Monday, August 27, 2007

The money trail to militants

by Declan Walsh from The Mail & Guardian

Many militant donations are disguised as zakat, the annual Muslim charity tax, and channelled through a shadowy nexus of radical mosques, madaris (madrasas) and charities. In Pakistan zakat -- one of the five pillars of Islam -- is levied by the state. But in oil-rich Gulf States Muslims also send zakat abroad -- an estimated £50-million a year from Saudi Arabia. That money has helped fund an explosion of mosques and madaris in Pakistan; some also ends up in the coffers of militant groups. "There's a lot of people in the Gulf, particularly the rich merchant class, who feel a religious obligation to fund charities. They don't think too hard about where it goes," said Robert Baer, an ex-CIA agent and Middle East expert. The Saudi money is the most visible in North West Frontier Province. In Peshawar the number of madaris has increased from 13 in 1980 to more than 150 today, according to one study. One of the most recent is the £500 000 Jamia Asaria, a sprawling complex amid the green maize fields on the city outskirts.

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