- - Thursday, July 21, 2016


Last Friday, the infamous “28 pages” from the 2002 Congressional Joint Inquiry into the 9/11 attacks were declassified. For years, this final section of the report was kept from the public, which led some to believe that it contained evidence that the Saudi Arabian government was behind the attacks, either indirectly by financing al Qaeda or directly by providing support to the actual terrorists on the planes. Now that the pages have been released, the truth is out, and in the words of the 9/11 Commission: “[there is] no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded [al Qaeda].”

Still, some American pundits may continue to link Saudi Arabia and 9/11 in their minds, perhaps because 15 of the 19 terrorists came from the kingdom. However, in order to understand why Saudi Arabia has always been heavily invested in the war on extremist Islamic terror, three perspectives are needed: religious, historical and martial.

From a religious perspective, al Qaeda, and the more recent ISIL, are sworn enemies of the Kingdom and its political and religious leadership. This is because both groups are ultimately looking to restore the caliphate (an Islamic empire led by a supreme leader), and with the Saudi kingdom the epicenter of Islam and the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in Mecca and Medina, the road to the caliphate lies through the kingdom and its monarchy. In fact, ISIL has even launched a campaign against Saudi Arabia, called qadimun, or “we are coming” to take over the country.

The historical perspective shows even more clearly how opposed these terrorist organizations are to Saudi Arabia and why seeking their extermination by any means necessary is a vital national security prerogative for the kingdom. Like several other nations, Saudi Arabia has been a constant victim of radical Islam’s depraved ideology.

The first al Qaeda attack came in 1995, when a Saudi National Guard training complex in Riyadh was bombed. Six people were killed, including five Americans, and over 60 were injured. Many more bombings and shootings followed at the hands of what came to be known as AQAP, or al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula.

Further, the kingdom has suffered a number of assassination attempts against the Saudi leadership by al Qaeda. Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, the kingdom’s anti-terror chief, was targeted at least four times, most recently in August 2010, as were others. These attacks have caused the U.S. government to declare AQAP the most dangerous al Qaeda affiliate in the world.

And this is where the martial perspective comes in: To respond to these terrorist attacks, Saudi Arabia has created one of the largest and most efficient counter-terrorism programs in the world, both in its own right and in collaboration with the United States and its other strategic allies. Major military and security reconfigurations and appropriations have taken place over the last two decades at the cost of tens of billions of dollars.

The crowning moment of this new Saudi Defense Doctrine came a few months ago when the kingdom announced a 34-state Islamic coalition to combat terrorism. As the statement from Riyadh said, the coalition will “protect the Islamic nation from the evils of all terrorist groups and organizations, whatever their sect and name, which wreak death and corruption on earth and aim to terrorize the innocent.”

So, given that the kingdom is the primary target of al Qaeda and ISIL’s twisted religious vision, that it has been victimized by dozens of attacks causing hundreds of deaths, and that it has spent tens of billions of dollars to combat these organizations, the idea that it would support the 9/11 attacks is clearly absurd. And this is exactly what the 28 pages show. Rather than a smoking gun, they contain a paltry array of rumors, innuendoes, and speculations, leading the committee itself to state that it “has made no final determinations as to the reliability or sufficiency of the information regarding these issues [and that it] was not the task of this Joint Inquiry to conduct the kind of extensive investigation that would be required to determine the true significance of such alleged support to the hijackers.”

Shortly after the pages were declassified, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence released a statement that supported the findings of the 2013 9/11 Review Commission, stating “that there was no new evidence that would change the 9/11 Commission’s findings regarding responsibility for the 9/11 attacks.” This is why the Saudis have been eager for the pages to be released. They knew that their full vindication would represent an important step in the international collaborative effort against Islamic extremism. As its actions show, the kingdom is ready to move on and end this scourge once and for all. Is the world?

Nawaf Obaid is a visiting fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center and a senior fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies.

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