The Center for Middle East Studies at UC Berkeley says in its mission statement that "the center aims to reach the broadest possible constituency, working with a variety of organizations and individuals to discover new avenues for scholarly outreach and cooperation (http://ias.berkeley.edu/cmes)." Such goals are respectable and embody those which a university should strive to provide for its students. As part of its goal to promote understanding, CMES has been responsible for the many lectures and presentations about the situation in the Middle East over the past year. Former speakers include revisionist Israeli historian Illan Pappe and Palestinian activist Edward Said. However, can the Center accomplish its stated goal of heightening "awareness of the Middle East and of its diverse peoples and cultures" when the funding for such an institution comes from dubious sources?
The Sultan Program at CMES
Within the Center for Middle East Studies is the Sultan Program, whose goal is to "support teaching, research, and public outreach on all Arab and related Islamic subjects," according to the Sultan Program website (http://ias.berkeley.edu/cmes/programs_files/programs_sultan.html). In a world that has seen the horrors of international terror, especially after September 11, such a program would be crucial to enhancing people's understanding of the Islamic and Arab world. With a large endowment from Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz al Saud of Saudi Arabia (who since 1962 has held the posts of Second Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Defense and Aviation), the program works to bring professors, lecturers, graduates and undergraduates to Berkeley to focus on issues pertaining to the Arab world.
Post-doctoral and graduate students are eligible for stipends of up to $12,000 to participate in the program.
Berkeley faculty affiliated with the program includes Laura Nader of Anthropology, Kiren Chaudhry of Political Science, Nezar Al Sayyad of Architecture and Planning, and Beshara Doumani of History.
Why should we bother ourselves with the funding of a program with such seemingly good intentions? To answer this, we must look back to the events of 9/11, the parties involved, and the lawsuits that followed. By August of 2002, the families of 9/11 victims garnered sufficient evidence to sue the Saudi government, banks, and private persons that were suspected of involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Much of this was due to their success in obtaining "bank records and unpublished intelligence memos from the French government (Washington Post August 16, 2002)."
On August 15, 2002, a $100 trillion lawsuit was filed in US District Court in the District of Columbia alleging that the named defendants gave contributions to charities directly linked to the Al Qaeda terrorist organization. The news was well publicized in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle on August 16, 2002. Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz al Saud - the man who funds the Sultan Program at CMES— is among the primary defendants in the lawsuit.
In the brief filed by the plaintiff's attorneys, Sultan is charged with giving money to charities that have been publicly known to fund al Qaeda (Third Amended Complaint pg 312- www.nessmotley.com). In August of 1990, bin Laden and Sultan met to discuss the possibilities of bolstering Saudi forces with militants specifically recruited by bin Laden (pg 309). Around the time of the first Gulf War, Sultan began making statements that were particularly hostile towards the West and the United States in particular. According to the briefing, Sultan publicly displayed enthusiasm at the thought of funding Islamic charities that sponsored the al Qaeda network (pg 312).
One charity in particular, the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), has been shown by the United States Government to sponsor terrorism. According to the brief, the director of the Canadian branch of the charity claimed that the organization was a "direct arm of the Saudi Royal family."
Sultan also has donated personal money to the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, Muslim World League, and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth. All of these groups have been exposed by the brief of having sponsored, aided, abetted or materially financed al Qaeda. The plaintiff's attorneys said that they believed that Sultan made personal contributions of $6 million to these various charities (pg 314).
The ties that the above charities have to al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations run long and deep. The International Islamic Relief Organization is actually headed by Osama bin Laden's brother-in-law, another defendant in the case (pg 281). The organization was involved in organizing the 1993 attacks on the World Trade Center, the 1998 attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and many others, according to the US government (pg 281).
The briefing describes how IIRO's sister organizations fund Hamas and Islamic Jihad, two terrorist groups responsible for hundreds of deaths of innocent Israeli civilians. Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad are on the FBI's list of terrorist organizations (http://www.fbi.gov/terrorinfo/ftolist.htm).
According to Canadian intelligence, the IIRO funded numerous al-Jihad cells, one of which was led by the second in- command of al Qaeda. After U.S. authorities raided the IIRO offices in Virginia after September 11, the secretary general of the organization stated that more than $60 million was donated to the Taliban regime (pg 284). The same source claimed that the government of Saudi Arabia directly sponsored the parent organization of the IIRO, the Muslim World League (MWL). MWL representative Arafat al-Ashai has testified in recent court proceedings that "we [MWL] are controlled in all of our activities by the Government of Saudi Arabia (pg 286)."
Sultan has freely donated money to the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation. In March of 2002, the US government froze the funds of both the Bosnian and Somali branches of the organization. A US Treasury Department Press Release explained that the two branches were closely connected to known Somali terrorists that were linked to al Qaeda.
Following the terrorist attacks in East Africa in 1998, the Kenyan government banned al-Haramain for national security reasons.
In May of 2002 the United States captured senior al Qaeda representative Umar Faruq, who later said during his interrogation, "Al Haramain […] was the funding mechanism for all operations in Indonesia. Money was laundered through the foundation by donors from the Middle East… [To help] plan terrorist activity in Indonesia (pg 265)."
Sultan has made his hatred of Israel well-known. In a 1985 address to the United Nations, he proclaimed that "Israel was created in the Middle East by an act of aggression against Palestine and the Palestinian people." Following the 9/11 attacks and in response to US criticism of Saudi Arabia, Sultan was quoted on June 23, 2002 in Ash-Sharq al-Awsat, a Saudi-owned London daily, as saying "It is enough to see a number of congressmen wearing Jewish yarmulkes to explain the allegations against us." A Saudi embassy press release in April 2001 stated that "Prince Sultan affirms [the] Kingdom's Support" for the Palestinian Intifada. He and the entire Saudi government had distributed $40 million to the families of suicide bombers by April 2001 (pg 313).
The Al-Falah Program at CMES
The Sultan endowment, however, is not the only questionable source of income for the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. The Al-Falah Program, initiated in 1998, supports a wide variety of activities in the fields of scholarship, outreach, and technology transfer. These activities may include academic research grants for Berkeley and visiting faculty, student fellowships, library acquisitions, cultural programs, and engineering projects. according to the CMES website, the Al Falah Program in 2003 will fund projects that seek to improve "the mutual understanding of the peoples of the Arab World and the United States (http://ias.berkeley.edu/cmes/programs_files/programs_alfalah.html)."
The website lists Xenel Industries Ltd. as a primary donor to the Al-Falah Program. Xenel, a Saudi owned conglomerate, "provides development, manufacturing, investment, trading and services throughout a wide range of areas of interest" ranging from healthcare and infrastructure to oil and real estate, according to the company's website (www.xenel.com).
On December 10, 2002, the Orlando Sentinel published an article describing the research of a local trade union regarding Xenel, who had just been awarded a $100 million contract to build the city of Orlando a new state-of the-art convention center. The article reveals that Xenel CEO Abdullah Alireza sits on the executive board of Dar al-Maal al-Islami (DMI), a bank based in Switzerland. Haydar Mohamed bin Laden, half brother of Osama bin Laden, also sits on the twelve member executive board.
According to State Department records and the August 2002 brief filed by the families of 9/11 victims, DMI is involved in "al Qaeda financing through several of its subsidiaries, including […] Faisal Islamic Bank and Al Shamal Islamic Bank." During the 2001 trial of those suspected in the 1998 embassy bombings in East Africa, Faisal Islamic Bank was implicated directly in terrorist activities by former al Qaeda operatives: Ahmed al-Fadl, a finance manager for al Qaeda, testified that al Qaeda accounts in Khartoum were held at Faisal Islamic Bank.
Al Shamal Islamic Bank was founded in April 1983, and according to a 1996 State Department Fact Sheet, Osama bin Laden invested $50 million in the bank. Al-Fadl, in the same 2001 trials regarding the East African embassy bombings testified that Al Shamal Islamic Bank was the only bank in which bin Laden kept his funds, and that bin Laden paid all the members of his terrorist network through this account. According to the lawsuit briefing, during a post 9/11 hearing, the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee testified that "Al Shamal Islamic Bank operations continue to finance and materially support international terrorism and that there are indications that Osama bin Laden remains the leading shareholder of that bank."
This connection between Xenel and al Qaeda, according to the Orlando Sentinel, was persuasive enough that the city of Orlando decided to cancel the contract it had previously awarded to Xenel. The Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Berkeley has used its Xenel endowment for five years.
Professor Allan Gerson and DAFKA contributed to this report. The Third Amended Complaint filed against all defendants can be found at www.nesmotley.com.