- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Friend or foe?

The Saudi ambassador is defending his country against charges in a Senate hearing this week where witnesses denounced the kingdom for links to terrorism and for an official form of Islam that they said spreads hatred toward Americans and moderate Muslims.

Statements at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing “only serve to reinforce the negative misconceptions and half-truths” about Saudi Arabia, Ambassador Prince Turki al-Faisal said.

“This sends a discouraging message to both the Saudi and American people at a time when we should be trying to promote greater understanding,” he said.

The ambassador said Saudi Arabia “is a main target” of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist network, which he called a “cult that has declared war on our country.”

He cited Saudi Arabia’s efforts to kill or arrest terrorist suspects and to prevent banks and charities from laundering money to terrorist groups.

“During the past three years, Saudi security forces have killed more than 100 terrorists, … have succeeded in preventing more than 50 terrorist attacks, and more than 800 suspects have been arrested,” he said.

Prince Turki also said his government is rewriting school textbooks and retraining teachers to eliminate extremism.

However, a witness at the hearing denounced Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi form of Islam and cited a study that found Saudi textbooks and religious tracts replete with hatred.

“The Wahhabi ideology that the Saudi monarch enforces and on which it bases its legitimacy is shown in these documents as a fanatically bigoted, xenophobic and sometimes violent ideology,” said Nina Shea, director of Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom.

She said those publications, used in Saudi-funded schools in the United States, “instill contempt for America” and for Muslims who reject the Wahhabi sect.

At the hearing, titled “Saudi Arabia: Friend or Foe in the War on Terror,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy criticized the Saudi government for promoting “extreme forms of Islam” through its religious schools, called “madrassas.”

“More troubling is the strong link between madrassas and terrorist financing,” the Vermont Democrat said. “It is widely known that the Saudi government has permitted and even encourages fundraising by charitable Islamic groups and foundations that have been linked to known terrorist organizations.”

An administration official defended Saudi Arabia for its “aggressive action against al Qaeda” and for efforts to prevent terrorist financing through banks and charities.

“Saudi Arabia is actively countering the threat of terrorism,” said Daniel Glaser, deputy assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes at the Treasury Department.

Zimbabwe summons

The Zimbabwean Foreign Ministry yesterday summoned U.S. Ambassador Christopher Dell to protest a speech in which he blamed President Robert Mugabe for bringing starvation and economic ruin to the southern African nation.

The Foreign Ministry accused the ambassador of “an unwarranted attack on the government of Zimbabwe when it was reeling from sanctions imposed on it,” said reports from the capital, Harare. The government also threatened to expel Mr. Dell.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Timothy Smith told reporters that Mr. Dell will visit Washington soon for consultations and is likely to respond to the Foreign Ministry after his return.

Mr. Mugabe on Tuesday denounced Mr. Dell for his remarks last week to the United Methodist Church’s Africa University in the city of Mutare.

“I can’t spell ‘Dell,’ but I can spell ‘hell,’ and he might be there one of these days,” Mr. Mugabe said.

In his speech, Mr. Dell said Mr. Mugabe’s “gross mismanagement” of the economy and “corrupt rule has brought on the crisis” marked by widespread food shortages, 80 percent unemployment and inflation expected to hit 1,000 percent next year.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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