LONDON (AFP) – Britain has frozen the assets of a London-based Saudi opposition group whose head is suspected of being an associate of terrorist group Al-Qaeda, the Treasury announced.
The British action against the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (MIRA) comes three days after Washington named its head, Saad al-Faqih, as a suspected Al-Qaeda financier.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown had instructed the Bank of England to direct all British financial institutions to immediately freeze” any funds held for or on behalf of MIRA, the Treasury said in a statement.
The Treasury said it had “reasonable grounds” for suspecting that the organisation was “acting on behalf” of al-Faqih, named on MIRA’s website as its director and spokesman.
On Tuesday, the United States said it had put al-Faqih, a well-known Saudi dissident, on its list of terrorist financiers and was asking the United Nations to sanction him as well.
US authorities said al-Faqih, 47, has maintained associations with Al-Qaeda since the mid-1990s. Among his associates were Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and Khaled al-Fawwaz, implicated in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Brown’s order means that it is now a criminal offence for British financial institutions to hold or deal with funds held by MIRA. It is one of several similar freezes ordered by the Treasury this year as part of anti-terrorism measures.
The MIRA website, which gives the organisation’s address as a post office box in central London, said the group seeks “major reforms” in Saudi Arabia.
These are “in particular, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and the abolition of the secret police units subverting political movements and activity”, it adds, saying it is committed to “peaceful legitimate means”.
MIRA could not be immediately contacted. However, speaking to AFP on Wednesday, al-Faqih said Washington was merely trying to prop up the “corrupt” Saudi regime.
“The Americans are trying to save the corrupt Saudi government,” he said, adding that he was determined to “pursue a peaceful struggle to provoke a change” in the Saudi regime.