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Charity with Al-Qaida link remained on charity register for six years after UN sanctions began

The Sanabel Relief Agency was placed on the UN Security Council's watch list in 2006, but remained on the Charity Commission register until January last year

The Sanabel Relief Agency's entry on the Charity Commission website
The Sanabel Relief Agency's entry on the Charity Commission website

An international aid charity with links to Al-Qaida was allowed to remain on the register of charities for almost six years after the United Nations initiated sanctions against it.

The Sanabel Relief Agency, which registered as a charity in 2000, claimed to support people affected by poverty and natural disasters.

But according to the UN Security Council it was being used as a front to finance terrorist activities overseas, was under the control of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which has links with Al-Qaida, and had an office in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, while the Taliban was in power.

In February 2006, the Sanabel Relief Agency was placed on the Security Council’s watch list of organisations with links to Al-Qaida, a network of Islamic extremists responsible for the attacks on the US on 11 September 2001. The UK Treasury took steps to freeze the charity’s assets.

The Charity Commission began a statutory inquiry into the charity but allowed it to remain on the register until January 2012. That is when the Sanabel Relief Agency, which had addresses in cities throughout England, including Manchester, Birmingham and London, "ceased to exist", according to the commission’s website.

The organisation remains on the UN’s watch list, which is updated regularly.

In response to a request made by Third Sector under the Freedom of Information Act about the investigations the regulator has carried out involving allegations of terrorist activity, the commission highlighted 10, nine of which resulted in the publication of a report.

The regulator’s response said: "The statutory inquiry into Sanabel Relief Agency did not result in the publication of an inquiry report. The outcome of this statutory inquiry was that the charity was formally removed from the register of charities on 26 January 2012 as it had ceased to exist."

A spokeswoman for the regulator declined to comment on why a report was not published. The commission’s website says that details of investigations may not be made public where there is a risk to national security or publication might "contravene or prejudice requirements for confidentiality", or it is not in the public interest.

In reference to its own inquiry into the Sanabel Relief Agency, the UN Security Council website says: "While [Sanabel Relief Agency] characterised itself to the public as a charitable organisation, its first priority was providing support to the activities of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. SRA was controlled by leaders of LIFG. Directors of SRA used the charity as a vehicle to transfer money and documents for terrorist activities overseas."

When asked about the SRA’s status on the sanctions list, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Office declined to comment on the specific case. But she said that entities that have been determined no longer to exist remain listed until actions to prevent the transfer of assets to other listed individuals and groups are completed.

The Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee, which has the power to place individuals and entities on the sanctions list, is made up of all 15 members of the UN Security Council, including the UK and the US. It is supported by a team of counter-terrorism and legal experts.

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