MANILA, Philippines - Saudi nationals have allegedly financed the operations of Al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups in the Philippines, according to secret diplomatic cables released by anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
To make matters worse, a Saudi ambassador reportedly intervened to secure the release of compatriots who were arrested in the Philippines for terrorism financing, the cables said.
Cable 05MANILA5126 dated November 2, 2005 that was sent in the name of US embassy deputy chief of mission Paul Jones said Saudi-origin terrorist financing came into the Philippines under the cover of donations to mosques, orphanages, and madrassahs.
Several other secret and confidential cables coming from the US embassy in Manila identified some of the individuals and organizations that were allegedly bankrolling terrorist groups.
Cable 05MANILA2356 said the groups include the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), a subsidiary of the Saudi-based and funded Muslim World League (MWL).
"Operated by Usama Bin Laden's brother-in-law, Saudi businessman Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, and with links to captured al-Qaeda lieutenant Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the IIRO served as a legal front to conceal the transfer of al-Qaeda funding and materiel to the Abu Sayyaf Group and possibly other insurgents or terrorists operating in the Philippines," the cable said.
It added that although Khalifa left the Philippines in 1994 and the IIRO was shut down, there were concerns that his network and associates continued to operate in the country.
Cable 08MANILA899, meanwhile, revealed how police in 2008 foiled a suspected plot to bomb embassies in Manila.
The plan was allegedly financed by Khalil Hassan Al-Ali, a Jordanian national and Saudi resident, and his companion Walid Abd-al-Razzaq Husayn Salim Abu Ayshah.
"Both individuals were financiers with suspected connections to the plot. Following interrogation, the Philippine government took immediate steps to deport the two suspects to Jordan," it added.
The case of the Saudi envoy
In separate incidents cited by cable 05MANILA5126, Philippine police were able to arrest 3 other Saudi nationals suspected of financing terrorists in the country.
However, Saudi Ambassador to the Philippines Mohammed Ameen Wali "had intervened in each case to secure their release," according to the cable.
It quoted Philippine National Police (PNP) official Winnie Quidato, who claimed that police had to hand over one Saudi national, Talhi, to the Bureau of Immigration after Wali had a dinner meeting with then PNP chief Arturo Lomibao.
"Wali then convinced BI Commissioner Alipio Fernandez to sign the deportation order handing over custody to the Saudi Embassy," it added.
The cable also accused a mayor in Mindanao of recieving $8,000 from the terror suspect. It said USAID earlier had to suspend a road project in the mayor's jurisdiction because of his meetings with suspected terrorist financiers.
The cable said there were precedents for Saudi diplomatic interference in terrorist cases in the Philippines.
"After the arrest in Zamboanga on January 17 of Al Sughayir, a known financier of al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), Ambassador Wali successfully pressured the GRP to deport him on January 18, according to press reports as well as intelligence," it said.
"In another case, GRP officials arrested Abdullah Nasir Al-Arifi in March 2005 upon arrival in Manila from Saudi Arabia following identification of his name on an Interpol list of suspected terrorists, again according to press reports and intelligence," the cable said. "Wali similarly interceded to take direct custody of Al-Arifi, who was then deported back to Saudi Arabia."
"Saudi public pronouncements against terrorism are contradicted by a developing pattern of effective Saudi Embassy influence on GRP officials to release suspected financiers," the cable added.
It said Saudis have a "tremendous leverage" with the Philippine government because of the large number of Filipino workers in the kingdom and the hundreds of millions of dollars they annually remit to their families back home.
NGOs as terrorism financing conduits?
Cable 05MANILA2356, meanwhile, revealed how easy it was for Muslim non-government organizations such as the now-banned IIRO to operate in the Philippines.
It quoted then Presidential Office of Muslim Affairs (OMA)Deputy Director Tahir Lidasan as saying that there was no transparency and accountability regarding NGO funding.
"You might release funds for a three-story madrassah and end up with a one-story room, with no explanation of how the money was spent or where it ends up," Lidasan allegedly told a US embassy political officer.
The cable also mentioned lax immigration and border control -- especially in Mindanao's "southern backdoor" that leads to Malaysia or Indonesia -- that enables criminals and terrorist financiers to come and go with impunity.
"These couriers sometimes travel with cash, bypassing banks or other traceable financial transactions, to fund and support suspected terrorists in sanctuaries in central Mindanao," it added.
The cable said Quidato explained how some NGOs do not know that their foreign contacts are involved in terrorist finance.
"Separately, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Pakistan Desk Officer Nathan Imperial told poloff (US embassy political officer) that some Islamic NGOs are recruiting young Filipino Muslims for training in radical Pakistani madaris, passing them through Bangkok as tourists on their way to Pakistan. Imperial admitted the GRP had no clear idea of the number of Filipino students studying in Pakistan," it said.