2003 Public Statement

News conference with Adel Al-Jubeir, adviser to the Saudi Crown Prince, at Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington DC
[subjects: Riyadh bombings on May 12, war on terrorism, oversight of charities and banking system]

MR. AL-JUBEIR:  Good morning, everyone.  I want to thank all of you for coming to our embassy this morning. I wanted to give you an update on where we stand in terms of the Riyadh bombings and the war on terrorism, as well as lay out for you some of the rules and regulations and laws that we have implemented in Saudi Arabia with regard to oversight and control of our charities as well as our banking system and money-laundering laws and things of that nature.  And then I'd be happy to take some questions.

It has been now a month since the horrific attacks in Riyadh on May 12th.  The attacks resulted in the killing of innocent people who were trying to lead normal lives.  They were murdered in the darkness of the night as they were in their homes with their children and their families and their friends.

The attacks, for Saudi Arabia, represented a major jolt, and it brought out a determination by Saudis to ensure that we can do everything possible to prevent such murders from happening in our country again.  They have galvanized us.  They have mobilized us. They have taken the rug out from under the terrorists or anyone who may have sympathy for them.  We vowed that we will go after the terrorists and bring them to justice.  We will go after those who support them.  We will go after those who use religion to justify such behavior, which is alien to any faith, in particular our Islamic faith.  And we began to take a series of steps.

We have questioned scores of people.  We have sought help from a number of countries, including the United States.  We have now detained over 25 people in connection with this bombing.  We have looked more intensely in terms of our -- what is being said in our mosques and tried to curb incitement.  We have over the last few months dismissed several hundred imams for straying out of the bounds of religion and for engaging in political activity at the mosques.  We have referred over a thousand imams to educational programs in order to educate them about their roles and what is permissible, what's not permissible, so that the -- we can eliminate extremism, intolerance and radicalism from our mosques. 

We are going, as a nation, through an intense period of soul searching.  We are looking at every aspect of our country.  And we are trying our best to come up with ways to ensure that the environment in which a mind-set can take hold that is dedicated to the murder of innocent people will not be able to find -- to have any roots in our society.

The total number of people that we have brought in for questioning since September 11th is well over a thousand.  We have well over 300 people currently in detention in Saudi Arabia in connection with their membership in al Qaeda. We have referred approximately 100 of them to the courts to stand trial.  And then hopefully, justice will be served.

We are looking at -- we have taken major steps in terms of our financial system, our banking system; how funds move through our banking system.  We have looked at our charities.  We have put in regulations and rules to ensure that the funds of those charities are accounted for; do not go to any evil purposes.  We require our charities to have boards of directors who are responsible for the activities of the charities.  We require them to have external auditors.  We, in December, prevented charities from giving any money outside Saudi Arabia, unless it was in coordination with the Foreign Ministry.  We have investigated and looked at the offices of the Saudi charities that are outside Saudi Arabia and where we have found suspicious activity.  We have worked with the charities to shut down those offices.  Recently, the al-Haramain Foundation announced that it would be shutting down all of its foreign offices.  

We have implemented new rules and regulations, which I think we have made available to you, which lay out what Saudi Arabia has done. It is now not legal for a Saudi charity to have offices outside Saudi Arabia.  We have a draft -- a law that is being discussed as we speak in our consultative council which will deal with this issue.  And the way that we will deal with this issue is by having one private entity set up through which all charitable activity outside Saudi Arabia flows.  And until such time, our charities cannot operate outside Saudi Arabia.

So, I think when you look at the sum total of the steps that Saudi Arabia has taken and which are outlined in the report that are providing to you, I can stand here before you and say with great confidence that Saudi Arabia has put the issue of oversight or control of charities and what they do outside Saudi Arabia behind us.  

I believe I am accurate when I say that the steps that we have taken as a government in terms of the -- what we did in terms of the measures that we took in the financial structures of our system exceed anything that any other government, including the United States, has done.  I don't believe that there is a government in the world that has gone as far as we have in ensuring that the funds of Saudi donors do not get used for evil.

I've said that, and I continue to say that we don't think that our job is done. 

Now that we have fixed the structural part, we need to go back and continue our investigations of individuals who may be implicated in financing of terrorism.  We are cooperating with a number of countries to obtain information on those individuals.  We have detained a number of people who are implicated in financing of terrorism.  In most cases, this involves -- the amounts in question are very small because they don't -- it doesn't cost much to fund mischief.  And so the funds are raised sometimes at mosques or they're raised -- or somebody takes advantage of a charitable organization.  

But in any case, we are pursuing it; we continue to pursue it. And we'll continue to seek ways to further make our system airtight. And we're open to suggestions; if anyone has any ideas on how -- what else we can do, we certainly are open to that.

We have shut down financial institutions.  One -- for example, one of the main points in our new laws is that you cannot transfer money unless it's from one bank account to another bank account; and you have to have the identity of the person who is sending the money, as well as the identity of the person who's receiving the money, so we have an audit trail.  One of our financial institutions, a small one, money exchange house, did not do so.  And we don't believe in three strikes and you're out; in this case it's one strike and you're out. And so we shut down that institution and the bank lost its -- or the exchange house lost its license; the management was investigated.  And we will probably, once -- if established, depending on whether this was just an oversight by a cleric or not, we will take appropriate action.

Having said that, I think I'll stop here and see if you have any questions that you'd like me to get into.

Yes, Andrea?

Link to transcript of question and answer session.