- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Saudi Arabia’s 25 most wanted terrorists (22 Saudis, two Moroccans, one Yemeni) whose pictures were splashed on the front pages of local papers last Sunday are still at large and apparently well protected by the al Qaeda underground in the kingdom. Rewards of 1 million riyals ($267,000) have been posted for information leading to the arrest of just one of the suspected terrorists. The award would rise to $1.3 million for more than one and $1.9 million for actions that derail a terrorist attack. All U.S. diplomatic and military personnel in Riyadh, Jedda and Dhahran were instructed to remain indoors in their heavily guarded residences except for essential business.

The last suicide attack against a Saudi housing compound was on Nov. 8, which killed 17 people.

In Washington discussion groups, the question is frequently asked, “How long before the House of Saud falls?” And the answers vary from a few months to very few years. The Saudi government launched a massive crackdown against religious extremists and suspected fanatics after suicide bombers attacked three housing compounds on May 12.

The al Qaeda offensive is still directed at U.S. and British targets and nationals. The 24,000 members (including girls and wives) of the House of Saud — Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world named after a royal family — are not yet the target. Saad al-Faqih, who heads the exile Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (MIRA) believes the terrorist offensive will soon shift its targets to the royals “and then the collapse will be imminent.”

The royal family is far more resilient than outsiders seem to believe. Wherever one goes in the kingdom, a royal prince — there are 7,000 — is in charge of key local and national nerve centers. If a renegade nonroyal colonel were to try to plot a nationwide coup in an area the size of Western Europe, counterintelligence would soon get wind of it. This is not to say an unknown colonel couldn’t pull it off in one town, perhaps even in one city. This would be a far cry from nationwide control. But it could be the beginning of a civil war that would then split the princes among young Western-educated liberals and their septuagenarian elders.

After the May 12 terrorist bombing in Riyadh, some 1,000 clerics were hauled on a royal carpet and ordered to drop any reference to jihad or jihadis from their enkindling homilies under penalty of re-education in government-controlled seminaries. The transgressors among them would be deprived of their right to preach. Ever since the 1979 concordat between the Wahhabi ulama (clergy) and the Wahhabi royal regime, which followed the seizure of the grand mosque in Mecca by Wahhabi energumen, the clergy has been flush with lavish royal subsidies. However, there was a catch.

So much as a soupcon of faultfinding in the House of Saud would not be tolerated. But there was no limit to what they could do to train Wahhabi missionaries to spread the Wahhabi gospel abroad (protected by diplomatic passports that gave them immunity) and build Wahhabi mosques, madrassas (Koranic schools) and Islamic Community Centers. Even in the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, where most of the country’s 8 million Muslims — or 10 percent of the population — live, and where the al Qaeda affiliate Abu Sayyaf is located, there are some 3,000 Saudi-funded madrassas. Before it was toppled by the U.S., the medieval Taliban regime was also the recipient of Saudi funds. Tens of thousands of madrassas are spread through Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Middle East, Morocco, sub-Sahara Africa, and North and South America.

After years of expose stories about scurrilous teachings that insulted Jews and Christians, the Saudi government has finally withdrawn its sponsorship of the Institute for Islamic and Arabic Sciences, based in Fairfax, Va. At the same time, the U.S. canceled the diplomatic visa of Wahhabi cleric Jaafar Idris, a Sudanese national with a Saudi diplomatic passport who had an office at the Saudi Embassy, but also lectured at the Institute.

The Virginia institute, a satellite campus of a Riyadh university, trained 75 lay ministers for the U.S. military, the Wall Street Journal reported. The chairman of its board of trustees was Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Prince Bandar bin Sultan.

The House of Saud has finally conceded that its Wahhabi missionaries, whose subversive activities enjoyed diplomatic immunity, were engaged in teaching anti-Western religious fanaticism.

Arguments rang hollow that Islam, as practiced in Saudi Arabia, was a tolerant religion at a time when there are some 2,000 mosques in the U.S., the majority established by Wahhabis, Islam’s most intolerant sect, and not a single Christian church allowed in the kingdom for foreigners.

During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, Saudi clerics encouraged young men to volunteer for duty against the heathen Soviets. Osama bin Laden was the clergy’s hero — good family, lots of money for the “Afghan Arab” volunteers (including some 20,000 Saudis) who fought alongside the mujahideen in Afghanistan. After Moscow decided to cut its losses, and abandoned the field to its enemies, bin Laden, a devout Wahhabi, became superman at home.

Following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, and the House of Saud’s decision to invite U.S. forces into the kingdom for Desert Shield, bin Laden turned against the royals and sympathetic clerics read his secret messages during Friday prayers. The concordat began fraying.

Bin Laden was eventually expelled by the royals and his stature, magnified by September 11, 2001, has been growing ever since. For Saudi clerics, the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were proof that the Bush administration was determined to shrink the Muslim world and bin Laden is now the only man leading the global struggle, for the second time in his life, against an evil empire.

Saudi backing for Operation Iraqi Freedom was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s hump. A respected cleric, Sheik Hamoud bin Oqla al-Shuaibi, told his congregation this support deprived the House of Saud of “Islamic legitimacy,” according to MIRA chief Saad al-Faqih.

In an interview with the Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Dr. Faqih, a London-based former professor of surgery at King Saud University, admitted he was calling for “the overthrow of the Saudi regime.” MIRA is “demanding changes in the country [that] are simply incompatible with the survival of the regime. … It cannot tolerate even minimal freedoms of expression and assembly. If these freedoms were allowed, people would demand an accounting of the many billions stolen by the royals and, if they were not stopped, they would then encircle the princes’ palaces, demanding the return of these billions. People would demand that those behind the abuse of thousands of prisoners be prosecuted and, if not stopped, would attack the prisons or the Interior Ministry.”

Dr. Faqih also anticipates the regime “will fall on its own from internal problems. And our role then would be to prevent the chaos rather than remove the regime.” Asked about points of disagreement with Osama bin Laden, Dr. Faqih claimed he saw no logic in the question, but “I think bin Laden is more concerned with America.” Indeed he is, and Iraq is his chosen battlefield. A U.S. withdrawal from Iraq short of its objectives would probably spell doom for the House of Saud anyway.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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