The bombings this week in Riyadh are only the latest evidence that the Saudi government cannot and will not suppress extremism. The wake-up calls keep coming, but the United States refuses to recognize the kingdom’s involvement with terrorism.
America’s criticism of other countries often appears to be motivated (or, as the case may be, tempered or even suppressed) by its political views and allegiances. See, for example, the recent controversy over the U.S. State Department list of countries that it claims severely limit religious freedom.
In the weeks leading up to the bombing, it is now reported that the United States requested additional security at American compounds based on intercepted communications. It was a familiar pattern, and one that a nation now experienced in terror-talk and embassy bombings knew to take seriously. But the Saudis didn’t come through — the compound was left vulnerable, even on the eve of a visit to the country by Colin Powell.
As the dust settled on the compound, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal had tough words to offer. “Whoever did this will regret it,” he said.
That’s not likely. On Saudi territory, al-Qaeda enjoys vast resources in the ranks of the clerical hierarchy and the state. Al-Qaeda terrorism in the kingdom itself — described by Ali al-Ahmed, a Washington-based advocate of thoroughgoing reform in Arabia, as the emergence of “al-Qaeda II” — demonstrates the retrenchment of the conspiracy to its home ground and its strongest redoubt.
Throughout the Iraq war, Wahhabi preachers spewed forth anti-American vitriol. Saudi fanatics went north to die fighting the Western infidels — some directed the Ansar ul-Islam terrorist group that was destroyed in Iraqi Kurdistan by American troops. And Saudis incited people in the town of Falluja, where Sunnis were stirred to rise up and die confronting coalition forces.
Need more? Consider the affiliation of Asan Akbar — the American Muslim extremist who killed and wounded fellow soldiers at Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait — with a Saudi-controlled mosque in Los Angeles and the Saudi-dominated Muslim Students Association. Or consider the revelation that Princess Haifa, wife of Saudi ambassador to the U.S. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, had donated funds that just happened to wind up in the hands of two of the Sept. 11 suicide pilots.
Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive police states on the globe. Massive bombing conspiracies do not take place under such conditions without some acquiescence by elements high in the state structure. The bombings in Riyadh, in other words, were an atrocity foretold. Saudi analyst Yahya al-Hami noted that the anti-Western sermons in government mosques, disseminated in the media and on the Internet, have been relentless. “It was bound to happen, anyone would have seen it coming,” he told the opposition Saudi Information Agency.
Some simple points about Saudi reality can’t be wished away. Al-Qaeda has been defeated in many parts of the world, but a serious campaign for its destruction has yet to begin in its country of origin. Saudi authorities promise meaningless “financial reforms,” when arrests, seizures of assets, trials and punishments are required. They claim to have detained various individuals who are never named while known sympathizers of al-Qaeda continue to walk the streets of the kingdom’s cities, untouched.
Among clerical hatemongers, Ayed al-Qarni, an adviser to Prince Abdel Aziz bin Fahd, the youngest son of King Fahd, stands out. Al-Qarni wrote a poem, repeatedly broadcast on Saudi media during the Iraq intervention, in which he declared, “Slaughter the enemy infidels and say there is but one God.” This lyric was supplemented by an interview in the Future of Islam — a monthly issued by the World Assembly of Muslim Youth — for April 2003.
Therein, al-Qarni proudly affirmed that he prays daily for America’s destruction, and incited Saudis to cross the border to fight in Iraq, and to give money to support Saddam. During the Iraq war, Wahhabi preacher Naser al-Omar called for suicide attacks on the coalition. Interviewed by a Saudi-backed TV station operating from Dubai, he said, “We should hope for more terror bombings to kill more of the enemies of God — Jews and Christians.” A pro-Saddam fatwa signed by him and other clerics was distributed in Saudi government offices.
The scenario may be even more sinister. The targets of the bombings included Vinnell Corp., of Fairfax, Va., which trains the Saudi National Guard, a body reporting to Crown Prince Abdullah. His rival, Minister of the Interior Prince Nayef, has been notably bland in dealing with terrorism and apparently believes that Jews were responsible for Sept. 11. Prince Nayef and his hard-line faction may be attempting to oust Prince Abdullah, the only member of the royal family with a pro-reform reputation. If Prince Nayef and the Wahhabis prevail, the kingdom will head deeper into the black hole.
Why are we tiptoeing around reality and expressing pious hopes that removal of U.S. troops from Saudi territory will alleviate the situation? Why should we wish to return to a role as happy courtesans of the most reactionary, benighted, oppressive monarchy in modern history?
Saudi rulers have always depended on foreign troops — the Christian bayonets of the U.S., Britain and France — to keep them in power. And they have always fostered the extremist Wahhabi ideology that calls for American heads. They use Wahhabi terrorism as a weapon to pressure the United States into supporting them.
The time has come for the duplicity to end. U.S. President George Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Powell must issue non-negotiable demands that the Saudi authorities finally — a year-and-a-half late — provide a full accounting of their subjects’ involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks. As Ronald Reagan demanded that the Soviet Union cease its funding of leftist terrorism, U.S. leaders must demand that Saudi Arabia stop funding the global expansion of Wahhabism. Nothing less is acceptable.
Stephen Schwartz, the author of The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Saud from Tradition to Terror, directs the Islam and Democracy Program at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington.