Treasury froze assets ‘to aid Saudi Arabia’




By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent

Financial Times, 29 December 2004

The Treasury’s decision to freeze the assets of a London-based critic of Saudi Arabia’s royal family who has been accused of links to al-Qaeda was taken with the aim of easing pressure on the Saudi government, a Whitehall official has said.

The United Nations Security Council last week placed Saad al-Fagui on its list of individuals allegedly associated with al-Qaeda.

On December 24, the Treasury ordered the Bank of England to issue a statement to banks that they should freeze assets linked to Mr al-Fagui and the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia, which he leads from an office in north London.

Mr al-Fagui, a surgeon, fled Saudi Arabia and since 1993 has led a campaign demanding the overthrow of the Saudi government. The campaign has made extensive use of the Mira website, as well as organising occasional street protests in the Saudi capital Riyadh.

Mr al-Fagui has openly discussed his activities with UK counter-terrorism officials. He has also become a significant problem for the Saudi authorities, which have strongly criticised the readiness of the UK authorities to permit him to operate.

But a Whitehall official said yesterday that there had been no new information about Mr al-Fagui’s activities leading to the asset freezing. The official said the government wanted to play its role as an ally of Saudi Arabia, which since May 2003 has faced a bombing campaign by al-Qaeda militants. Mr al-Fagui focuses his propaganda campaign only on Saudi Arabia and has not been proved to have any involvement in the bombings there in the past 18 months.

However, a key allegation regarding possible past links to al-Qaeda that emerged out of a New York terrorist trial in 2001 was that Mr al- Fagui’s credit card was used to buy a satellite telephone that was sent to Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.

Mr al-Fagui was also in contact with Khaled al-Fawwaz, Mr Bin Laden’s alleged UK-based representative, until Mr al-Fawwaz was arrested in 1998 when US authorities requested his extradition in connection with al-Qaeda’s bombing of US embassies in east Africa.

But Mr al-Fagui said yesterday that there was not only “no organisational or strategic link” between the Mira and al-Qaeda but “there was quite a lot of differences”.

Referring to the extremist fighters trained by al-Qaeda and its affiliates, he said: “I have my own reservations about jihadis. Many of them are quite naïve.”

Mr al-Fagui, who has not been arrested, said he was uncertain how the freezing of his and Mira’s assets would affect his campaign.

He claimed the British government was reluctant to silence him “because they are convinced that what I am doing is reducing the tendency to violence in Arabia [by encouraging non-violent protest]”.



© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.