Federal officials unable to act

The State Department has no authority to close a Saudi-supported school criticized for violent teachings, a spokesman said Tuesday, despite an official request for guidance from the Northern Virginia county that leases space for the school’s main campus.

The department will “respond as appropriate” to Fairfax County supervisors, spokesman Rob McInturff said.

“We work with the Saudi government … to revise educational materials in Saudi Arabia, but this is a private school in the U.S.,” Mr. McInturff said. “We don’t monitor their activities or anything like that.”

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly sent a letter Monday to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, requesting that her department provide “specific direction” on the county’s lease with the Islamic Saudi Academy in light of a federal commission’s findings this month.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom found textbooks used at the 900-student private school included passages that blame the Jews for “discord” and say it is permissible for a Muslim to kill those who have left the faith, an adulterer or someone who has killed a Muslim intentionally, according to the panel.

The findings spurred calls for a public review of the textbooks and criticism of the county board, which voted unanimously in May, prior to the commission’s report, to continue leasing property for the school’s main campus in Alexandria through next June.

Mr. Connolly, a Democrat running for Congress in the 11th District, said the county’s lease is expressly “contingent upon and subject to the approval of the United States Department of State.”

“As a local government entity, Fairfax County is not capable of determining whether textbooks, written in Arabic, contain language that promotes violence or religious intolerance, or is otherwise offensive to the interests of the United States,” Mr. Connolly wrote.

Mr. McInturff confirmed that the department received the letter but had not yet reviewed it.

The federal panel last year recommended that State Department officials explore the possibility of closing the school under the Foreign Missions Act after failing to obtain the current textbooks and noting that official Saudi texts in the past have included language encouraging violence.

“My understanding at this point is that this doesn’t come under State Department jurisdiction,” Mr. McInturff said. “It would have to be credentialed by the State Department as an embassy or as a consulate. That to my knowledge has not happened to this school.”

However, the commission contends the act could give the secretary of state authority to take action to close the school. The act defines a foreign mission in part as “any mission to or agency or entity in the United States which is … substantially owned or effectively controlled by a foreign government.”

State officials would have authority over the school for reasons that include its apparent financial backing from the Saudi government and the fact its board chairman is Saudi Ambassador Adel A. Al-Jubeir, commission spokeswoman Judith Ingram said.

“That’s the crux of the disagreement,” she said.

The commission focused its recent review on 17 textbooks used during the past school year and obtained from independent sources.

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