for their past involvement in terrorism. Thus, number 68, Mahmud Abu Hanud, was the commander of Hamas for the West Bank. Number 8, Atef Abiyat, commanded the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Bethlehem. His name was well known to those who engaged in peace process matters since Yasser Arafat promised the European Union that he was in prison while he moved about freely until his death.

When a potential suicide bomber knows that his family will be handsomely rewarded with financial aid after his death, his motivation to undertake suicide operations increases. Thus, Saudi aid promotes terrorism directly.


Implications of Israeli Revelations about Saudi Arabia for the U.S. War on Terrorism

  • First Evidence of Direct Saudi Aid to Terrorism: Prior to the discovery of the Saudi document, attempts to trace the Saudi money trail in backing international terrorism focused on Saudi-backed charities. For example, on March 11, 2002, the U.S. Treasury identified the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, based in Saudi Arabia, as an organization with which U.S. citizens are prohibited from making any transactions because of its suspected support for terrorism. Al-Haramain receives millions of dollars per year from the Saudi government; some of this aid may indirectly reach terrorist organizations. The Saudi documents found with the Palestinians point to a direct link between Saudi funds and suicide bombing attacks. 
  • Saudis Not Involved in Humanitarian Aid but Rather in Assistance to Recognized International Terrorist Groups: The specificity of the Saudi table allows the Saudis to monitor in detail the identity of each recipient family. Matching the names in the table to its own information, Israel was able to link suicide bombers with specific organizations — Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades — that have been declared by the U.S. to be indisputable international terrorist organizations. Had there just been a Saudi grant for families who had lost relatives, without the details of the table, then Saudi advocates could argue that the money was provided as general aid to the Palestinian people.

  • The official Saudi table itemizing allocations to the families of “martyrs” was not the only document found by Israel in Palestinian offices during Operation “Defensive Shield.” According to additional captured documents, which were Palestinian intelligence reports, the Saudis also transferred direct aid to Palestinian Islamic terrorist groups – both to Hamas and Islamic Jihad.1

Saudi Arabian financial aid to terrorist groups is not just an Israeli problem. During October 2001, NATO forces entered the offices of the Saudi High Commission for Aid to Bosnia. Surveillance photographs of possible American targets were found. A former employee of the Saudi Commission is now in Guantanamo Bay, suspected of plotting an attack against the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo. Saudi-sponsored charities have been tied to other terrorist attacks, including the U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa in 1998.2 Unless Saudi Arabia ceases all assistance, direct or indirect, for acts of international terrorism, it cannot play any role to stabilize the Middle East and advance Arab-Israeli peace.


1 Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Dan Naveh, “The Involvement of Arafat, PA Senior Officials, and Apparatuses in Terrorism Against Israel, Corruption, and Crime,” May 2002, p. 67.

2 Matthew Levitt, Senior Fellow, “Tackling the Financing of Terrorism in Saudi Arabia,” in Policywatch, No. 609, March 11, 2002, Washington Institute of Near East Policy.