- The Washington Times - Monday, February 7, 2005

JIDDA, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia, which has suffered at least a dozen terrorist attacks in the past two years, is proposing an international center to exchange intelligence on potential attacks, money laundering and arms smuggling.

Crown Prince Abdullah, the nation’s de facto ruler, made the proposal with 50 nations in attendance at the opening at a four-day international conference on terrorism that ends today.

The head of the U.S. delegation, homeland security adviser Frances Townsend, welcomed the proposal, but cautioned that it should not take the place of direct communication.

“The center would not end the need for bilateral exchange of information. Nothing would,” she said.

Although the United States says intelligence sharing with Saudi Arabia has vastly improved over the last year and a half, many analysts still say that the kingdom could improve its information-sharing with foreign governments and between its own agencies.

But one Saudi official defended the kingdom’s record in sharing information, noting that even in the United States rival agencies often did not share information before the September 11 attacks.

“Intelligence-sharing between agencies is often difficult, as their assets are their bits of information, but they must find a way of sharing information without compromising their security,” said Jamal Khashoggi, media adviser to the Saudi ambassador to Britain, Prince Turki Al-Faisal.

“Look at the U.S. itself. Its intelligence services didn’t talk to each other before 9/11.”

Saudi Arabia was the birthplace of 15 out of the 19 terrorists who attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. It also is the birthplace of Osama bin Laden, who bases his terrorist ideology on the teaching of Islam’s fanatic Wahhabi sect, the desert kingdom’s official religion.

A recent report by the New York-based human rights group Freedom House charged that the Saudi government continues to export Islamic fanaticism to the United States with literature sent to mosques.

Literature found by the group in more than a dozen American cities, including Washington, urges Muslims to kill fellow Muslims who convert to Christianity and to behave as if “behind enemy lines” while in the United States.

At the anti-terrorism conference, Kevin Rosser, an analyst at the London-based Control Risks Group, praised Saudi Arabia for facing up to the terrorist threat at home.

“The Saudis have succeeded in defeating most of the Saudi veterans of the Afghan war. These are Saudis who went abroad and gained paramilitary training. They’ve been mostly either killed in armed clashes with security forces or captured,” said Mr. Rosser, who attended the conference.

“The real worry is the vigilantes, usually underemployed Saudis who adopt the tactics of well-trained terrorists when angered by a certain incident or influenced by the general atmosphere,” he said.

“We will see vigilantes stepping in and attacking foreigners, which will continue to make it difficult for foreign companies to operate in the kingdom because of the danger involved and increased security costs.”

Fifty countries were represented at the conference, with the main topic on how to improve intelligence-sharing between countries.

Saudi Arabia, which has suffered numerous terrorist attacks, many of them targeting foreign workers, sought to erase doubts in the minds of foreign leaders that it is soft on terrorism.

Apart from sharing intelligence, the kingdom also has been working behind the scenes to crack down on Saudi money finding its way into the hands of al Qaeda-linked groups, changing the curriculum of Saudi schools to revise textbooks that encourage hatred, and re-educating terrorists on the Internet to become peace-loving Muslims.

“The kingdom has been putting down a first-class infrastructure to deal with terrorism financing,” Mr. Rosser said. “And they’ve demonstrated both symbolically and practically that they will deal with terrorism by talking about extremism and its causes. A dialogue has begun.”

Islamic Affairs Minister Saleh Abdul-Aziz Al-Sheikh said Sunday that the government had been successful in persuading more than 250 militants to see the error of their ways through a counterterror campaign waged on the Internet.

“We had a dialogue with 800 of them and more than a quarter were convinced. The rest are still continuing contact,” Mr. Al-Sheikh said. “The Internet is a fertile field. We have used many Islamic and cultural sites to spread this awareness of the dangers of terrorism.”

The anti-terror campaign also includes a re-education effort in prisons, in which experts are brought in to talk with captured terrorists and convince them that they have taken the wrong path. The teachers use the Koran and the Hadith, the sayings of the prophet Muhammad, to make their case.

A hot line has been set up for families worried that their sons may have gone off to join terrorist groups.

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