Flashback: Islamists infiltrate NZ, Nov 2003

PHOTO: Shayne Kavanagh/Investigate

THE ROCKING OF THE DOME                       INVESTIGATE: Nov 03

IAN WISHART reports on the infiltration of New Zealand’s Muslim community by Islamic fundamentalists

An Islamic “charity” involved in fundraising for Al Qa’ida and the South East Asian terror network Jemaah Islamiyah is trying to set up a front organisation in New Zealand, and may get Government approval to do so. Al Haramain operates in more than 60 countries worldwide, and its attempts to get a toehold in New Zealand hit the headlines last month when a group of Muslim community leaders sent a letter to the New Zealand Government, warning that the Saudi-backed Al Haramain would bring chaos and disaster to New Zealand if their application in Christchurch is approved.

That application includes setting up an Islamic school to teach Wahhabi Islam – the radical branch of the religion – and establishing an “Islamic Bank” in New Zealand. The proposal is said to involve “millions of dollars”.

In return for the huge investment, Al Haramain have asked for a stake in running the Christchurch city mosque.

While daily news media have played down Al Haramain’s links to terrorism, Investigate has now confirmed an extensive relationship between the “charity” and Al Qa’ida.

Those links include Al Haramain’s involvement in a series of Al Qa’ida suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia earlier this year – the Saudi government shut down ten offices of Al Haramain as a direct response after discovering it was funding Osama Bin Laden’s organisation.

Additionally, a senior figure in Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiyah arrested three months ago, Omar al Faruq, has told investigators that his organisation has received extensive funding and moneylaundering services from Al Haramain.

Two senior figures with Al Haramain, Sheik Abdul Majeed Ghaith Al Gaith, and Sheik Menea Al Dakeel, toured New Zealand mosques in May, according to the website iman.co.nz, in what appears to have been a precursor to their attempt to take over the Christchurch Mosque.

The group is said to be fostering closer links between Saudi Arabian radical Islamic organisations and moderate Islamic groups in New Zealand, sparking the warning letter that’s now in Government hands.

Yet in a plot that could rival Lord of the Rings, the New Zealand Government’s response has so far been hobbit-like in its disbelief that anything so sinister could be happening in sleepy little New Zealand. A spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff largely dismisses the warnings from within the Muslim community, saying the Government is “leaning towards the view that it’s mainly an internal conflict in the Muslim community in Christchurch that they need to sort out amongst themselves”, and describing al Haramain as “largely a distinguished and peaceful charitable organisation focusing on the education and welfare of the Muslim community around the world.”

Internationally, however, al Haramain is developing a bad reputation.

“Nothing better illustrates the Saudis’ intransigence — and the US administration’s timidity in dealing with it — than two cases of U.S.-Saudi “cooperation” that recently came to light,” Middle East analyst Alex Alexiev wrote in the American journal National Review recently.

“On March 11, the Treasury Department announced with great fanfare that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia had jointly blocked the funds of the Bosnia and Somalia offices of the “private, charitable, and educational” Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation because it was diverting funds to terrorists. This action, according to Treasury, “opened a new phase in international cooperation to destroy terrorist financing” and proved the “strength of the anti-terror coalition.”

“In reality, Al-Haramain — alongside the World Muslim League — is the Saudis’ largest Islamist front organization, controlled directly by the minister of religious affairs and in charge of spending huge amounts of (mostly government) money to promote the radical-Islamist agenda worldwide. It has offices in over 50 countries and operates through Saudi embassies in another 40; as for its Bosnia and Somalia operations, business even there is continuing as usual, despite additional evidence of terrorist ties unearthed by Bosnian police in a raid on June 3. Al-Haramain’s director, Aqeel al-Aqeel, noted with satisfaction in early September that “America has tried to establish a link between terrorism and Islamic charitable societies and failed” — and went on to assert that Al-Haramain’s donations and activities both have intensified since 9/11. Indeed they have: Al-Haramain has opened three new offices since then.”

One very significant development  – in danger of being crushed by the New Zealand Government’s obtuse response to the crisis – has been the willingness of Islamic leaders in New Zealand to break their normal cone of silence and issue a public warning about extremist infiltrators. The danger is that if the Government does ignore the warning, Saudi Arabian extremists whose spiritual teachings are similar in every way to Osama bin Laden’s will have carte blanche to import radical Islam to New Zealand and will move, as they have elsewhere, to silence the moderates. In other words, this could be the Government’s only warning on the issue.

The tricky path of separating the radicals from the moderates is also acknowledged by Alex Alexiev.

“Just as important, any organized campaign to de-legitimize extremism among Muslims should be accompanied by assurances that we know and respect their religion. The extremists do everything possible to present the West’s anti-terrorist struggle as a war against Islam. Unfortunately, they are occasionally assisted in this objective by intemperate and uninformed remarks by prominent and otherwise well-meaning people.

“A case in point is the spate of recent media utterances by leaders of the U.S. evangelical community accusing the Muslim religion of being intolerant, ignorant, or worse. This is grist for the mill of the extremists, and it doesn’t even have the benefit of being true: A good case could be made that Islam, for much of its history, was both more tolerant and less obscurantist than Christianity. (It was, for example, the Muslim Ottomans who saved the Jews from the Inquisition in 1492.)

“Our campaign should also expose the Wahhabis’ aggressive tactics in penetrating Muslim communities around the world. Their activities are so extensive that they now threaten not only traditional religious establishments but, in some places, the government itself. A broad backlash is underway, and the U.S. should align itself with and manage — lead — that backlash. Such an alliance against extremism would make the coalition against terror more effective, by focusing on the very specific threats of extremism on our allies’ home turf.

“All of this is predicated on Washington’s long-overdue realization that the failure to confront global Saudi subversion has grave security consequences. The evidence of Saudi misdeeds is so overwhelming that it will be more and more difficult to delay this realization. At some point, continued failure to face the problem will start to look like dereliction of duty.”

When al Qa’ida terrorists carried out suicide bombings in the Saudi capital Riyadh, earlier this year, the initial response of Saudi Intelligence was to arrest dozens of people from the al Haramain charity. Despite denying to the west that al Haramain was finacing terror, the organisation was the first port of call for the Saudis themselves.

“Before the attacks,” the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Matt Levitt told a radio interviewer,  “there was no action being taken against the vast array of Saudi charitable organizations financing terror.

“Yet in the days after the attacks, suddenly the Saudis announced that they were shutting down up to ten branch offices of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, which is only one of a large number of such foundations that have been linked to terrorism. And one has to wonder why that action is suddenly being taken now and it wasn’t taken beforehand.

“We’ve known that this organization was linked to terror. Two of its offices were shut down by U-S and Saudi authorities, although they’re believed to have been reopened. And then we know from the interrogation of Omar al-Faruq, who was captured in June and is believed to have been al-Qaida’s representative to the Jemaah Islamiyah network in Southeast Asia, that the Jemaah Islamiyah was being funded, according to Omar al-Faruq by wealthy Saudis and the money was being transferred and laundered through Al-Haramain. And yet, no action was taken until these bombings.”

 

By June this year, the gorilla in the corner had be-come too big to ignore. While the US desper-ately needs Saudi Arabia as an ally in the Middle East and the US has beliberately withheld portions of the report on 9/11 showing Saudi involvement, it’s been forced to acknowledge that the kingdom is perhaps the primary sponsor of international Islamic terrorism worldwide.

“Saudi Arabia’s huge investment in financing the spread of Wahhabi doctrine in the United States has been tied to the threat posed by Al Qaida sleeper cells in as many as 40 states,” the World Tribune reported at the end of June.

“Administration officials said the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement community has linked the threat from Al Qaida to Saudi financing of Wahabi institutions that promote an anti-West ideology.

“Treasury Department general counsel David Aufhauser, who has negotiated extensively with Riyad, said Saudi Arabia has become the epicenter of financing for Al Qaida and related movements. Aufhauser said Saudi Arabia’s efforts to disseminate its Wahabi doctrine comprise a “very important factor to be taken into account when discussing terrorist financing.”

“It needs to be dealt with,” Aufhauser told the Senate subcommittee on terrorism.

“The problem we are looking at today is the state-sponsored doctrine and funding of an extremist ideology that provides the recruiting grounds, support infrastructure and monetary lifeblood to today’s international terrorists,” subcommittee chairman Sen. Jon Kyl said.

“Administration officials said Saudi Arabia has responded to U.S. pressure to curb organizations that spread Islamic doctrine meant to promote insurgency attacks against the West. They said Riyadh has restructured a major Islamic charity, al Haramain, and closed many of its offices around the world.”

Not in Christchurch, it would seem. And the warning at the Senate hearing is arguably one New Zealand’s Phil Goff needs to hear before deciding whether a Wahhabi Islamic school should set up in New Zealand.

“The Wahhabi presence in the United States is a foreboding one that has potentially harmful and far-reaching consequences for our nation’s mosques, schools, prisons and even our military,” Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said. “My fear is, if we don’t wake up and take action now, those influenced by Wahhabism’s extremist ideology will harm us in as of yet unimaginable ways.”

“The focus of the Saudi efforts to spread Wahhabi doctrine is the Al Haramain Foundation which until earlier this year had a network throughout Asia, Africa and Europe. The United States has deemed Al Haramain a financier of Al Qaida and ordered the foundation’s assets frozen.”

“The paper trail of Saudi money, funneled through a network of charities and religious organizations, leads to some of the most violent terrorist groups in the world, including al-Qa’ida and Hamas,” said Steven Emerson, executive director of the Investigative Project, a group that conducts research on Islamic terrorists.

Closer to home, Australian ABC TV’s Four Corners programme found links between al Haramain and Osama bin Laden in Indonesia.

“Much of Al Qa’ida’s funding is thought to come from charities, either unwittingly or siphoned off. In Islamic culture, Muslims are expected to donate 2.5 percent of their net revenue to charity, known as zakat. There are some 200 private charities in Saudi Arabia alone, including 20 established by Saudi intelligence to fund the Mujiheddin that send some $250 million a year to Islamic causes abroad.

“Zakat taxes are common throughout Southeast Asia, indeed in late-2001, the Indonesian government agreed to make zakat tax deductible in order to encourage charitable donations. Yet unlike the West where NGO’s and charities are closely regulated and audited, they are almost completely unregulated in Southeast Asia, allowing for egregious financial mis-management and the diversion of funds to terrorist cells.

“Bin Laden’s initial foray into the region came in the form of charities run by his brother-in-law in the Philippines. Al Qa’ida’s most important charity in the region was the al Haramain Islamic Foundation, based in Saudi Arabia,” reported Four Corners this year.

Regardless of whether the New Zealand Government can link individual members associated with al Haramain in New Zealand to terrorism, the bigger issue is whether New Zealand actually wants or needs radical Saudi Islam setting up schools and Islamic banks here, and that’s a political question, not a town planning one.

UPDATE 1: Labour Government in 2004 listed Al Haramain as a terrorist entity:

Helen Clark

31 May, 2004

Listing of terrorist entities

Prime Minister Helen Clark announced today that the government has listed the following individual and organisations as terrorist entities pursuant to the provisions of the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.

The government has also amended one current designation.

Individual
Safet DURGUTI

Organisations
Al-Haramain Foundation (Indonesia)
Al-Haramayn Foundation (Kenya)
Al-Haramain Foundation (Pakistan)
Al-Haramayn Foundation (Tanzania)

Amended Designation
The organisation listed earlier as Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation (Bosnia and Herzegovina) is now known as Vazir

These designations follow a decision by the United Nations Security Council Committee to list these groups and this individual as terrorist entities. They take effect immediately for a period of three years, unless extended.

The decision to proceed with these designations was taken by the Prime Minister, in consultation with the Attorney General, pursuant to the Terrorism Suppression Act.

The Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation is an Islamic non-governmental organisation dedicated to promoting Islamic teaching throughout the world. Information in the possession of the United States government indicates that the Al-Haramain Foundation in both Indonesia and Pakistan, and the Al-Haramayn Foundation in both Kenya and Tanzania provide financial, material, and logistical support to the al-Qaeda network and other terrorist organisations.

The amendment to a current designation follows a decision by the United Nations Security Council Committee to update its listing to include new information. The change takes effect immediately for the remaining period of the current designation, unless extended.

The decision to proceed with this amendment was taken by the Prime Minister, in consultation with the Attorney General, pursuant to the Terrorism Suppression Act.

The Bosnia and Herzegovina branch of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation closed down following its terrorist designation by the United States and Saudi Arabia after being suspected of supporting transnational terrorist organisations. Officials of the Bosnia and Herzegovina branch of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation were then prompted to reopen this organisation under a different name, Vazir, in a previously unknown office in Travnik. This new non-governmental organisation was founded in May 2003 and reopened early August 2003 in the same location as the former office of Al-Haramain under the representation of Safet DURGUTI.

The Prime Minister indicated that neither the designated group or individuals are known to have any current links to New Zealand.

“Nevertheless designating these entities as terrorists and terrorist entities will serve to deter New Zealanders from becoming inadvertently involved in their activities. It will also make it an offence to participate in Djamat Houmat Daawa Salafia, recruit members for this group, provide or collect funds for this group or make property or financial services available to it. The financing of international terrorism is a matter of grave concern to the international community as a whole and one that New Zealand, as a member of that community, recognises the need to effectively address. These designations assist in that process” Helen Clark said.

Helen Clark Prime Minister

UPDATE 2: VERIFIED BY WIKILEAKS

In 2010 a Wikileaks dump confirmed the above story and elaborated on developments:

 

October 24, 2006

SUBJECT: KIWI MUSLIMS: WAHHABIS IN THEIR MIDST

 

Classified By: DCM David Keegan for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

 

This cable was drafted by ConGen Auckland and approved by Embassy Wellington.

 

  1. (SBU) SUMMARY: New Zealand Muslims are getting increased attention from broader society as the community faces internal divisions, Wahhabi influence from overseas groups, and discrimination. Alleged Wahhabi activities have been at the heart of some publicized schisms involving mosque administrations and student groups. Whether or not there are extremists in the community, Muslims are starting to feel a bit less welcome in New Zealand with periodic spikes in mosque desecrations and media attacks on Islam. END SUMMARY.

 

Internal divide

 

  1. (SBU) The Federation of Islamic Associations in New Zealand (FIANZ) is an umbrella organization for smaller Muslim groups in New Zealand. FIANZ is the most prominent Muslim organization in the country (see ref A) with the most extensive links to government and broader society, but not all Muslims feel represented by it.

 

  1. (C) In a meeting with ConOff, XXX2, president of [REDACTED], said FIANZ is essentially a Sunni establishment. X said Shias do not feel represented by the national organization. Although X claimed there are no tensions between FIANZ and the Shia community, X criticized FIANZ for not doing enough to educate New Zealanders about Islam. [REDACTED], XXX2 said [REDACTED] has some outreach activities but X did not give details.

 

XXX2’s predecessor [REDACTED], XXX3, said there are approximately 8,000 Shias in New Zealand, most with roots in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India and a smaller number hailing from Iraq.

 

  1. (C) XXX3, who was also a past president of [REDACTED], a [REDACTED] informally affiliated with FIANZ, was also critical of FIANZ during X meeting with ConOff. X said tolerance of extremist activities by both FIANZ and AUIS has been a contentious issue within the Muslim community.

 

Wahhabi influence

 

  1. (C) Contrary to assertions by XXX1 (see ref A) that there are no extremists in New Zealand, XXX3 told Conoff that Wahhabi groups have “overtly tried to influence New Zealand’s Muslim society.” XXX3 said [REDACTED] has sponsored speakers from Hizb ut-Tahrir and Al Haramain. XXX3 claimed these two groups receive Saudi money for their activities. [REDACTED]’s alleged drift towards or tolerance of Wahhabi ideology made it difficult for Shias and even some Sunnis to stay with the group, and so XXX3 and other disaffected members left to form [REDACTED].

 

  1. (C) XXX3 said the extremists’ activities are not limited to [REDACTED]; X claims that there are extremist preachers who operate with the full knowledge of FIANZ and the GNZ. After 9/11, X said the GNZ deported a few rabble-rousers, but others operate without hindrance aside from casual surveillance by the Government. X also claims that while X and others are trying to counter these groups’ activities, most of the community remains silent for fear of being branded infidels. XXX3 asserted that inaction by the government, acquiescence by Muslim groups like FIANZ, and the extremists’ strong financial backing from abroad make it difficult to counter their growing influence.

X said their activities often target young Muslims.

 

  1. (C) ConOff’s own visit to Ponsonby mosque, Auckland’s oldest Islamic house of worship, provided a mixed picture. The imam wore traditional Arabic garb, sometimes indicative of Wahhabi leanings, but he followed orthodox, non-Wahhabi methods: during the sermon or “khutba” he praised the first four or “rightly guided” Caliphs, and he offered an additional prayer set prescribed by Islam’s prophet after the congregational prayer – steps often ignored by Wahhabis.

The sermon focused on a traditional theme – God’s mercy – and cited the common message of prophets from the Abrahamic faiths. Posters were plastered on the mosque door for a protest the following day against Israeli actions in Lebanon (see ref C), but the protest was not mentioned in either the sermon or the community announcements that followed the imam’s ministration. However, of the approximately 300 worshippers attending the day’s services, about 20%, mainly young adults of Arab appearance, were following Wahhabi-style worship methods.

 

  1. (C) Dr. William Shepard, a retired associate professor at Canterbury University, states that internal divisions in the Muslim Association of Canterbury (MAC) are partly due to the perception that the current management is Wahhabi. In a yet unpublished update of his extensive research paper on New Zealand Muslims, which he confidentially shared with ConOff, Shepard writes “The present (MAC) management, commonly labelled (sic) ‘Wahhabi’ by its opponents, sought in 2003 to turn the mosque property over to a trust dominated by the Saudi Al-Haramain Trust in return for money to establish a school…The opposition group has vigorously opposed these efforts, aided by the discovery that some branches of the Haramain Trust had been involved with terrorist activity, and has even sought help from the local municipal authorities.”

In March, Canterbury newspaper The Press reported that MAC’s finances had been frozen as a result of a power struggle within management. The opposition group promised to hold elections later to decide on a permanent management board for MAC.

 

  1. (C) Wahhabi footprints, though light, appear to have a long history. Shepard’s paper notes that the formation of FIANZ in 1979 was spurred by the visit of a Saudi delegation that encouraged the various Muslim groups to unite. But while their current level of influence is difficult to ascertain, post-9/11 crackdowns on terrorist financing seems to have impaired some of their activities.

 

Muslim bashing

 

  1. (SBU) The community also faces external problems.

Every few months the press reports allegations of discrimination against Muslims. In May, a group of New Zealand Muslims accused the Customs Service of racial profiling. The Dominion Post published an op-ed piece in February of this year in which the writer accused Muslims of being a “fifth column” for Tehran and Damascus. Following the summer’s Heathrow hijacking scare, FIANZ asked Muslim women to avoid wearing Islamic headdress, and advised mosques to hire security firms to protect property.

 

  1. (SBU) Don Brash and his National party, as well as other right-of-center parties, are also seen as hostile to Muslims. XXX1 criticized Brash for what FIANZ and some others believed were exclusionary remarks toward immigrants, especially Muslims. Foreign Minister Winston Peters is infamous amongst Muslim New Zealanders for a remark in July 2005 that likened the community to a multi-headed hydra, saying even “moderate” or “mainstream” Muslims come from the same body as extremists )- “they fit hand and glove.”

 

  1. (U) There have been spates of anti-Muslim vandalism; after the London bombings in July 2005 mosque walls were spray-painted and windows were broken. Mosques were also attacked this past July during the Israeli-Lebanese conflict (see ref A).

 

  1. (C) At a group dinner attended by ConOff and active members of the Muslim community, XXX4, said she was alienated at work after she decided to wear Islamic headdress or “hijab”. Some cited incidents in which Muslims were passed over for jobs ostensibly because of their faith. And Ali Ikram said possible discrimination aside, many young and educated Muslim New Zealanders are, like their non-Muslim compatriots, leaving for Australia to find jobs. The group said this local brain drain is depriving the community of its most promising members who could also help uninitiated Kiwi Muslims integrate more easily into the broader society (see ref A).

 

  1. (C) COMMENT: Reftel A showed that the first large wave of Muslim immigrants from the 1960s through the 1980s had no choice but to interact with their non-Muslim neighbors, and was thus quickly initiated into traditional New Zealand life. They were largely English-speaking, educated service providers whose language abilities and job skills dovetailed with Kiwi society. However, since the 1990s, immigrants with limited language and educational backgrounds have come into an already established Muslim community with mosques, Halal meat butchers, and government services available in their native language. If not carefully managed, this could lead to the kind of insulation seen in some Muslim populations in Europe that can potentially serve as a breeding ground for homegrown extremists. While we don’t see extremism taking hold here yet, our GNZ counterparts and many Muslim leaders recognize the ingredients are there. END COMMENT.

UPDATE 3: THE TOXIN SPREADS

Townsville man’s alleged fundamentalist journey began in NZ

A SUSPECTED terrorist from Townsville who died in a US drone strike in Yemen last year may have been drawn into Islamic extremism while travelling in Christchurch.

Christopher Harvard grew up in Townsville but converted to Islam several years ago before he changed his name to Abu Salma al Russi and travelled to Yemen to teach English in 2011.

He was killed when a US drone hit a convey of suspected militants in Hadramout, in eastern Yemen, in November.

Townsville mosque member Samir Mitra said Mr Harvard travelled to Christchurch several years ago and studied Islam while he was there.

“I believe his parents said he had travelled to Christchurch and was staying at the mosque there,” he said.

Christchurch mosque was the centre of controversy in 2003, when Al Haramain, a Saudi Arabian charity that has been linked to funding terrorism, tried to take control.

Read more here

 

And another NZ Al Haramain graduate here http://archive.indymedia.org.nz/article/77512/new-zealander-converted-islam-pakistan-2

Related posts: