Families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks are trying to sue the government of Saudi Arabia, the country from which 15 of the 19 hijackers came from. The legal team has new documents outlining the Saudis’ history of bankrolling terrorism and extremism, helping to expose the pattern of deception used by the Saudis to portray themselves as a staunch ally of the United States.
The legal team, for example, has a sworn statement from someone in Afghanistan who says he personally saw a representative of Turki al-Faisal, the former head of Saudi intelligence, give a check for $267 million to a top Taliban official in 1998. Treasury Department documents were obtained that showed that the International Islamic Relief Organization, a charity described by The New York Times as “heavily supported by members of the Saudi royal family” was being used to support terrorists at least into 2006.
In October 2002, the Council on Foreign Relations released a report concluding that the country had served as a primary source of funding for Al-Qaeda. “It is worth stating clearly and unambiguously what official U.S. government spokespersons have not. For years, individuals and charities in Saudi Arabia have been the most importance source of funds for al Qaeda, and for years the Saudi officials have turned a blind eye to this problem,” it said.
Despite being an avowed enemy of Al-Qaeda, it cannot be denied that major elements of the Saudi government have acted to support the terrorist organization and radical Islam as a whole.
Saudi Arabia has also played an important role in the rise of other terrorist groups, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group that carried out the December 2008 Mumbai attacks and has links to Al-Qaeda. Muhammad Saeed, the leader of the group, went to Saudi Arabia in 2005 to help organize the transit of LET members to Iraq and Europe. The group’s chief financier until 2003, Mahmoud Mohammed Ahmad Ba’aziq, “coordinated fundraising activity with non-governmental charities and businessmen in Saudi Arabia.” It is also known that at least one LET school in Pakistan was built in 2005 with Saudi financing. The Taliban militants are also relying on donors in the Gulf for financing.
The Saudi have also tried to hail their “terrorist rehabilitation program” as a nearly infallible counter-terrorism program, using it to cement their status as a full-fledged partner in the War on Terror. As part of their public relations campaign, Saudi officials boasted that not a single graduate of the program had returned to a life of terrorism. Now we know of many relapsed patients of the Saudis, including at least 14 of those on their published list of most wanted terrorists. It is theoretically possible that the Saudis suddenly found out about these cases before writing up the list, but their other acts of deceit should cast doubt on the credibility of that excuse.
American organizations have also had a long battle with the Saudis’ repeated claims that they have reformed their school’s textbooks and cleansed them of extremism. In 2006, the Saudis announced they had removed such passages, only to be debunked by Freedom House. This resulted in a similar pledge to revise the books, and again, such material remained according to a 2008 study by the Hudson Institute.
Similar deception was practiced in denying the importance of Saudi Arabia to the insurgents in Iraq. “There isn’t any organized terror finance, and we will not permit any such unorganized acts,” said a spokesperson for the Interior Ministry in December 2006. The statement came in reaction to the conclusion of the Iraq Survey Group that “funding for the Sunni insurgency comes from private individuals within Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states,” which also accused the Kingdom of being “passive and disengaged.” The denial is hard to believe, considering the fact that the majority of suicide bombings in Iraq have been carried out by Saudis, and about 40 percent of the foreign fighters were Saudi.
The Associated Press further debunked the Saudi Interior Ministry’s statement. The newspaper interviewed two Iraqi officials who confirmed the significance of Saudi money in bankrolling the insurgents, which included a $25 million payment to an Iraqi cleric who then used the money to buy Russian shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles called Strelas. Truck drivers were also found who admitted carrying boxes of cash from the Kingdom into Iraq for the insurgents.
In a country without any freedom to speak of, it is impossible for such a well-organized effort to support the insurgency to exist without significant elements of the government knowing about it.
The website of the Saudi embassy brags about the reforms that have taken place, the officials and Muslim leaders who have denounced terrorism, and how Saudi Arabia has played an important role in tackling Al-Qaeda. While it is true that the Saudis have taken action against Al-Qaeda, particularly since the 2003 attacks in Riyadh, the War on Terror goes beyond that one organization. Saudi financing continues to reach Muslim Brotherhood fronts and other extremists and the country remains a strict Islamic state based on radical Sharia Law.
Saudi Arabia has made some improvements, however. King Abdullah is placing more liberal-minded government officials in power by firing the heads of the religious police and top religious court, the latter of which issued fatwas allowing things like the murder of those helping to make “immoral” television shows. The government has also arrested a prominent cleric who issued a fatwa saying attacks on Israelis were justified during the Gaza offensive.
While some encouraging reforms have been made, Saudi Arabia still has a long way to go to be considered a true ally in the war against radical Islam.