This is Chapter 2 of a multi-chapter series. On your right is a Table of Contents to all chapters so far published.
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Al Qaeda’s supporters are “aware of the cracks in the Western financial system as they are aware of the lines in their own hands.”
– Osama bin Laden, in a 2001 interview with a Pakistani Journalist
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In the summer of 2003, customs agents at London’s Heathrow airport inspected the luggage of a man named Abdurrahman Alamoudi and found hidden in a secret compartment of one of his suitcases a total of $350,000 in cash. Mr. Alamoudi failed to adequately explain why he was hauling large stacks of $100 bills in a secret compartment, so there was an investigation. This investigation yielded some interesting facts.
Mr. Alamoudi, a member of a wealthy family in Saudi Arabia, had been a long time resident of the United States, where he was among the most prominent members of the Muslim community. He was also a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and an outspoken supporter of Hamas and Hezbollah. In addition, he counted among closest friends and business associates people like Sami al Arian, a leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Mousa Abu Marzook, political chief of Hamas.
Some people believe that groups like Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood are focused on faraway lands, but all of these groups (we will see) have ties to Al Qaeda, and all of them are united in their hostility to the United States. Moreover, they pay close attention to the U.S. markets – and they see the economy as key to undermining American power.
When the financial crisis hit in 2008, Hamas leaders reacted with glee and issued an official statement proclaiming that the economic cataclysm marked the “End of the American Empire.” Meanwhile, leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood regularly preach the glory of Al Jihad bi-al-Mal, or the “Financial Jihad.”
A report (see Chapter 1) commissioned by the Defense Department’s Irregular Warfare Support Program suggests that the “Financial Jihad” has two key objectives: 1) building a global financial network that can serve as an alternative to the prevailing financial order dominated by the West; 2) perpetrating destructive financial crimes that can be described as “financial terrorism” because the crimes are, to some extent, politically motivated and meant to undermine the global financial system, which is viewed by leaders of the Financial Jihad as being a product of the West.
Muslim Brotherhood leader Hamud bin Uqla al-Shuaibi implied as much when he stated in 2007 that jihadis must resist the West, but do not necessarily need to do so with violence. He suggested that “Financial Jihad” was a viable alternative to violence and was indeed “more important than self sacrificing [in armed battle].” He did not specify what he meant by “Financial Jihad” but he was certainly not talking about giving to charity. Rather, he said, “Money is a weapon of Jihad.”
Similarly, Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yussuf al Qardawi has spoken of the need for Muslims to deploy Silah al Naft – i.e. “the weapon of oil” – against the U.S. economy. This was precisely in line with the thinking of Osama bin Laden, who stressed “the absolute necessity to use the oil weapon.”
In another typical manifesto, Osama bin Laden and his deputy wrote that “it is very important to concentrate on hitting the U.S. economy through all possible means.” In 2007, bin Laden released a video on which he taunted the U.S. for having too much mortgage debt.
Although Osama bin Laden is dead, his words remain important. Indeed, among jihadis, the words of the fallen “martyr” might have more resonance than ever. And the jihad is bigger than bin Laden. It is a global movement that has clearly articulated its goals, and remains intent upon achieving them.
Al Qaeda and many other outfits have repeated over and over that jihadis should wage economic warfare any way they can. They don’t mean knocking down buildings – they mean wiping out the markets. As Al Qaeda operative Monin Khawaja wrote in 2003, “We have to come up with a way that we can drain their economy of all its resources, cripple their industries, and bankrupt their systems…”
Then there is the Muslim Brotherhood document, which is quoted all too frequently, and often to the wrong purposes. It says that Muslims “must understand that their work in America is a kind of Grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and `sabotaging’ its miserable house by the hands of the believers…”
When I say that the document is quoted to the wrong purposes, I am referring to those who point to it as evidence that radical Islamism is taking over America, which it is not. Certainly, we should not be hysterical about Muslims calling America a “miserable house”, which is an accurate description of our current state of affairs. However, it is possible that jihadis are, in fact, “sabotaging” our miserable house from within.
As early as 2003, the Department of Homeland Security warned that Al Qaeda was interested in infiltrating American financial institutions, and that Al Qaeda operatives possibly had already obtained jobs at American brokerage houses and banks. Said DHS spokesman David Wray: “There is new intelligence that indicates specific interest [on the part of Al Qaeda] in financial services and indirect indication…that led us to believe that threats could come from within as well as without.”
Osama bin Laden, meanwhile, liked to brag (as he did in the statement with which I opened this chapter) that his supporters understand the weaknesses in the American financial system. In another statement, he was even more explicit, saying not only that his supporters knew how to “exploit” the “cracks inside the Western financial system”, but also that the “faults and weaknesses are like a sliding noose strangling the [American economy].”
Which brings us back to Mr. Alamoudi, the fellow caught with $350,000 stuffed in his suitcase. Mr. Alamoudi was a central figure in what FBI investigators used to call the SAAR Network, or sometimes the Safa Group, a complex web of companies, investment funds, banks and charities alleged to have funded a host of jihadist outfits, including Al Qaeda. Shortly after the 9-11 attacks in 2001, the SAAR Network became the principal target of Operation Green Quest, the U.S. government’s effort to shut down the flow of money to terrorists. (Operation Green Quest led to few indictments and was disbanded in 2003, but its findings remain relevant).
One SAAR Network outfit was called the Ficq Council, where Mr. Alamoudi served as a trustee. The founder of the Ficq Council, Taha Jaber Al-Alwani, was named as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the government’s case against Mr. Alamoudi’s friend, Sami al-Arian, who was himself a central figure in the SAAR Network until he was jailed for his activities as U.S. leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. (Sami al-Arian was also suspected of providing support to the 9-11 hijackers, but he was never charged for doing so).
The secretary and board director of the Ficq Council was a man named Sheikh Yusuf Talal DeLorenzo, who is another one of Sami al Arian’s close associates. Sheikh DeLorenzo and Mr. Alamoudi (the fellow with the suitcase full of cash), meanwhile, co-founded a SAAR Network outfit called the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences (GSISS).
Sheikh DeLorenzo himself has not been implicated in the funding of terrorism, and for a time, GSISS had a contract from the U.S. Department of Defense to screen and hire Muslim Army chaplains, some of whom accompanied U.S. troops to Afghanistan. That, however, was before Mr. Alamoudi was caught at Heathrow with $350,000 in cash hidden in a secret compartment of his suitcase. The investigation that ensued revealed that Mr. Alamoudi had received the cash from Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi, and that he planned to use it to finance a plot that he had hatched to assassinate then Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. In 2004, the Treasury Department issued a press release stating that Mr. Alamoudi had ties to Al Qaeda and was one of Osama bin Laden’s most important funders.
After it became clear that Mr. Alamoudi (who is now serving a 23-year prison sentence) had ties to Al Qaeda, the U.S. Senate held a hearing to discuss how it came to be that GSISS (the outfit co-founded by Mr. Almoudi and Sheikh DeLorenzo) was hiring chaplains to accompany American troops to Afghanistan. Echoing the words of most everyone else at that hearing, Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona said that it was pretty “remarkable” that “people who have known connections to terrorism are the only people to approve these chaplains.”
The Defense Department also concluded that it was remarkable, and ultimately concluded that the GSISS had probably been inserting Al Qaeda spies into the U.S. Army. At least one of the chaplains that GSISS hired for the Army was eventually charged and convicted for passing U.S. military secrets to Al Qaeda. Other GSISS clerics were suspected of espionage and merely fired.
Three years later, a lot of people still thought it was “remarkable GSISS (co-founded by Mr. Alamoudi, a key funder of Al Qaeda) had managed to insert spies into the U.S. military. but that didn’t stop GSISS’s other co-founder, Sheikh DeLorenzo (a sophisticated financier) from seeking permission from the Securities and Exchange Commission to set up a trading platform called Al Safi Trust, the ostensible purpose of which was to enable Muslim traders to engage in short selling without violating shariah law.
In 2007, the SEC granted permission, which is pretty “remarkable” because Al Safi Trust creates precisely the sort of “crack” in the financial system that would likely be exploited by people looking to crash the markets.
Traders who engage in legal short selling (as opposed to naked short selling) first borrow stock, then sell it, hoping the price will fall. This is a legitimate practice when it is not meant to intentionally manipulate the markets. The stock that is borrowed and then sold is real stock; it is not phantom stock that artificially increases supply and drives down prices. When Sheikh DeLorenzo set up Al Safi Trust, however, he explained that Muslim traders cannot borrow stock because shariah law prohibits paying interest.
This claim is, to begin with, not entirely true. Shariah law (by a strict reading of the Koran) does not ban interest. It merely warns against “excessive” interest, or usury. Nobody in modern times ever said that Muslims cannot pay interest until the Muslim Brotherhood’s “Financial Jihad” began to take off in the 1970s. This is about politics, not religion. Regardless, the interest problem could have been resolved in any number of ways. For example, Al Safi Trust could have worked out a fee structure whereby the prime broker, rather than the traders themselves, paid the interest on the borrowed stock.
Instead, Al Safi Trust provides an altogether novel service, known as Arboon, the amazing feature of which is that nobody locates or borrows any real stock. The clients of Al Safi Trust can simply sell as much stock as they like even if there is no stock available to sell.
Of course, if there is no stock available, they are not selling actual stock. They are simply hitting the “sell” buttons on their computers, indicating to the markets that stock has been sold, and creating phantom supply that drives down prices. According to Sheikh DeLorenzo, Al Safi Trust’s short sellers enter into an agreement to eventually buy stock so that they can deliver what they have sold. But an agreement to buy stock at some indeterminate point in the future is a far cry from having actual stock before selling it.
Presumably, Al Saft Trust’s clients do fulfill their agreements by eventually purchasing stock and delivering it to whomever bought it. But by that time, the phantom stock that was sold would have already done its damage to the markets. With the damage done, Al Safi Trust’s traders can buy shares at lower prices, deliver them, and then unleash another blast of phantom stock, further driving down prices.
In short, Al Safi Trust is nothing more than a cloak for another form of naked short selling, embroidered in Islamic jurisprudence so that regulators will not see through it. Because it is condoned by regulators, there is no evidence that Al Safi Trust itself has broken any laws. However, criminals (or, for that matter, financial terrorists) looking to inflict damage on the markets now have a service, Al Safi Trust, that would enable them to conduct their mischief without fear that American regulators would pay even the least bit of attention to what they are doing.
I shudder to think who the clients of Al Safi Trust might be, but we should probably consider the possibilities. And towards that end, maybe we should know more about Sheikh DeLorenzo’s background.
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Sheikh DeLorenzo was born in Massachusetts as Anthony DeLorenzo, the son of upper-class parents, and the grandson of Italian immigrants from Sicily. At the age of twenty, he dropped out of Cornell University, and converted to Islam. Soon after, he moved to Pakistan, gradually making his way to Karachi, where he spent several years receiving religious training at Jamiah Ulum Islamia, a maddrassah led by scholars who, like the Taliban, subscribe to the strict Deobandi school of Islam.
According to the International Crisis Group, a well-known non-profit organization that studies war zones and political conflict, the Jamiah Islamia maddrassah has “carried the mantle of Jihadi leadership,” since the days of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and now serves as “the fountainhead of Deobandi militancy countrywide.”
The International Crisis Group notes further that the Jamiah Islamia “boasts close ties with the Taliban” and has played a “major role in helping to establish and sustain” Pakistan’s most violent jihadist outfits, including Harkat ul-Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Sipah-e-Sahaba. All of these groups have close ties to Al Qaeda, and Jaish-e-Mohammed, along with the intimately affiliated Lashkar-e-Tayiba, have become, for all intents and purposes, Al Qaeda subsidiaries.
As evidence of this, investigators note, as just one example, that Omar Sheikh, a leading member of Jaish-e-Mohammed, wired money to Mohammed Atta, the ring-leader of the Al Qaeda hijackers who carried out the 9-11 attacks. Omar Sheikh was also responsible for kidnapping Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was subsequently killed, his head sliced off with an ornate, Yemeni knife and held up to be filmed for a jihadi propaganda video. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the September 11 attacks, has said that he committed the murder himself.
This was a great tragedy because Daniel Pearl was one of the few journalists to understand the threat to the United States is not just Al Qaeda, but a much larger, complex web of interlinking jihadist groups, shady financiers, agents of rogue states, narcotics smugglers, nuclear weapons traffickers, and Mafia kingpins. We’ll dig into that web in future chapters, but I’ll note now that Jaish-e-Mohammed, one of the outfits spawned by Sheikh DeLorenzo’s madrassah, has been implicated in multiple terrorist plots, including one to fire Stinger missiles at passenger planes in New York.
This is not to suggest that Sheikh DeLorenzo himself is a terrorist. But there is no question that Sheikh DeLorenzo — who is also known as Usama DeLorenzo, and Usama a-Ali, and Usama Ashraf Ali, and other names – is on familiar terms with jihadist groups. Indeed, in the 1980s, Sheikh DeLorenzo worked as a key advisor to Zia ul-Haq, who was then the leader of Pakistan, and Sheikh DeLorenzo’s job was to help implement the Pakistani government’s most pernicious program — the further development of the country’s network of madrassahs in order to strengthen relationships between the government and jihadist paramilitaries, including many that are now plotting the demise of the West.
As part of Sheikh DeLorenzo’s program, many of these jihadist groups became closely intertwined with Pakistan’s spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). It should be said that the madrassah program also received support from the U.S. government, which was then hoping that the jihadist movement would serve as bulwark against the Soviet Union. But nowadays, of course, the jihadist paramilitaries are enemies of the United States, and their entanglements with the ISI cause endless problems for U.S. government officials who rely on Pakistan as an American ally.
The nexus between the ISI, the jihadis, and also key Mafia figures (such as the Indian Mafia kingpin Dawood Ibrahim, who lives under the protection of the ISI and is a key money man for Al Qaeda, according to multiple U.S. government reports) is a genuine threat to global stability, and to the financial system that underlies the American economy. Ibrahim himself is a serious threat. Aside from being involved in multiple violent terrorist attacks, he is reportedly the biggest trader on the Karachi stock exchange. Forbes Magazine ranks Ibrahim as one of the 50 most powerful people in the world.
The extent to which Sheikh DeLorenzo remains part of the Pakistani nexus is unclear, but his experience in Pakistan might be less worrying than his time in America, where he came to be on close terms not only with Sami al-Arian (a leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad) and Mr. Alamoudi (his Al Qaeda-tied partner in GSISS) but many other important jihadis, most of them key figures in the SAAR Network of alleged terrorist financiers. Indeed, though Sheikh DeLorenzo has never been charged with any crime, he held key positions with multiple SAAR Network organizations, and it should be stressed that all these organizations were operated by the Muslim Brotherhood, and all were said (by U.S. law enforcement agencies) to have ties to terrorist organizations (e.g. Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Al Qaeda, and others) that were spawned by the Brotherhood.
For example, in addition to his high-level positions with the Ficq Council, Sheikh DeLorenzo was a board member at the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), another outfit identified by FBI investigators as being part of the SAAR Network. Other top officials of IIIT have been linked directly to Al Qaeda and provided logistical support to at least two of Al Qaeda’s biggest achievements – the 1998 simultaneous attacks on the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya; and the bombing, in 2000, of the USS Cole, an American destroyer that was parked at the Yemeni port of Aden. One IIIT officer, Tarik Hamdi, hand delivered the satellite phone that Osama bin Laden used to order the assault on the USS Cole. The IIIT was also the largest “donor” to the World and Islam Studies Enterprise, which simply handed the money over to Sami al-Arian’s Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups.
After Sami al Arian’s arrest, the secretary general of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Ramadan Shallah (who was once a professor, along with Sami Al-Arian, at the University of South Florida, and is now based in Syria) identified IIIT as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s most important source of funding. In 2000, Youseff Bondansky, then director of the House Task Force on Terrorism, published a book reporting that Shallah and other terrorists had attended meetings with Osama bin Laden to plan a “spectacular” terrorist attack inside in the United States. (Again, Sheikh DeLorenzo himself has not been implicated in terrorism, but his relationships with some terrorists might be pertinent).
Sheikh DeLorenzo was also a top executive (and continues to serve as a consultant for) a large SAAR Network investment fund called the Amana Trust, which is interesting on several levels. For one, the Amana Trust was founded by a Muslim Brotherhood figure named Yaqub Mirza, who was the most important U.S.-based operative in the SAAR Network of terrorist financiers. In 2001, U.S. government agents raided the offices of not just Mr. Mirza, but also at least three other Amana Trust officials because they (and Amana Trust) were suspected of funding terrorism. (Neither Mr. Mirza nor any other Amana Trust officials were ever charged with any crime, and nor were most of the other key figures in the SAAR Network who were targeted by Operation Green Quest investigators).
After raiding Mr. Mirza’s offices, U.S. law enforcement officials said that Mr. Mirza was the incorporator or manager of more than a dozen SAAR Network hedge funds, charities, and financial entities, including Mar-Jac Investments, Mena Investments, Sterling Management Group, and Reston Investments. In addition, Mr. Mirza ran the SAAR Network’s centerpiece, an outfit called the SAAR Foundation, which advertised itself as a charity, but was allegedly an important vehicle for laundering money raised in the United States for jihadist groups. (Again, no convictions were forthcoming, and Mr. Mirza is innocent until proven guilty, but I will report the allegations of government investigators, and let readers make up their own minds).
In 1998, the SAAR Foundation reported that it had an astounding $1.8 billion in annual revenue. After the 9-11 attacks, when the authorities began investigating the foundation for alleged ties to jihadist terrorist groups, the foundation (as first reported by terrorism expert Steve Emerson) issued new books that stated that it had zero income. In other words, $1.8 billion simply vanished, and officials suspected (though never proved) that the money ended up in the hands of terrorist outfits. In another instance, the SAAR Foundation transferred $9 million to an off-shore account held in the name of Humana Charitable Trust, an entity that did not exist.
Mr. Mirza has also been named by FBI investigators and terrorism experts as the principal U.S.-based bagman for Yasin al-Qadi, a Saudi billionaire and Muslim Brotherhood leader who was one of a select number of people labeled (in 2001-2002) by the U.S. government as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist.” Yasin al Qadi ran an “Al Qaeda front” called the Muwafaw Foundation, which was, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, one of Osama bin Laden’s sources of funding.
However, the U.S. government has refused to hand over evidence to prosecutors and Yasin al Qadi has yet to be convicted of any crime. This has been lamented by some investigators, including former FBI special agent Robert Wright, who insists that Yasin al Qadi was “Al Qaeda’s banker” and that the U.S. government has failed to go after him and others in deference to the government of Saudi Arabia. The U.S. Treasury Department no longer refers to Yasin al Qadi as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist.” Instead, he and thousands of others are referred to as “Specially Designated Nationals” who are suspected of financing terrorism.
In the late 1990s, Yasin al-Qadi was a major investor, along with a man named Sulaiman al-Ali, in a Chicago company called Global Chemical, which was ostensibly involved in warehousing chemicals for the manufacturing of soap. But when Global Chemical was raided in 1997, government experts said that the chemicals were likely for use in manufacturing explosives or even chemical weapons. (Again, Yasin al Qadi was not charged).
The president of Global Chemical was Mohammed Mabrook, who used the alias Mohamed Elhazeri, and who was, in the 1990s, the director of an outfit called Mercy International. One of Mercy’s board members was Mr. Alamoudi (Sheikh DeLorenzo’s GSISS partner), and Mercy International has been linked to 1) the terrorists who carried out the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa); 2) the masterminds of both the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the September 11 conspiracy; and 3) Osama bin Laden himself.
Meanwhile, Global Chemical co-investor Sulaiman al-Ali incorporated, along with Yasin al-Qadi’s bagman, Mr. Mirza (Sheikh DeLorenzo’s partner in Amana Trust), a company called Sana-Bell Inc. Sana-Bell’s principal purpose, according to government investigators, was to generate and manage money for the U.S. arm of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO). Mr. Alamoudi was one official of the IIRO in the U.S.
Among the principals of the IIRO’s overseas offices was Mohammed al-Zawahiri, the leader of the military wing of Egyptian Islamic Jihad (which has since merged with al Qaeda). Mr. al-Zawahiri is also the brother of Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was Osama bin Laden’s deputy, and is now the new leader of Al Qaeda. Ayman al-Zawahiri trained jihadi paramilitaries in the Balkans under the auspicies of the IIRO.
Given these connections, it should not be surprising to learn that IIRO has been identified by authorities as an organization that funds terrorism. The United Nations, at one point, officially declared that the IIRO’s branch offices in the Philippines and Indonesia were Al Qaeda subsidiaries. For a long time, the Philippines office was directed by Mohammad Jamal Khalifa, a high-ranking Al Qaeda figure who was Osama bin Laden’s brother in law.
The IIRO, meanwhile, is a subsidiary of the Muslim World League, which Osama bin Laden identified (in a recorded conversation with Al Qaeda lieutenant Jamal Ahmed al-Fadl) as one of his primary sources of funding. The Muslim World League, which was (according to government investigators) also a big backer of Sami al Arian’s Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas and other jihadist outfits, was incorporated in the United States by Yasin al-Qadi’s bagman, Mr. Mirza. (Despite the official accusations, the IIRO and the Muslim World League have not been convicted of any crimes, and remain in operation today).
While Mr. Mirza handled affairs in the U.S., the Muslim World League’s Peshawar office was managed by Wael Jalaidan, one of Al Qaeda’s founding members. The Muslim World League’s vice president in the U.S., Hassan Bahfazallah, was a member, along with Mr. Mirza, of Sana-Bell’s board of directors.
Mr. Bahfazallah, meanwhile, was also the executive director of an outfit in Chicago called Benevolence International, which received considerable support from Yasin al-Qadi. Benevolence’s overseas offices, including its office in Chechnya, were reported by U.S. officials to be “Al Qaeda fronts” directed by top Al Qaeda operatives, and the DOJ accused the Benevolence office in Chicago (including Mr. Bahfazallah) of having contacts with a Chechen organized crime (and terrorism) syndicate that was trying to obtain nuclear bombs for Al Qaeda.
Nuclear bombs are weapons of mass destruction.
Sheikh DeLorenzo’s Al Safi Trust naked short selling platform is a financial weapon of mass destruction.
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I do not know whether Yasin al-Qadi, Mr. Mirza and the other alleged terrorist financiers are clients of Al Safi Trust, but they have been in other lines of business with Sheikh DeLorenzo, and their relationships deserve scrutiny, just as we should scrutinize business relationships between gun dealers and the mentally disturbed. The difference here being that Yasin al Qadi (“Al Qaeda’s banker”) and Mr. Mirza (Yasin al Qadi’s bagman in the United States) are not mentally disturbed. They are sophisticated hedge fund managers with experience in the U.S. market, and they might be of service to the “Financial Jihad.”
Both Sheikh DeLorenzo and Mr. Mirza were also involved with an outfit called Saturna Capital, and tax returns show that Saturna Captital was a funder of the Holy Land Foundation, named by U.S. prosecutors as the principal U.S. front for Hamas. Prosecutors in the Holy Land Foundation trial were the first to unveil the document outlining a “grand jihad in eliminating and destroying Western civilization…”
Sheikh DeLorenzo also helped run (and continues to serve as a consultant to) the Saturna Brokerage, which, like Saturna Capital, was a unit of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), a Saudi funded outfit tied to the Muslim Brotherhood. Amana Trust also operates under the ISNA umbrella, as does the NAIT investment bank and (see chapter 1 of this series) trader Zuhair Karam’s Bridegview Mosque, whose directors help run the operations of all of these financial entities.(The mosque was also a contributor to the Holy Land Foundation, according to those tax returns).
As of 2010, the president of Saturna Brokerage was Monem Abdul Salam, who was formerly a principal at Dickinson & Co., a brokerage that was a unit of the Stotler Group, which received a pile of subpoenas in 1989 as part of Operation Sour Mash and Operation Hedge Clipper – two famous FBI investigations into financial firms suspected of laundering money for narcotics kingpins and organized crime.
Mr. Salam was not directly implicated in those investigations, but there is no doubt that Dickinson was a dubious brokerage. Several of its leading traders left to found MB Trading, which never bothered to register itself with the authorities until it became the first brokerage ever sanctioned by the U.S. government for catering to a customer in Iran in violation of laws that prohibit doing business with state sponsors of terrorism.
As of 2008, the president of ISNA (the outfit that controls NAIT, Saturna, and Amana Trust) was Muzammil Siddiqi, who also served as president of the Ficq Council, where Sheikh DeLorenzo served as secretary and as a director of the board. Mr. Siddiqi has since been named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation terrorist financing case.
There are many other reasons to be concerned about the brokerages and other financial outfits operating under the ISNA banner, one of which is that ISNA was co-founded by Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Sami al Arian, who (we know) has been accused of (though never charged for) providing support to the 9-11 hijackers, and was (according to court documents) taking directions from agents of the Iranian regime operating out of the UN headquarters in New York. This is one reason why NAIT, the multi-billion dollar investment outfit, was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the government’s case against Sami al-Arian.
ISNA, meanwhile, was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the government’s case against the Holy Land Foundation. According to United Press International, U.S. government investigators also believed that ISNA had transferred money directly to Al Qaeda, but ISNA has not been charged on that account and likely won’t be charged, perhaps in deference to the Saudi government, which is one of ISNA’s big donors and would be embarrassed by any association with Al Qaeda. The best the FBI can do, apparently, is occasionally mention ISNA officials as “unindicted co-conspirators” in cases related to Al Qaeda. As one example, former ISNA vice president Siraj Wahhaj was named by the U.S. government as an “unindicted person who may be alleged” to have participated in the 1993 “Day of Terror” plot, hatched by a diverse assortment of jihadis, all with ties to Al Qaeda.
The mastermind of both the “Day of Terror” plot and the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center was a religious scholar and Muslim Brotherhood cleric named Omar Abdel Rahman, otherwise known as the “Blind Sheikh” – and he is one of the most important people in the world because his words, more than those of any other Islamic clerics, have inspired the actions of Al Qaeda and other leaders of the grand jihad. He was, before his arrest, also a sophisticated financial operator, and he had co-founded several major financial institutions. For example, he was a co-founder (with Mr. Alamoudi, Mr. Mirza, Yasin al Qadi, among others) of an outfit in Geneva called Bank al Taqwa, which established the Milan Cultural Center said (in 2001) by the U.S. Treasury Department to have been “Al Qaeda’s main operating base in Europe for the movement of men, weapons, and money around the world.”
The Blind Sheikh was until his imprisonment the leader of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, an Egyptian terrorist group. It was long assumed that Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya was a fierce rival of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who merged his outfit with Al Qaeda (and is now leader of Al Qaeda). To be sure, al-Zawahiri and the Blind Sheikh had their differences when it came to tactics and strategy (especially with regard to Egypt), but they were nonetheless united in their hatred for the United States. Meanwhile, many jihadis (including Mr. Alamoudi, who often gave speeches calling for the Blind Sheikh’s release from prison) are united in their admiration for the Blind Sheikh because his PhD. from Egypt’s prestigious Al Azhar University, the fount of Muslim Brotherhood thought, gives his fatwahs legitimacy.
Moreover, his fatwahs are bolder than those of any cleric, and they have a particular ring to them. “Tear the Americans and Jews to pieces! And kill them wherever you find them. Ambush them. Take them hostage…Kill these infidels! Until they witness your harshness. Fight them, and God will torture them…”
And so on…
In his most famous fatwah, the Blind Sheikh was the first to call for the use of airplanes as weapons. In this same fatwah (issued from his prison cell after the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center) the Blind Sheikh was also the first prominent jihadi to publicly declare that jihadis the world over should join forces to attack the American economy.
The lengthy fatwah is worth a read, but one line can give you a general idea. The Blind Sheikh began with the usual command to “tear [the Americans and Jews] to pieces”. He then specified how this could be done: “destroy their economies, burn their corporations, destroy their peace, sink their ships, shoot down their planes and kill them on air, sea, and land.”
At the 1998 press conference where Osama bin Laden announced his declaration of war against the United States, the Al Qaeda leader gave the assembled journalists laminated cards printed with a photo of the Blind Sheikh and a few words of his famous fatwah – namely, the words that I quoted above. Meanwhile, many other polished jihadist financiers in the SAAR Network had advocated for the Blind Sheikh’s release from prison.
That was in the 1990s, and nobody paid much attention. Given what we now know, however, maybe the SEC or somebody should pay attention to jihadist financiers who might, indeed, be working to “destroy [our] economies” and “burn [our] corporations” – not with fire, but with the weapons of high-finance.
Again, this is not to suggest that Sheikh DeLorenzo or others in this story are guilty by virtue of their relationships, some of which are once removed. The point is not that Sheikh DeLorenzo himself is a terrorist. It is that some terrorists would likely be aware of Sheikh DeLorenzo’s phantom stock machine, also known as Al Safi Trust, and all the financial entities under the ISNA umbrella. But to the extent that the SEC does pay attention to ISNA (or to the former ISNA officials who are alleged accomplices or associates of Al Qaeda and the Blind Sheikh), it is only to give the SEC stamp of approval to ISNA’s financial empire.
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The leaders of the jihad are often portrayed as primitive bumpkins who live in caves and are armed with nothing more dangerous than a few maniacs willing to blow themselves up. This is to ignore the power of the jihadist ideology, which is articulated with great eloquence by countless people who are eminently learned scholars of both Islam and global politics. It is also to ignore the jihad’s fighting capabilities. The jihadis have done much more than dispatch a few terrorists here and there. They have organized and commanded insurgent armies with thousands of soldiers. And these armies have fought, with considerable success, two all-out wars (Afghanistan and Iraq) against the world’s most powerful military.
Perhaps even more important, the notion that jihadis are backward thinkers right out of the seventh century grossly underestimates the jihad’s sophistication as a modern-day global financial operation. And it is not just sophisticated; it is a massive criminal undertaking that has, according the United Nations, laundered more than $1 trillion through the global banking system in the last five years alone.
As one report prepared for the French Directorate of Military Intelligence explains, “the financial network of [Osama] bin Laden, as well as his network of investments, is similar to the network put in place in the 1980s by BCCI [Bank of Credit and Commerce International] for its fraudulent operations, often with the same people…The dominant trait of bin Laden’s operations is that of a terrorist network backed up by a vast financial structure.” [Italics are mine.]
For those who do not know, the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) was a massive and complex financial institution, founded by a Pakistani wheeler-dealer named Agha Hasan Abedi in partnership with Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, then leader of Abu Dhabi. Among the other key figures in BCCI and its satellites were the Gokal family of Pakistan; Kamal Adham, former head of Saudi intelligence; a close-knit network of Saudi billionaires (some later known to be funders of Al Qaeda); and the ruling family of Dubai, which is (like Abu Dhabi) part of the United Arab Emirates.
In 1991, BCCI was forced to close its doors after New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau declared that it was the “largest bank fraud in world financial history.” Eventually, prosecutors demonstrated that it had done illegal business with everyone from La Cosa Nostra and Colombian drug cartels to shady arms dealers, terrorist groups, and foreign intelligence agencies. BCCI, as we will see, was also a player, along with “legitimate” U.S. financiers, in the savings and loan “bust-outs” that wrought havoc on the U.S. economy in the late 1980s. Meanwhile, several of BCCI’s affiliates specialized in manipulating the U.S. markets.
We will discuss BCCI at greater length in later chapters of this series, but for now it is enough to know that it is a tenet off both Salafi Islam (the brand of Islam subscribed to by many of the sheikhs involved with both BCCI and the Muslim Brotherhood) and Shiite Islam (subscribed to by a number of BCCI’s key executives) that Muslims should fight their enemies by “plundering their money.” And regardless of what the motives of BCCI’s founders were in the past, it is clear that most of them are, to this day, major players in the global financial system. They have more than enough firepower to inflict damage on the U.S. markets. And, as the report for French intelligence noted, “directors and cadres of the bank [BCCI] and its affiliates, arms merchants, oil merchants, Saudi investors” have been among the most important financial supporters of America’s Enemy Number One – Al Qaeda.
By way of introducing just a few former BCCI figures who have supported Al Qaeda, I need to relate a story about Benevolence International, the Al Qaeda front that was accused by the U.S.. government of having contacts with people trying to obtain nuclear weapons for Osama bin Laden.
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In 2002, U.S. soldiers stationed in Sarajevo raided the local offices of Benevolence International and found a document that referred to the “Golden Chain” – an elite club of twenty Saudi billionaires whom Osama bin Laden had identified as his most important financiers. These financiers not only delivered large sums of money to the prospective nuclear weapons proliferators at Benevolence International, but can correctly be understood to have been among Al Qaeda’s founding fathers.
Some highly regarded authors, such as Steve Coll, who is otherwise reliable, have suggested that the Golden Chain members funded Al Qaeda only in its early years. This is false. Most of them continued to support Al Qaeda after bin Laden declared war against the United States, and there is evidence that at least one of them was funding Al Qaeda as of this writing in 2013.
Regardless of the degree to which they continue to fund Al Qaeda today, it can be safely assumed that the Golden Chain billionaires remain hostile to the United States. It is possible that, for the time being, they no longer financially support violent terrorism against the United States, but there should be no question that they are entirely supportive of the arguably more important “Financial Jihad” and other components of the non-violent “grand jihad in eliminating and destroying Western civilization…”
The Golden Chain document has, meanwhile, received virtually no attention from the media, perhaps because it would seem a bit “crazy” to suggest that the jihad’s most important operatives are not rag-tag fringe fanatics living in caves, but rather the crème de la crème of Saudi society – the people who control much of the world’s oil wealth, the people who own the most powerful manufacturing conglomerates, and the biggest Saudi banks, and the biggest hedge funds, and the biggest stock brokerages, and the Saudi stock exchange itself.
There is something in the wiring of American brains that makes it impossible for even the smartest people in this nation to accept surprising or unpleasant realities. There are a few exceptions, such as Glenn Simpson, who was once The Wall Street Journal’s finest investigative reporter, and who did write about the Golden Chain. But Simpson has left The Journal, and the newspaper has since failed to investigate Saudi ties to terrorism. In fact, it has failed to investigate much of anything at all.
In any event, there is a vast body of additional evidence that most of the people identified as members of the Golden Chain have actively participated in the movement of radical jihad on multiple fronts. And the Golden Chain document has been confirmed to be authentic by, among others, American intelligence officials, multiple FBI agents, Al Qaeda’s most reliable defector Jamal al-Fadl, and the nation’s most learned terrorism experts, including Steve Emerson of the Investigative Project for Terrorism, which possesses the world’s largest non-governmental database of intelligence on Al Qaeda and other jihadist outfits. (Much of the information in this chapter about the “SAAR Network” can be found in various of Emerson’s excellent books).
So we must know more about Al Qaeda’s Golden Chain. For starters, we must understand that these extremely wealthy financiers are bound together by the sorts of relationships that many Americans do not understand. These are not mere business relationships. They are the bonds of brotherhood and blood. They are the bonds of fervor and ancient grievances. They are, moreover, the bonds between people who are united in their disdain for the prevailing order, and whose financial activities have, in many cases, helped subvert that order.
One billionaire member of the Golden Chain, according to the Benevolence International document, was Sheikh Khalid Bin Mahfouz, who had been among the key shareholders of BCCI, and had paid more than $200 million to settle charges for his role in that massive criminal enterprise. Sheikh Mahfouz, who passed away in 2009, had also founded National Commercial Bank, which is the single largest financial institution in the Middle East.
Some of Sheikh Mahfouz’s companies – such as Al Khaleejia, SEDCO, and the Saudi Sudanese Bank – have done business directly with companies that were founded by Osama bin Laden. And it was Sheikh Mahfouz who originally set up the Muwafaq Foundation, the outfit that was managed by Yasin al-Qadi until the U.S. government declared Muwafaq to be an “Al Qaeda front” and labeled Yasin al-Qadi as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist.”
While he was alive, Sheikh Mahfouz denied any involvement with Al Qaeda, and filed lawsuits against journalists and researchers (including the prominent Rachel Ehrenfeld, now director of the Economic Warfare Institute, and author of an excellent book, “Funding Evil”) who reported his ties to the Muwafaq Foundation, Benevolence International and other Al Qaeda fronts. After the lawsuits, Sheikh Mahfouz’s name rarely appeared in print. Meanwhile, some American pundits claimed that Saudi billionaires like Sheikh Mahfouz had donated to Al Qaeda only to avoid being attacked, like frightened shop owners paying protection money to the local Mafia thug. These pundits misunderstand the nature of Saudi society, the two most important features of which are Salafi Islam (one of the foundations of the jihadist ideology) and the inviolability of personal relationships.
Sheikh Mahfouz not only believed in the grand jihad, but his relationship with the bin Laden family went back decades. Osama bin Laden’s father, Mohammed, and Sheikh Mahfouz were best friends, and it was Sheikh Mahfouz who provided the original finance that allowed Mohammed to build Saudi Arabia’s largest construction company. When Sheikh Mahfouz filed lawsuits against the few journalists who sought to expose his ties to Al Qaeda, the families of the victims of the 9-11 attacks filed lawsuits against Sheikh Mahfouz for providing financial support to the people who killed their loved ones.
And I am thinking I might file a lawsuit against Sheikh Mahfouz’s estate seeking damages for all the stress that I have endured as a result of learning that Sheikh Mahfouz and his friends not only were (and, in most cases, still are) among the world’s destructive financial criminals, but also had billions of dollars, some of which ended up in the hands of people like Mohamed Loay Bayazeed, who tried, according to the FBI, to “obtain uranium for Osama bin Laden for the purpose of developing a nuclear weapon.”
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Another member of the Golden Chain was Sheikh Saleh Abdullah Kamel, owner of Dallah Albaraka, a conglomerate involved in banking, stock trading, construction, and jihadist media. In addition, Sheikh Kamel, who is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and has financed Sami Al-Arian’s Palestinian Islamic Jihad, owns the powerful Saudi al-Baraka Bank, which, according to U.S. government investigators, provided much of Al Qaeda’s financial infrastructure in Sudan during the 1990s. Sheikh Kamel also gave Hamas, the jihadist outfit that controls the Gaza strip, more than $20 million so that Hamas could open a bank of its own.
The new Hamas financial institution, which is called al-Aqsa Bank, quickly formed a joint venture with Citibank. That joint venture was quite lucrative for Citibank, which may have been willing to turn a blind eye to illicit financial transactions. In 2001, the U.S. Treasury Department advised Citibank that it was operating a joint venture with a bank controlled by Hamas, and the U.S. Treasury Department advised Citibank that it might want to disband this joint venture. Citibank, however, ignored the advice. (Neither Sheikh Kamel nor any other Golden Chain billionaire has been charged with any crime related to the financing of terrorism).
U.S. authorities have taken no substantive action against Sheikh Ibrahim Muhammad Afandi, a Golden Chain billionaire who owns some of Saudi Arabia’s most influential businesses, including the Saudi Industrial Services Company, the Great Saudi Development & Investment Company, and the Arabian Company for Development and Investment Limited. Sheikh Afandi also controls BSA Investments, a big private equity fund active in the U.S.
Then there is Abdel Qader Faqeeh, a member of the Golden Chain club and chairman of major corporations and financial institutions, including Bank Al Jazeera and the Savola Group, which recently merged with Azizia Panda to become Saudi Arabia’s 13th largest company. A business partner of Sheikh Faqeeh is Golden Chain member Sheikh Saleh al-Din Abdel Jawad, who is the CEO of the blue chip General Machinery Agencies manufacturing company in Jeddah.
Sheikh Faqeeh also had a joint venture business with the above-mentioned Sheikh Mahfouz. Indeed, each Golden Chain member has some sort of business partnership with each of the other Golden Chain members – one reason why I say that these people need to be viewed as not just a club, but as a family. I will not bore the reader with a long recitation of every financial transaction that ties these jihadist financiers together, but I will mention a few, just to erase any question as to whether the relationships exist.
For example, National Commercial Bank, owned until recently by Sheikh Mahfouz, is a partner in a multi-billion dollar investment outfit called the Middle East Capital Group, which is partly controlled by Sheikh Rahman Hassan Sharbatly – who was another member of Golden Chain club. Sheik Sharbatly is also a partner, with Sheikh Faqeeh, in a unit of Sheikh Faqeeh’s Savola Group. In addition, Sheikh Sharbatly is a board member and major shareholder of Beirut Ryad Bank SAL, Egyptian Gulf Bank, and several other major financial institutions.
Meanwhile, Sheik Sharbatly and Sheikh Mahfouz were both board members of the Saudi Arabian Refinery Company, which refines much of the world’s oil supply. This brings to mind the report that I mentioned at the outset of this story – the one commissioned by the U.S. Defense Department’s Irregular Warfare Support Program. That report speculates that one component of the possible financial attack on the U.S. economy in 2008 might have been the manipulation of oil prices to excruciating highs in the summer of that year.
That seems like a possibility that is worth considering, especially in light of Osama bin Laden’s proclamations about the “absolute necessity of using the oil weapon.” Another reason to ask whether oil prices might have been manipulated is that the membership of the elite Golden Chain club included Sheikh Abdel Hadir Taher and Sheikh Ahmad Turki Yamani – two former Saudi officials who were among the masterminds of the 1973 oil embargo that crippled the U.S. economy–retaliation for America’s support of Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Sheikh Taher, in addition to being a Golden Chain member and the former governor of the Saudi state oil company Petromin, has also served as director of Saudi European Bank, a big financial institution that is important to the stability of global economic order. Al Qaeda Golden Chain member Sheikh Yamani is a former Saudi minister of petroleum. He is also a former director of Saudi Aramco, which is the largest oil company in the world.
In addition, Sheikh Yamani presides over Investcorp, an investment firm that he founded. Actually, it’s not just an investment firm; it’s a market-moving behemoth – one of the largest hedge fund and private equity outfits in the world, with more than $50 billion under management. Investcorp has made a deep imprint in the American markets, and has been involved in everything from short selling to the trading of self-destruct CDOs. As for what sort of short selling Investcorp engages in, we need only know that Ivestcorp is a client of Sheikh DeLorenzo’s Al Safi Trust phantom stock machine.
Investcorp was also a pioneer, and continues to be one of the few major players in the world of so-called PIPEs deals, also known as “death spiral” finance. Investcorp has not been implicated in any crime related to its PIPEs deals, and I am not suggesting that Ivestcorp has done anything technically illegal, but PIPEs deals generally are considered to have been a major scourge on the American markets. PIPEs, or “Private Investments in Public Equity” are simply transactions that see the investors buying stock directly from companies rather than on the open markets. But PIPEs investors often end up destroying the company to which they are supposedly serving as benefactors.
Since PIPEs finance dilutes shareholder value, a company that does a PIPEs deal often sees its stock price decline. When this happens, short sellers (often naked short sellers who are colluding with the outfit that provided the PIPEs finance) attack the company, causing its stock price to drop. The more it drops, the greater the number of shares are owed to the PIPEs financier. The greater number of shares, the greater that drop; and so on. Hence the term, “death spiral” finance. Once the stock price of a PIPEs victim is mauled, the finance is cut off, and the company goes bankrupt, delivering big profits to the short sellers (i.e. profits that far exceed the cost of providing the PIPEs finance in the first place).
Again, this is not to suggest that Investcorp has necessarily done anything illegal, and we cannot say with certainty that its PIPEs business follows the same modus operandi of most other PIPEs dealers. But the emergence of the PIPEs industry has, without doubt, been a scourge on the markets. As numerous court cases attest, it has destroyed countless companies and countless jobs. Basically, it is a not-insignificant reason why America’s “miserable house” (as that Muslim Brotherhood document called it) is, in fact — miserable.
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Sheikh Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi is not miserable. He’s the patriarch of the wealthiest family in Saudi Arabia, and thus one of the 100 richest people in the world. He is jolly and well. So, naturally, he was also a member of the Golden Chain, the elite club of Al Qaeda’s 20 most important financiers.
Maybe because the twenty members of the Golden Chain club are the most prominent people in Saudi Arabia, the U.S. government does not label them as financiers of the grand jihad. It does not take steps to shut down their bank accounts or bar them from trading in the U.S. markets. It does not even dare utter their names, perhaps because to do so would embarrass the Saudi government, which is ostensibly a U.S. ally.
When Congress issued its final report on the Al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington, it contained 28 pages that reportedly detailed Saudi ties to Al Qaeda. But when the report was released to the public, the 28 pages about the Saudis were censored, so ordinary people could not read them. A full 28 pages – with no words; nothing but big blocks of black ink. Thus, it is left to independent jihad experts to sort out many of the connections. Steve Emerson and his Investigative Project on Terrorism have done especially hard work in this regard. Some former top government officials have said that Emerson is better informed about the jihad than the government itself. But Emerson and other people who have done excellent research are largely ignored by the media, which will not report the facts unless they have been stated explicitly by some official spokesman. And the official spokesmen have nothing bad to say about Saudi billionaires, regardless of whether they fund terrorism.
Indeed, Saudi billionaires with ties to terrorism have deployed their wealth to “capture” some elements of Washington. This ”deep capture” has been the state of affairs since at least the 1980s, when Sheikh Mahfouz (the future founder of what the U.S. Treasury Department called an ”Al Qaeda front”) and other BCCI figures began investing in banks and other companies with prominent figures in both the Democratic and Republican parties. When the BCCI scandal broke, it was widely reported that Sheikh Mahfouz and other Saudis (some, such as Kamal Adham, with links to Saudi intelligence) had invested with prominent figures of the American political establishment in order to gain influence over American government policy. But nothing was done about it, and the influence increased exponentially in the years that followed.
Therefore, it is not an exaggeration to say that some elements of Washington have been “captured” by billionaires who are not only destructive financial criminals, and who are not merely casual financiers of terrorism, but who are also regarded as being among the leaders of “The Financial Jihad” and what that famous Muslim Brotherhood document described as the larger “Grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying Western civilization from within…”
At any rate, you won’t read about it in the media, but it is clear that Sheikh al-Rajhi, the wealthiest man in Saudi Arabia (and an honorary member of the American establishment) is an important leader of the grand jihad. Aside from having been an Al Qaeda Golden Chain member, he was the principal force behind the U.S.-based SAAR Network of jihadist entities (many of which were named in that Muslim Brotherhood document as being precisely those entities that were meant to lead the “Grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying Western civilization from within…”). In fact, the SAAR Network was named after Sheikh al-Rajhi himself. The initials, S.A.A.R., stand for Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi.
Most of the other Golden Chain members were also involved with the SAAR Network financiers operating in the United States. For example, Sheikh Afandi and Sheikh Kamel were board members of Sana-Bell, the outfit run by “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” Yasin al Qadi’s bagman, Mr. Mirza (who, as I mentioned, was the central U.S.-based figure in the SAAR Network). Also a board member of Sana-Bell, you will recall, was Mr. Bahfzallah, head of Benevolence International, the outfit that was dealing with people who were shopping for nukes.
Yasin al Qadi’s lawyer, Cherif Sedky also worked for Sheikh Mahfouz. And this same lawyer represented Sheikh Rajhi when the FBI began to ask how it came to be that $1.8 billion dollars from the SAAR Foundation disappeared, most likely into the hands of other jihadis.
Given his important role in the jihad, it is fair to assume that Sheikh al-Rajhi harbors some disdain for not just Western civilization, but also the prevailing economic order. At the same time, Sheikh al-Rajhi is one of the most important players in the global financial order, a person who is perfectly capable of transforming or even undermining it. Indeed, it is fair to say that few men have more sway over “the system” than Sheikh Sulaiman Abdul Aziz Rajhi.
Said to be a whiz with numbers, Sheikh Rajhi directs multiple hedge funds that manage many billions of dollars, several stock brokerages, and the massive Al Rajhi Bank, which is the most venerable of the elite financial institutions that control the Stock Exchange of Saudi Arabia, also known as the Tadawul. A 2013 report issued by a U.S. Senate investigative committee revealed that Al Rajhi Bank was still (as of 2013) dealing with Al Qaeda, and that it was laundering Al Qaeda money through HSBC, the prestigious British bank, but, of course, Al Rajhi has been charged with no crime on that account (HSBC paid a relatively small fine for this and other money laundering infractions).
Sheikh Rajhi’s companies have around $100 billion in cash at their disposal. All told, the financial fire power of the Golden Chain exceeds that of most mid-sized nations.
But, rest assured, jihadis are just bumpkins in caves.
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Despite the death of Osama bin Laden, the jihad’s sophisticated financial operation remains entirely in place. Moreover, it is doubtful that the Securities and Exchange Commission is monitoring the activities of the billionaire financial wizards who were members of Al Qaeda’s Golden Chain. Certainly, it has never prevented any member of the Golden Chain from engaging in financial schemes (such as self-destruct CDOs and “death spiral” finance) that have done damage to the U.S. economy.
Indeed, as we know, the SEC has made it easier for these people to legally manipulate the markets by allowing people such as Sheikh DeLorenzo (who, as a prominent member of the SAAR Network, was certainly on good terms with the Golden Chain) to operate trading platforms, such as Al Safi Trust’s naked short selling operation, that damage the U.S. markets. Meanwhile, Wall Street’s largest brokerage and investment houses stumble over themselves to do business with the Golden Chain, and with other financial behemoths that might not be entirely committed to keeping the U.S. economy in good health.
One such behemoth is the financial empire of Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum — or “Sheikh Mo,” as he is affectionately called in the West. Sheikh Al Maktoum, whose family members were among the controlling shareholders of BCCI’s criminal enterprise, now operates, among other entities, the Dubai International Finance Center, which houses Sheikh DeLorenzo’s Al Safi Trust (set up in partnership with Sheikh Mo) and countless hedge funds, many of them intertwined with Dubai’s sovereign wealth fund.
The Dubai International Finance Center’s stated mission is to advance shariah compliant finance (such “compliance” being defined by the Muslim Brotherhood), and it has at its disposal more than a trillion dollars. Frank Gaffney, former assistant secretary of defense for international security and one of the nation’s leading experts on the Muslim Brotherhood, correctly insists that shariah compliant financial products “threaten what is left of the integrity of our free market system. Worse yet, they – and the theo-political-legal doctrine, Shariah, from which they spring – pose a real threat to our society and form of government.”
On the surface, it seems that there is nothing wrong with people creating shariah compliant financial products, even if they cater to a radical interpretation of Islam. People have a right to be radical and to create radical financial products. Indeed, it took me a long time to believe that shariah finance posed any threat whatsoever. My instinct was to believe that it was merely an effort to cater to people who are devoutly religious, no more dangerous than Halal beefsteak.
However, it is prudent to consider whether there is more than religion behind the astounding growth of shariah compliant finance in recent years. Indeed, we must understand that the new and radical interpretation of shariah “compliance” is overtly anti-American, and has been developed by leaders of the jihad as a means to challenge the U.S. financial order. This was well-documented in a book called “Understanding Sharia Finance”, by Patrick Sookhdeo, then director of the Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity.
Paul Bracken, professor of management and political science at Yale University, notes that shariah compliant finance has become a powerful force and raises “the prospect that Wall Street could be knocked out of action [with] strategic implications for the United States and for the entire global system of finance.”
As for Sheikh Al Maktoum, the eminence grise of shariah “compliant” finance, many in Washington consider him to be an important ally of the United States. But it is also true that Sheikh Al Maktoum considers one of his most important allies to be the regime in Iran, which would like to see the United States obliterated. Meanwhile, Sheikh Al Maktoum and his family have been among the biggest supporters of organizations that are carrying out the “Financial Jihad.”
For example, Sheikh Al Maktoum’s family, along with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Golden Chain Saudis, and some factions of the Saudi government are among the biggest contributors to ISNA, an organization whose depredations I have partially described. A charity founded by Sheikh Al Maktoum also donated $50 million to the Council on American Islamic Relations, an ISNA-tied outfit that grew out of the Islamic Association of Palestine, which was the U.S. propaganda arm of Hamas. Numerous CAIR officials have been alleged to have ties to the jihad, which might explain why CAIR has plotted ways to secure the release from prison of the Blind Sheikh.
In Europe, where Sheikh Al Maktoum is received warmly (the BBC recently called him an “enlightened dictator”), Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yousef al-Qaradawi (the cleric who has issued calls for “Financial Jihad”) runs the European Council for Fatwa and Research, which has played a key role in fostering the development of shariah “compliant” finance. That outfit was funded almost entirely by Sheikh Al Maktoum and his family until it was implicated by authorities for having ties to violent jihadists. (Despite their accusations, authorities did not file charges against the organization).
Meanwhile, Dubai, with Sheikh Al Maktoum’s acquiescence, has long served as an important operational hub for some the world’s most notorious organized crime figures, some with direct ties to jihadist groups. For example, Indian mafia kingpin Dawood Ibrahim was, until he moved to Karachi to live under the protection of the Pakistani intelligence service, one of Dubai’s most honored and ostentatious residents, regularly holding lavish parties at his landmark white mansion – parties attended by prominent figures in the world of high finance (some of whom I will introduce in upcoming chapters), and also by members of Dubai’s ruling family.
Mr. Ibrahim had the full protection of Sheikh Al Maktoum until Dubai was pressured by the international community to send him packing. And Mr. Ibrahim was no ordinary mobster. He was, as I mentioned, intimately intertwined with the operations of Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups – the only person in the world to be labeled by the United States government as both a “Global Narcotics Kingpin” and a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist.”
Former ABC News journalist Gretchen Peters, a friend and work colleague of mine when we both lived in Cambodia, has published an excellent book about the nexus between jihadists and the heroin trade. One CIA official whom Peters interviewed for the book noted that “if you want to know what Osama bin Laden is up to, you have to understand what Dawood Ibrahim is up to.”
Another close friend of Sheikh Al Maktoum was Viktor Bout, a Russian organized crime figure who was, for a long time, flying cargo planes filled with weapons from Dubai to Taliban and Al Qaeda redoubts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Viktor Bout, like Dawood Ibrahim, operated with the full support and protection of the Dubai government until Interpol put out an arrest warrant for him. Then he moved to Moscow, where he enjoyed the protection of Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin until he was lured to Thailand and arrested by the FBI.
Viktor Bout was also closely tied to Abu Dhabi’s ruling family, whose leading members (like Dubai’s ruling family) probably first came into contact with the underworld while they were presiding over the criminal operations of BCCI. Some cargo planes that Bout used to smuggle weapons to Afghanistan were registered as belonging to a company called Flying Dolphin, which was owned by Sheikh Mansour Al Nayan, the present ruler of Abu Dhabi.
Then there is the famous story (widely reported by U.S. officials) of why President Bill Clinton failed to kill Osama bin Laden. Soon after Al Qaeda’s 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, the CIA located Osama bin Laden and reported that the Emir of Jihad was hosting some of his closest friends at a party in a remote corner of Afghanistan. The Al Qaeda leader and his friends were spending their days hiking in the mountains and hunting with falcons, then retreating to an Al Qaeda training camp to drink tea and (perhaps) talk of subversive notions.
Figuring that there would not be much time before Osama would vanish again, the U.S. military told President Clinton that this was the ideal moment to blow the Al Qaeda leader to smithereens with a precision-guided Hell-Fire cruise missile. The generals were ready to pull the trigger, but Clinton and his cabinet stopped them. They aborted the mission because Osama bin Laden and his friends were having a party. And these friends were all from Dubai. In fact, they were among the most prominent members of Dubai’s ruling family.
Sheikh Al Maktoum’s family and the leaders of Al Qaeda had finished hunting and were relaxing in the tents that the Dubai royals had brought with them to Afghanistan – house-sized luxury tents equipped with giant electricity generators, and decorated with fine carpets, and fabrics laced in gold. No doubt, Osama bin Laden regaled the Dubai ruling family with stories of his exploits, and the Dubai ruling family members perhaps responded with praise for their host’s victories against the United States.
At any rate, the CIA watched the satellite images. The generals asked Bill Clinton if they should fire the missile. And Bill Clinton said, “No” — because, of course, Dubai’s royals were American allies. As George Tenent, who was then the director of the CIA, later put it, Clinton could not take this rare opportunity to kill Osama bin Laden because the missile strike “might have wiped out half the royal family of the UAE.”
Put differently, one might say that “half the royal family of [our ally] the UAE” was partying with Osama bin Laden.
That’s some ally.
Well, never mind, say America’s elite – if Sheikh Al Maktoum is supporting jihadis, it is only a matter of political expediency. Perhaps. But, in the end, it doesn’t matter whether the politics are expedient or not. What matters is the end result. And it is probably safe to assume that the Dubai royals who went on hunting expeditions in Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden may be (at least to some extent) sympathetic to the jihad. That is, they have, to a degree, been possessed by a subversive notion – that “the system”, as epitomized by the United States, can be undermined.
But the billionaire sheikhs of the Middle East – whether they be members of ruling families, funders of the SAAR Network, or members of Al Qaeda’s Golden Chain – are not the only potential threats to America’s economic well-being. As I mentioned at the outset of this story, the president’s national security staff has suggested that there is “nexus” between jihadist financiers, organized crime, agents of rogue states, and ”legitimate” financial operators in the United States. This “nexus” has contributed to the great meltdown of 2008, and to the instability of the global financial system that continues to this day.
Before we discuss our present predicament, however, we need to understand more about the nexus. And to do that, we must first go back in history. We must, for starters, further examine the BCCI enterprise. We must, in addition, consider what occurred after BCCI collapsed in 1991.
One thing that occurred soon after BCCI collapsed in 1991, of course, was that BCCI was revealed to be the biggest banking fraud in the history of world finance. More important, that same year, 1991, a Muslim Brotherhood leader named Hasan al Turabi (then also a top official in the government of Sudan) founded an outfit called the Islamist International, appointing Osama bin Laden to serve as chairman. The purpose of the Islamist International was to unite the Muslim Brotherhood, affiliated terrorist organizations, and their state sponsors behind a common mission.
That mission was partly articulated in the famous Muslim Brotherhood document (published that same year, 1991) outlining plans to wage a “Grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying Western civilization from within…” There were also numerous violent terrorist attacks planned at meetings of the Islamist International. However, Osama bin Laden’s most important mission as chairman of the Islamist International was not to plan acts of violent terrorism. His most important mission–”The Financial Jihad”–was to help lead a Muslim Brotherhood initiative to replace the BCCI enterprise with an enterprise that would be similar in every respect except that it would exceed BCCI in scope and destructive power.
Yossef Bondansky, then director of the House Task Force on Terrorism, reported in his seminal 2000 book on Osama bin Laden: “The collapse of the BCCI and the shock waves that were still reverberating throughout the Muslim world could not have come at a worse time. Turabi had always known the importance of a reliable financial system to support and sustain Islamist activities.” The Islamist International “urgently needed an expert to salvage whatever was possible and rebuild a global financial system [to replace the BCCI enterprise]. By then Osama bin Laden was the most qualified individual in Khartoum to untangle this financial mess. In late summer 1991, Turabi approached bin Laden and asked for help.”
This, of course, raises some questions.
For example: What, exactly, was BCCI, and why was it so important? What, exactly, did Osama bin Laden do after he was appointed to deal with the collapse of BCCI? Precisely what sort of “global financial system” did Osama bin Laden and his associates build from the remains of BCCI, and what is the status of that global financial system today? The director of the House Task Force on Terrorism noted that this financial network—a global financial empire that was built by Osama bin Laden, among others more important than him—eventually extended all the way from Osama bin Laden’s cave in the Hindu Kush to the caverns of Wall Street, but what else do we know about it? And why has this story never appeared in The Wall Street Journal?
In fact, Osama bin Laden played a role in building what is not only one of the greatest financial empires the world has ever known, but also one of the world’s most destructive transnational organized crime (and terrorism) syndicates, so we really ought to ask: precisely what lines of business (aside from terrorism) did this amazing enterprise pursue? What lines of business is it pursuing today? And is this good news for the American economy?
Those are questions that will be answered in later chapters of his series.
Mark Mitchell is a journalist who spent most of his career working as a correspondent for mainstream media publications before joining DeepCapture.com.
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