MANILA: The United States suspected a Saudi Arabian ambassador to the Philippines of potential involvement in funding terrorists, according to US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks this week.
A security aide of then-US president George W. Bush raised concerns over Muhammad Amin Waly in a private meeting with Prince Saud Al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, in Jeddah in 2007, the secret cable showed.
"In a following private meeting… (Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Terrorism) Townsend raised US concerns with the potential involvement of the Saudi ambassador… in terrorism facilitation," it said.
Francis Townsend cited Waly’s intervention to secure the release of two members of an Islamic charity detained in the Philippines, the cable showed.
The group was suspected of funneling funds to Al-Qaeda-linked groups based in the southern Philippines.
"Prince Saud said some of his actions may have involved bad judgment rather than intentional support for terrorism," said the missive from the US embassy in Riyadh.
"Waly had been investigated, he said, and no evidence was found regarding his involvement."
The prince also told the Bush aide that Waly’s Manila assignment was ending in a few months and sought US government evidence of his alleged terror links, the cable said.
Townsend pledged cooperation with the Saudi authorities in providing evidence, the cable added.
Waly was replaced by Abdullah Al Hassan as Saudi envoy to Manila in January this year.
The February 24, 2007, US embassy cable named the charity suspected of terror financing in the Philippines as IIRO, which stands for the International Islamic Relief Organisation.
Intelligence agencies have said IIRO was set up by Muhammad Jamal Khalifa, a brother-in-law of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
Khalifa was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen who raided his home in Madagascar in January 2007, several weeks before Townsend’s meeting with Prince Saud, and his charity is no longer listed in Manila telephone directories.
Western intelligence agencies suspect Khalifa provided the seed funds for the establishment in the early 1990s of the Abu Sayyaf group, blamed for many of the Philippines’ deadliest bombings and kidnappings.
Philippine troops, receiving training and intelligence from US Special Forces units in the south, are fighting Abu Sayyaf insurgents in the Mindanao region, a hotbed of a decades-old Muslim separatist rebellion.
Townsend’s meeting with the prince dealt mainly with the US government’s request for the Saudi government to counter terrorist financing.
Overall, the WikiLeaks cables singled out Saudi Arabia as the key source of funding for radical Islamist groups including Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hamas.