Saudi Ambassador Responds to Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing
(WASHINGTON, DC) – Ambassador to the United States Prince Turki Al-Faisal issued the following statement in response to remarks and testimony at the November 8 hearing of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary regarding the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia:
After reviewing the testimony and remarks made at the November 8 hearing by members of the United States Senate Judiciary Committee and respective witnesses, there are a number of important facts that have been overlooked which should be recognized, especially considering the close partnership Saudi Arabia and the United States have in the war on terrorism.
As the world has witnessed, Saudi Arabia, like the United States, is a main target of Al-Qaeda. Over the past three years, Al-Qaeda has attacked the Kingdom repeatedly. These terrorists oppose the Saudi government and people because we are trying to move our country forward, to modernize, and become part of the world economy. Al-Qaeda is a cult that has declared war on our country and society. In response, Saudi Arabia and its people have galvanized in an intensive effort to confront the terrorists, those who fund them, and those who condone their actions.
During the past three years, Saudi security forces have killed more than 100 terrorists. The Ministry of Interior issued its latest list of the 36 most-wanted on June 28, 2005, and as of September 30, ten of the terrorists have been arrested or killed. Of the 26 terrorists on the previous most-wanted list issued on December 6, 2003, 24 have been killed or captured. Saudi security forces have succeeded in preventing more than 50 terror attacks, and more than 800 suspects have been arrested. During these operations, thousands of pounds of explosives, large quantities of weapons and ammunition, as well as cash and incriminating documents have been seized. These accomplishments, however, have come at a cost: More than 90 Saudi security officers have been killed and over 200 have been wounded in the line of duty. Our country will be forever grateful for the sacrifices they have made to enhance the safety of our nation.
Despite these relatively recent actions, it is important to recognize that Saudi Arabia has been combating Al-Qaeda for more than a decade. As the final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States confirms, the Kingdom made repeated attempts to capture Osama bin Laden prior to September 11, 2001. Saudi Arabia has also repeatedly worked to foil Al-Qaeda terror attacks inside the Kingdom. Moreover, we have been pursuing bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network since he fled the Kingdom in 1994, after the Saudi government revoked his citizenship.
The Saudi government works closely with other nations, including the US, to increase counterterrorism efforts. We have been working side by side as full partners with US law enforcement specialists and others from around the world.
This cooperation has extended beyond simply combating terrorists. The Kingdom is working with the Departments of State, Treasury and Homeland Security to exchange information and expertise in order to stem the flow of money to terrorists and terrorist organizations.
For our part, the Saudi government has taken steps to tighten control of our banking system to ensure that the generosity of our citizens cannot be abused. Saudi Arabia has put in place world-class regulations and financial control mechanisms, and implemented the 40 recommendations on money laundering and eight recommendations on terror financing of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). A report by the FATF, an international body initiated by members of the G-8 countries, concluded that Saudi Arabia now has in place world-class laws and regulations to combat terror financing. According to one official involved in the assessment, the new regulations Saudi Arabia has put in place for Saudi-based charities "probably go further than any country in the world." The Kingdom has even gone so far as to remove donation boxes from mosques and public places.
The Kingdom has frozen suspected bank accounts and implemented a major technical program to train judges and investigators on legal matters involving terror financing.
Taking the immediate and obvious steps of going after the men and the money behind terrorism is simply not enough, which is why the Kingdom has enacted programs to go after the mindset that foments extremism and advocates violence.
The Kingdom is currently in the middle of a multi-year program to update textbooks and curriculums, introduce new teaching methods and provide better training for our teachers. Efforts such as these are important not only for combating extremism, but also for preparing our citizens for the demands of tomorrow as the children of today enter the global community.
These reforms extend to our religious schools as well. Imams are prohibited from incitement and talk of intolerance in our mosques. Those that violate these prohibitions are disciplined, and Saudi Arabia has disciplined or suspended more than 2,000 imams for preaching incitement. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs is further implementing a three-year program to educate imams and monitor mosques and religious education to purge extremism and intolerance.
Outside of our schools and mosques, the Saudi government is using different forms of communication to send a clear and powerful message to our people, and we are taking serious actions to undermine the strength of those who try to misguide our youth. Last February, the Kingdom initiated a public awareness campaign to reinforce the true values of our Islamic faith and to educate our citizens about the dangers of extremism and terrorism. The campaign, conducted over several months, featured advertisements on television, radio and billboards, as well as programs on television, in schools and mosques, and at sporting events. One of the centerpieces of the campaign was a series of public service announcements that aired up to 25 times a day on a number of Arabic satellite networks, including Al-Arabiya, MBC and Future Television, as well as on Saudi TV channels. The size and scope of the campaign was unprecedented, with six government ministries coordinating the development and execution of the programs. The Ministry of Education, for example, sponsored lectures at public schools that promoted moderation and peace, and pointed out the dangers of extremism. No Saudi citizen has been able to escape the message that intolerance, violence and extremism are not a part of our Islamic faith or Saudi culture or traditions.
Our efforts to express this message and enforce it go beyond the borders of the Kingdom, and the Saudi government has taken concrete steps to promote moderation and to make it absolutely clear that there is no place for extremism or terrorism, not only in our nation, but anywhere in the world.
At the initiative of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Islamic thinkers and scholars met in Makkah during the month of September to discuss issues affecting the Islamic world, such as extremism, dealing with others, the issuing of fatwas, and other matters of importance. The discussions led to the issuing of recommendations which will be taken up by the Heads of State of the members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) during their extraordinary summit meeting in Makkah in December. The objective is to articulate the voices of reason in the Muslim world, and drown out the voices of extremism.
Judging by the statements made at the hearing, it appears that the members of the Committee are not fully aware of the significant steps Saudi Arabia has taken in the war on terrorism and extremism, or that they chose to ignore the realities for the sake of political expediency.
To confront the threat of terrorism, the international community must continue to work cooperatively. President Bush, Secretary Rice and others have repeatedly commended Saudi Arabia for its efforts and we have done, and will continue to do, our part. But events like the hearing today do not contribute to a spirit of cooperation and only serve to reinforce negative misconceptions and half-truths. This sends a discouraging message to both the Saudi and American people at a time when we should be trying to promote greater understanding.