Saudis' secret agenda
by Richard Kerbaj and Stuart Rintoul
THE cheque from the Saudi Government for $360,000 was enclosed in an envelope.
It was a donation, a gift, a part payment to subsidise the construction of a building that would become Sydney's Muslim heartbeat: Lakemba mosque. More than 35 years after Sydney cleric Khalil Shami received the cheque, he insists it came with no strings attached. But while the cheque had no tangible conditions in the form of written instructions or binding contracts, the cleric received a message from his donors several months after depositing it.
"They said: 'Please, can you mention the tragedy of the Palestinian people and what's happened to them in your sermon?"' Shami tells Inquirer. "Which is really a very noble cause, a very noble cause, I couldn't see a negative in their request."
The message Shami received from Riyadh brings into question the influence petro-dollars can have on their recipients, whether the money is bankrolling a religious centre, a clerical allowance or Queensland's Griffith University, which was exposed by The Australian last month for seeking a $1.37million Saudi grant, of which $100,000 was received, and offering to keep elements of the deal a secret.
The Saudi Government - largely through its embassy - is believed to have funnelled at least $120 million into Australia since the 1970s to propagate hardline Islam, bankroll radical clerics and build mosques, schools and charitable orgnisations.
But the Saudi cash that has flowed into Australia, that also allegedly has paid the allowance of hardline Canberra cleric Mohammed Swaiti, who has publicly praised jihadists, is dwarfed by the $90 billion Riyadh is believed to have pumped into promoting Islamic fundamentalism internationally.
Security agencies worldwide turned their focus on Saudi funding following allegations that the 19 Muslim terrorists - with 15 Saudi nationals among them - who turned commercial airliners into suicide bombs in the September 11 attacks in 2001 were funded from Riyadh.
Counter-terrorism networks also looked closely at the threat posed by Wahhabism or Salafism, a Saudi-pioneered interpretation of Islam espoused by Osama bin Laden, on radicalising Western Muslim communities.
Last October, US President George W. Bush declared that Saudi Arabia was "co-operating with efforts to combat international terrorism". But his administration is divided on the role Riyadh is playing in the West, as are Western intelligence agencies, including Britain's Scotland Yard and MI5.
Last September, weeks before Bush talked up Saudi Arabia's role in curbing radicalism and terror, his Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, Stuart Levey, accused Riyadh of failing to prosecute terrorism financiers.
"If I could somehow snap my fingers and cut off the funding from one country, it would be Saudi Arabia," Levey said. "When the evidence is clear that these individuals have funded terrorist organisations, and knowingly done so, then that should be prosecuted and treated as real terrorism because it is."
Saudi Arabia has argued that it wants to improve its image in the West by using its financial clout to promote interfaith dialogue and moderate, not radical, Islam.
1) Saudis' secret agenda