Politics & Policy

The Saudi Connection

Their oil is thicker than our blood.

“Forum shopping” is the latest tactic employed by wealthy Saudis seeking to skirt American justice. First, the Saudis funded the World Trade Center terrorist attack that cost the lives of 3,000 Americans. Now the same Saudis are funding a cynical campaign using English libel law to attack Americans’ First Amendment rights by suing reporters who expose them, in British courts. In early April, Random House announced on CNN that it has abandoned the U.K. publication of Craig Ungar’s House of Bush House of Saud, as they feared that the Saudis would sue for libel. These are the same Saudis named in mega-billion-dollar lawsuits tied to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the same Saudis who laugh all the way to Riyadh banks each time we fill up at the pump, the same Saudis who have been identified by official statements and hearings in Congress as funders of al Qaeda and Hamas.

Why British courts? In the U.K., a plaintiff can easily win judgment because, among other things, he is not required to prove that the alleged libel was done with malice. Some of the wealthiest Saudi families that are named in the 9/11 lawsuits have accordingly threatened several authors and publishers, mostly British, with libel suits in U.K. courts. Apparently, none have gone to trial as most appear to settle at an early stage because the defendants could not, or would not, sustain a lengthy and costly lawsuit. Instead, the defendants capitulated, apologized, and paid fines.

That’s too bad, because, a few months ago, Saudi Arabia was referred to as “the epicenter of terror financing” by a former Treasury official in congressional hearings. Even the Saudi government’s English-language weekly, Ain-al-Yaqeen, bragged that the royal family and the Saudi Kingdom have spent more than $70 billion over the last twenty years “to spread Islam to every corner of the earth.” However, what they spread, is Wahabbism, the Saudi version of Islam, which, according to former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, “is the soil in which anti-Western and anti-American terrorism grows.” Wahhabist clerics virulent calls against all infidels now provide the legitimacy to murder non-Muslims who work in Saudi Arabia (as we saw happen this past weekend) and may ultimately bring down the House of Saud, which allowed the incitement to go on for decades.

According to a report submitted to the president of the U.N. Security Council in December 2002, “One must question the real ability and willingness of the [Saudi] Kingdom to exercise any control over the use of religious money in, and outside, the country.”

However, the U.S. administration and the Saudi government assure us that the Saudis are our allies in the war on terror, even while we learn that the Saudi National Guard facilitated al Qaeda’s attack last May on a housing compound in Riyadh that killed 35 people and injured 200; or that the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C., transferred tens of millions of dollars that are suspected to have gone to terrorists through Riggs Bank.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal recently denied publicly the Kingdom’s contributions to Hamas. The prince may be hard-pressed then to explain the tens of millions of dollars raised and provided by Saudi Interior Minister Prince Naif to families of Hamas suicide bombers, and additional tens of millions of dollars that Saudi charities such as WAMY and the IIRO sent to Hamas’s fronts in the West Bank and Gaza.

Contributions by Saudi citizens to various Islamist terror groups in 2000 alone amounted to $500 million, according to the same 2002 report to the U.N. This money funds terrorist-network infrastructures, salaries, travel, and “terrorcare” services that include hospitals, schools, and especially ulemas (religious teachers) and madrasas (religious schools). These madrasas, according to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, “aren’t training people in mathematics or languages or sciences or whatever, humanities–they’re training people to kill. They’re training people to go out and kill innocent men, women, and children.”

The 9/11 attackers from Hamburg, the attackers of the American embassies in Africa, those who attacked the U.S.S. Cole and other American and Western targets were all Wahhabist, as were the March 11 attackers in Madrid. Despite all this evidence, the U.S. is still reluctant to acknowledge that the Saudi government and its most influential citizens are responsible for inciting and financing terrorism.

Clearly, Saudi Arabia is considered an ally. The rising oil prices, their oil reserves, and the recent increase in production all assure that. Evidently, Saudi oil is thicker than our blood. Nevertheless, a radical change in the ground rules of the U.S.-Saudi relationship is needed. Stability in the Kingdom and in the region is dependent upon the Saudis’s willingness and ability to make critical economic and social reforms without compromising their religious legitimacy, and Washington should assist to formulate and pursue a reasonable policy to facilitate that. However, if the U.S., the U.K. and their allies do not acknowledge the Saudis’s role in funding terrorism and hold them accountable until they stop, the war on terror can go on indefinitely. The funders of terrorism cannot be freed from responsibility now because a new political initiative is underway. Are we willing to capitulate and settle for an ongoing Wahhabi-inspired war, funded by a group of elite Saudis? Or, should we fight the war on terror on another front by exposing the funders who facilitate terrorism’s cash flow and who are now also threatening lawsuits in the U.K. courts to silence and intimidate the media?

Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of Funding Evil; How Terrorism is Financed–and How to Stop It, is director of the New York-based American Center for Democracy.


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