It’s not often that Saudi Arabia will get a good write up on these pages about their role in combatting al-Qaeda (AQ), but here goes.
The Saudis have been praised by US officials for playing a crucial role in stopping the flow of money from wealthy AQ sympathisers in the Persian Gulf. The change in the Saudi attitude to terrorism apparently changed after the bomb attack in Riyadh in 2003 (which killed 35 people), and last May Saudi tried detainees suspected of terrorism fundraising for the first time.
As a result of these crackdowns, AQ’s core in Pakistan has been badly hit. All of a sudden, there is not enough money to train, recruit and pay terrorists’ surviving family members, and according to the US, AQ complaints about a lack of money is now a common occurrence. According to David Cohen, the Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, by 2009 and 2010, ‘we were able to say that al-Qaeda was in its weakest financial condition since 2001.’ With the number of AQ financiers reduced, franchises in nations such as Yemen and Iraq are being forced to become self-sufficient. For example, AQ in the Islamic Maghreb now relies on ransoms from kidnappings, whereas AQ in Yemen raises money from within the neighbourhoods it controls.
Despite progress being made in Saudi Arabia, problems still remain in the region, with Cohen identifying Kuwait and Qatar as ‘permissive environments for extremist fundraising’, with Kuwait the only country in the Gulf region not to have criminalised terrorist financing. Furthermore, it is worth remembering that terrorism operations do not need to be expensive to be successful. The Cargo bomb plot of October 2010 cost only $4,200, and even a plot on the scale of the attacks on 9/11 somewhere between $400,000 – $500,000. While shutting down the financing of terrorism is a crucial component in the fight against AQ, it can only partly reduce the overall threat.