Ending Appeasement in the Kingdom
"An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him
last," Winston Churchill once said. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is
learning this the hard way. After decades of appeasing Islamic
extremism in the heart of the Arab world -- and believing such a
policy essentially immunized it against terrorism -- it's reeling
from an unexpected, painful bite.
On May 13, several Saudi-born operatives of Osama bin Laden's al
Qaeda network stunned the Saudi capital, Riyadh, with a suicide
bombing that killed 20 and wounded hundreds including Saudi
Muslims. More attacks in the holiest of Muslim lands by entrenched
al Qaeda cells appear likely, prompting Riyadh officials to raise
their terrorism alert to its highest level.
After successes in Afghanistan, Yemen and Iraq, the war on
terrorism has landed squarely on Saudi Arabia's doorstep.
Regrettably, this comes as no surprise.
For years, the Saudis have tolerated Islamic radicals. They turned
a blind eye to the fundamentalist Wahhabi branch of Islam, which
preaches violence and exports extremism and hatred worldwide
through mosques and madrassas (Islamic religious schools). They
allowed Saudi charitable organizations to fund terrorism
Of course, we should remember that Osama bin Laden is Saudi and
that as many as 10,000 of his countrymen fought with the Taliban in
Afghanistan. No one knows how many of the more than 80,000
individuals who passed through al Qaeda's training camps in
Afghanistan were Saudi. But we know 15 of the Sept. 11th hijackers
were among them.
Long in denial about militancy in its homeland, the Saudi royal
family finds itself in the terrorist crosshairs. It must, once and
for all, directly confront its homegrown extremists and root them
out. For Islamic fundamentalism poses a grave threat not only to
the West, but to the Saudi kingdom as well.
The Saudi government should immediately increase security at likely
civilian targets and act more decisively on intelligence tips.
Ignoring even one request from U.S. officials for better security
before last week's attack would have been bad enough; the Saudis
It was no one-time lapse. Saudi authorities have been uncooperative
in investigating past attacks against Americans, including the
Khobar Towers bombing in 1996, which killed 19 airmen, and the
Sept. 11th attacks. The kingdom reportedly spirited a number of its
citizens out of the United States after 9/11 before it could be
determined if they had information about the hijackers.
This time, Saudi mabaheth (terrorist police) should cooperate fully
with the United States and grant full access to suspects, witnesses
and evidence on the bombings. Any leads that result could be
critical in preventing future attacks.
But more must be done. Riyadh should shut off the unregulated flow
of money leaving Saudi Arabia for the pockets of terrorists. A
report submitted to the U.N. Secretary General by an independent
consultant on terrorism financing shows that, over the last decade,
Saudi "religious charities" have channeled up to $500 million to
terrorist groups including al Qaeda and Hamas, which orchestrated
the recent suicide bombings in Israel.
Inhibiting the flow of cash is crucial. Terrorism needs capital,
and it can spread misery fairly cheaply: The 9/11 operation cost al
Qaeda approximately $500,000 to conduct. Since then, approximately
$134 million in terrorist money has been identified and frozen
worldwide -- a fraction of the total amount available to finance
such attacks. As long as terrorists have money, they're
Saudi officials also should crack down on the terrorists and their
supporters. They can start by dismantling the pervasive radical
Islamist infrastructure in the Kingdom that has propagated the
ideology of hatred and terror at home and abroad, including the
mosques and the militant media organizations.
Addressing the root causes of terrorism is also important, and that
means the kingdom must reform its social and political system.
Declining living standards, increasing unemployment and the lack of
basic civil liberties fuel the engine of terrorism. The Saudi
people deserve a more open and accountable government.
Nineteen months into the anti-terrorism war, Saudi Arabia is
finally getting a wake-up call: No one is immune. The Saudis have
pledged their full cooperation in the war on terrorism -- and the
world deserves nothing less. It's high time we bagged this
Brookes, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense,
is a senior fellow for national security affairs at The Heritage
Moving on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire