International | Under pressure from the White House, a congressional report on terrorism omits the House of Saud's close ties to the militant Wahhabis who now threaten even Saudi Arabia

Issue: "Capitol stampede in Texas," Aug. 9, 2003

CAN A STATE BE BOTH TERRORIST enabler and terror victim? In Saudi Arabia's case, the answer is yes. And for now, the Bush administration is willing to give the Saudi government a pass despite mounting evidence that its leaders have been involved more-not less-in terror than previously suspected.

In a congressional report made public on July 24 that covers intelligence community activity before and after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, one of the most notable features is what's not there: a lengthy section on Saudi Arabia's role in the attacks. The executive branch arm-twisted congressional leaders to black out the section before the report's release, even though 15 of the 19 hijackers who took control of four commercial airliners that day were Saudi citizens.

Blacked-out portions of the report include an entire section on whether there was Saudi support for the hijackers and 26 pages on overseas financing for the terrorists.

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The omission is glaring because the report reveals that both the CIA and the FBI had information on the terror connection of at least two Saudi hijackers nearly two years before the attack but did not begin to put the information together until August 2001. Those hijackers, Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaq al-Hazmi, boarded American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon.

The two hijackers are key figures in the assessment of the congressional joint inquiry, a seven-month study by a combined House and Senate panel that runs 900 pages. If the Saudi government gave support to the hijackers -knowingly or not-that's not revealed in the declassified report. What is clear, however, is that the long-standing friendship between U.S. administrations and the kingdom made it easy for those with Saudi passports to enter the United States and plot the 9/11 attacks.

The State Department enacted a "visa express" program in Riyadh in May 2001. Five of the hijackers applied for visas in June successfully, even though they gave false information on their applications. According to the report, the State Department ended the visa express program in July 2002 "because news reports suggested that the program allowed Saudi applicants to skirt the normal process."

Congressional leaders have wanted more said about the Saudi-terror connection, even as the Bush administration has struggled to remain friends with the house of Saud. "They could have declassified a lot more of this report and let the American people see it," said former Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), a member of the panel. He told reporters he agreed with Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), his counterpart on the panel, who called the censored pages "unnecessarily blanked out."

After the report's release, Shelby spokesman Andrea Andrews confirmed, "There are sections in the report dealing with foreign countries, including Saudi Arabia, but they remain classified." She told WORLD the CIA coordinated the declassification process and "any information that was not declassified was at the decision of the intelligence agencies."

Saudi funds have been flowing into terrorist coffers for decades, going back to the late 1970s and early 1980s when the ruling House of Saud crowned the Wahhabi religious sect the only acceptable brand of Islam. The Wahhabi radicals, who now control all religious activity in Saudi Arabia, call for a return to seventh-century Islam.

Wahhabi dictums-for toothpicks, against toothbrushes; for Arabic, against English-would be laughable apart from Saudi government support. And the Wahhabis' deadly sincerity: Wahhabi sheikhs regularly call for waging war not only on "infidels," but also on other forms of Islam. The Wahhabi creed, given sanction by the world's largest oil exporter, spawned the radical violence of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

Eventually the royal family realized it had made a deal with the devil. In 1994 officials stripped Saudi citizenship from Osama bin Laden, son of a prominent Medina family, because of his terrorist buildup in Sudan. The Saudis tried to extradite him but failed.

However, many suspect that even as the government was demanding justice, it was also funneling money to al-Qaeda to buy peace with radical elements inside the kingdom. The royal family controls 80 percent of Saudi oil business and has near total control of the banking system-making it practically impossible for Saudi oil money to finance terrorism without Saudi royals knowing about it.

Saudi officials traveled to Afghanistan to buy off the Taliban and al-Qaeda when they realized Mr. bin Laden had targeted the kingdom for its ostentatious display of wealth and for hosting U.S. troops. A compromise of convenience-royal endorsement of radical Islam in exchange for the religious establishment vowing loyalty to the ruling family-had turned into a blackmail arrangement.


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