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Teaching Terror

Nina Shea

Saudi Arabia now supplies jihad fighters for conflicts near and far, often in numbers far disproportionate to its size. As new statistics become available, one thing becomes ever clearer: The Saudi kingdom is the world’s leading exporter of suicide bombers and terrorists.

When it was discovered that three quarters of the hijackers in 9/11, along with the founder of al Qaeda himself, were Saudi native sons, the whole world suffered the realization that Saudi nationals were deeply involved in suicide terror. Less well known, however, is the fact that a Saudi was the mastermind of the terror in Chechnya, that Saudis have figured prominently in recent suicide attacks against Spanish tourists in Yemen, and that a Saudi doctor was a principal in the attack against the airport in Glasgow. Last summer, the state-backed Saudi Human Rights Organization was kept busy visiting Saudi jihadists imprisoned in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon.

According to the Saudi Human Rights Organization. 74 Saudis are imprisoned in Jordan, including Saudi national Fahd Al Fahiqi, who is serving a life sentence for an attempted suicide attack in Jordan. Lebanese security officials report that Saudi nationals constitute 30-percent of the members of the extremist Fath Al Islam, which is fighting the Lebanese army. Diplomatic sources say that up to 980 Saudi al Qaeda members were at a refugee camp in Syria, and that Saudi Arabia demanded that they be turned over as a precondition to negotiations between the two countries.

In Guantanamo, scores of prisoners have been Saudis. Saudis are, in fact, the largest contingent, second only to those from Afghanistan.

What really brought the issue to a head is recent data about Iraq provided anonymously by U.S. military sources to the American press. In July, the Los Angeles Times reported that Saudis constitute the largest number of foreign fighters and suicide bombers in Iraq. A senior U.S. military officer told the Times that about 45-percent of all foreign militants targeting U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians and security forces are from Saudi Arabia; nearly half of the 135 foreigners in U.S. detention facilities in Iraq are Saudis; and fighters from Saudi Arabia are thought to have carried out more suicide bombings than those of any other nationality. The Saudis now admit that 800 or so foreign insurgents who have gone to Iraq are Saudis; the figure is undoubtedly higher.

A Saudi, Mohammad al-Thibaiti, was reported in late August by a leading Saudi newspaper al Hayat, to be a key figure in the Islamic State of Iraq, a group that is a front for al Qaeda. The paper, which was subsequently banned in Saudi Arabia, said that al-Thibaiti, had studied at Imam Mohammad bin Saud University, which is widely referred to as Wahhabi U for its identification with Saudi Islamist radicalism.

So, what might account for this disturbing proclivity among Saudi youth? Recently, Saudi journalists have begun writing anguished columns about this pattern, demanding to know the reasons why their youths seem more susceptible to suicide recruiters than others. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). recently translated and published excerpts from this debate, including the following:

Jamil Al-Dhaydi, editor of and columnist for the Saudi daily Al-Hayat, wrote in the London edition of the paper:

Why are Saudi youngsters attempting to change the world through extremist terrorist thinking and through spreading death in all parts of the world? Why are they forcing the world to think of the Saudis only as candidates for suicide bombings anywhere?... Yet they nevertheless are easy prey for terrorist organizations, and constitute a generous and self-renewing source of suicide [bombers]. What justification could there be for [the fact that] the Saudis are so susceptible to extremist and terrorist mentality?

In the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, its former editor, Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rached, wrote:

Why is it the Saudis [who are involved in terrorism]? Because, like … time bombs, they are mentally and politically ready, [and are like] pawns in the hands of organizations with very dangerous political plans. We must investigate why Saudis have become so willing to die for a cause whose aim they do not [even] understand.

Saudi Arabia’s reputation for incubating suicide bombers is so well known among terrorists groups that they have set up suicide recruitment sites aimed specifically at the Saudi Kingdom. According to a columnist Abdallah bin Bakhit, in the Saudi daily Al Jazeera:

An interesting aspect of this [website] system is that it targets mainly the [Saudi] kingdom and Saudi youth. These sites would not have been established had it not been known for certain that thousands of young Saudis thirst for …[extremist] ideology. These sites are not aimed at young people from Syria, the Gulf, or Malaysia, or Muslim youth anywhere else… They focus only on the [Saudi] kingdom and on Saudi youth. This explains why the common denominator in all world terrorism is the involvement of young Saudis.

Saudi royal advisers, after reviewing the state’s curriculum a few years ago, concluded: “[The Saudi official religious curriculum] encourages violence toward others, and misguides the pupils into believing that in order to safeguard their own religion, they must violently repress and even physically eliminate the ‘other.’” The official Saudi ideology — known as Wahhabism — in which Saudi students are steeped from a young age, demonizes the West and the religious “other.”

Saudi teens have, for years, been instructed by state school textbooks that claim that “fighting unbelief…and those who perpetrate it” is “one of the noblest acts, which brings one closer to God, and one of the most magnificent acts of obedience to God.” The word for “fighting” here is “qital,” derived from “qatala” or “to kill,” and which has virtually no metaphorical meaning in Arabic. Enmity between Saudi Wahhabiists and others is exalted as a sacred duty from first grade through twelfth.

Predictably, this kind of indoctrination results in droves of young Saudi men ready and willing to enlist for suicide missions against infidels and heretics throughout the world. Surely the Saudi media commentators know about the state-sponsored indoctrination, and have views on how to revise the educational system. But an open, sustained, and in depth debate on these issues is yet to be permitted inside Saudi Arabia. Simply raising critical questions is pressing the envelope. By venturing for answers that would fault the Kingdom’s Wahhabi education, one would risk arrest for blasphemy or related charges.

The Saudi state has responded to these developments by quietly going from country to country, begging foreign authorities to release the Saudi prisoners, including the 16 Saudis who were released this month from Guantanamo, and by making a show of “re-educating” them.

Moreover, Saudi officials continue to aver that the educational curriculum has been reformed, just as they have ever since 9/11. In what has become an annual ritual, the State Department takes Saudi avowals on faith, giving assurances of Saudi educational reform, though (in spite of many requests to do so) it has not yet, independently and comprehensively, reviewed the educational texts.

And, of course, this year is no different. On September 14, the State Department’s religious-freedom ambassador stated: “[I]n the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah called for increased religious tolerance, and the government took steps to remove intolerant references toward other religious groups from educational materials.”

While the State Department’s assessment is possibly technically accurate, the Saudi state curriculum continues to require a complete overhaul. It does not help Saudi reformers — or American security — to gloss over this fact.

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