- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 25, 2004

Saudis vindicated

Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan says the September 11 commission vindicated his country and disproved charges that his government supported Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.

A staff report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States details efforts of top Saudi officials to try to persuade the then Taliban government in Afghanistan to turn over bin Laden.

“This is what Saudi Arabia has maintained all along,” Prince Bandar said in a statement this week, as the commission held public hearings on the 2001 attacks in the United States.

“Our government was pursuing bin Laden and his al Qaeda network before the September 11 attacks, and these terrorists, in turn, were targeting the kingdom of Saudi Arabia before the attacks on the United States.”

The ambassador insisted that the staff report “refutes the illogical and morbid accusations of Saudi government support for al Qaeda.”

“Why would the Saudi government fund or support Osama bin Laden at the same time that we were working to capture him?” Prince Bandar asked.

The report noted that the Saudi-born terrorist escaped from house arrest in Saudi Arabia in 1991 and made his way to Sudan, where he publicly denounced the Saudi ruling family. He later fled to Afghanistan.

In 1998, the Saudi government prevented an attack on U.S. forces in the kingdom that was organized by bin Laden. The Saudis arrested scores of suspects but never publicized the action, the report said.

Later, Crown Prince Abdullah agreed to try to persuade the Taliban regime in Afghanistan to hand over bin Laden to the United States or another country. Prince Turki bin Faisal worked closely with CIA Director George J. Tenet.

“Employing a mixture of possible bribes and threats, [Prince Turki] received a commitment that bin Laden would be handed over,” the report said.

The Taliban reneged, prompting a confrontation between Prince Turki and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

Prince Bandar expressed confidence of an eventual victory over terrorism if the United States and Saudi Arabia continue their cooperation.

“I am confident that together we will win this war and end the terrorist threat to the civilized world,” he said.

Appeal to Australia

The U.S. ambassador to Australia yesterday appealed to the leader of the opposition Labor Party to reconsider his decision to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq if he wins the next election.

“We don’t want terrorists to get the wrong message here,” Ambassador Thomas Schieffer told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. “We don’t want them to think that the bombing in Madrid has paid some sort of political dividend, whether it is in Spain or elsewhere.”

The new socialist prime minister of Spain plans to pull out Spanish troops, but critics have called the decision appeasement to the terrorists who killed 190 persons in the March 11 attacks.

Australian Labor leader Mark Latham, who opposed the war in Iraq, has promised to withdraw the 850 troops who are in Iraq if his party wins the parliamentary elections scheduled to be held before November. He said the “logical point” for a withdrawal is after the U.S.-led coalition hands over power to an Iraqi governing council in June.

Prime Minister John Howard, who committed 2,000 troops to fight with U.S. forces last year to topple Saddam Hussein, called Mr. Latham’s position “the wrong signal to our allies … and to the Iraqi people.”

Mr. Schieffer noted, “There are over 40 nations in Iraq right now trying to stabilize the situation and rebuild the nation, and it is very important work. If people were to withdraw their support from that action, I think it could have very serious consequences.”

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