War against Qaeda is not an East-West war
WASHINGTON: The Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, said here on Tuesday that the war against Al Qaeda was not one between East and West or Islam and Christianity but a war between forces of enlightenment and darkness.
In his keynote address to the annual conference of the Middle East Institute at the National Press Club, the Saudi envoy also called for the acknowledgment of differences that were real, while bearing in mind that the bonds of common humanity are stronger. The challenge, he said, is to speak up and speak out in order to drown the voices of extremism and intolerance, regardless of their origin. He stressed that the challenge cannot be met by the West alone but only if "we act together as one strong world community, one force for good".
Al-Turki pointed out that "nothing has done more to damage Western and Islamic relations than the uneven handling of affairs between Israel and the Palestinian people," stressing that "the unguarded confusions and vulnerability of the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan as they search for stability have proven to be more ugly breeding grounds for terrorism". He said Al Qaeda has used this unsettled and ongoing turmoil to support its "mantra" of discontent and in the process invoked the name of Islam, the idea of jihad. He said the Arab-Israeli conflict is an "open wound" and it is "this cause above all others that has given lifeblood to this evil cult of hate, that has fed the followers of Al Qaeda". He added, "It is a cause which can no longer be ignored or set aside. At no time in history has the resolution of this problem been more urgent. And at no time in history has the solution been clearer."
Al-Turki said that Saudi Arabia is addressing any misunderstandings about the true meaning and faith of Islam and doing everything to educate people about the true tenets of the faith, which is one of compassion, and peace, not of war and terror. The government had launched an "unprecedented" public awareness campaign to educate Saudi citizens about the dangers of terrorism and extremism. Educational curricula were being updated to remove any material that can be possibly interpreted as advocating intolerance and extremism. He said senior religious scholars speak out actively against any "evil" interpretations of Islam or any mixing of politics with religion. A long-term programme was under implementation to monitor the messages emanating from Saudi mosques and religious schools and to ensure that those messages reflect the true spirit of Islam.
"So far, more than 2,000 imams have been dealt with as a result of this new policy," he added.
He told the conference that the Western media always stress the negative in the Islamic world, while ignoring the positive. As an example he cited a 1999 fatwa given by the Grand Mufti of the Kingdom declaring suicide bombing as being against Islam. The Western media, he said, ignored that important declaration.
In a question-answer session, the ambassador was asked why the Kingdom had not condemned the Iranian president's recent threat to wipe out Israel. He replied that Saudi Arabia talked to Iran directly and preferred not to make such things a "public issue". He also called for engaging rather than isolating Iran. Asked about the fall in the number of Saudi students to America after 9/11, he replied that he had "good news" and the situation had improved. This year, 3,000 Saudi students would come to the United States, a number that he hoped would top 15,000 in the next five years. khalid hasan
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Prince Turki bin Faisal ibn Abdul Aziz Al Saud
HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal was born on the 15th of February, 1945 in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, the eighth and last son of the late Saudi King Faisal. He began his schooling at the Taif Model Elementary and Intermediate School. When he was fourteen, he was sent by his father to study at Lawrenceville School, a prep school in New Jersey. He then graduated in 1963 from Lawrenceville School in New Jersey. Subsequently, he pursued his undergraduate studies at Georgetown (Class of '68). After he left Georgetown, he did some studies in Britain, and then went back to work in the Kingdom.
HRH Prince Turki was appointed an Advisor in the Royal Court in 1973. From 1977 to 2001, he served as the Director General of the General Intelligence Directorate (GID), the Kingdom's main Foreign intelligence service [aka Istakhbarat].
Usama Bin Ladin met the head of the Saudi security service, Prince Turki Ibn Faisal Ibn Abdelaziz in 1978. Bin Laden had begun to associate with Islamic radicals who played on his feelings of inner religious crisis and growing isolation from his family to lead him towards becoming an extremist. He was introduced to local members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who only drove Usama further towards extremism. In 1979 Usama Bin Ladin went to Prince Turki for advice after he became infuriated by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Following Prince Turki's suggestion that Bin Ladin use his financial assets to aid the Afghan resistance, Usama traveled to neighboring Pakistan to wage jihad on the Soviet Union.
Speaking in 2002, he recalled that "In 1976, after the Watergate matters took place here, [the American] intelligence community was literally tied up by Congress. It could not do anything. It could not send spies it could not write reports, and it could not pay money. In order to compensate for that, a group of countries got together in the hope of fighting communism and established what was called the Safari Club. The Safari Club included France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Iran. The principle aim of this club was that we would share information with each other and help each other in countering Soviet influence ... The main concern of everybody was that the spread of communism was taking place while the main country that would oppose communism was tied up. Congress had literally paralyzed the work of not only of the US intelligence community, but of its foreign service as well. And so, the Kingdom, with these countries, helped in some way, I believe, to keep the world safe at the time when the United States was not able to do that. ..... In 1980, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, we in the Kingdom, with the United States, initiated a program of countering the Soviet invasion and helping the Mujahideen to repel the Soviets. I was directly involved in that situation ... if you read the Wall Street Journal, you would think that I invented Bin Laden, and it's not true. When I met him in these functions, he seemed to be a relatively pleasant man, very shy, soft spoken, and, as a matter of fact, he didn't speak much at all. ... [in 1998] I was sent to Afghanistan by King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah to try to get Mullah Omar to hand bin Laden to us.... "
In early 1996 Sudan had offered to extradite bin Laden to Saudi Arabia. President Clinton, hoping the Saudis would take bin Laden and swiftly execute him, called Prince Turki bin Faisal, to consider the plan. The Saudis said no, but Bin Laden soon left Sudan for Afghanistan.
Prince Turki followed up in meetings during the summer of 1998 with Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders. Employing a mixture of possible bribes and threats, he received a commitment that Bin Ladin would be handed over.
By some accounts a moderate group within the Taleban wanted to get rid of Osama bin Laden and establish relations with the United States. Under their pressure, Mullah Omar made a secret agreement to send the al-Qaida leader to Saudi Arabia to stand trial for treason. Prince Turki bin Faisal, then head of Saudi intelligence, says it was a done deal - soon to be undone.
After the Embassy bombings in August 1998, Vice President Gore called Riyadh again to underscore the urgency of bringing the Saudi ultimatum to a final conclusion. After the al-Qaida bombing of two US embassies in Africa, the Clinton administration retaliated with a missile attack on a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan and alleged terrorist camps in Afghanistan. That put an end to Taleban moderation.
In September 1998 Prince Turki, joined by Pakistan's intelligence chief, had a climactic meeting with Mullah Omar in Kandahar. Omar reneged on his promise to expel Bin Ladin. When Turki angrily confronted him, Omar lost his temper and denounced the Saudi government. The Saudis and Pakistanis walked out.
On 31 August 2001 Prince Turki departed from the Saudi Intelligence Services. The official announcement stated that "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd bin Abdulaziz yesterday relieved Prince Turki Al-Faisal bin Abdulaziz, upon his own request, from his post as Chief of General Intelligence." The resignation came to some as a surprise, though others familiar with the Minister's situation expected the resignation eventually, after a quarter of a century on the job. The precise timing was said to derive from [unstated] circumstances in the Minister's immediate family. The surprise departure came only four months after King Fahd had issued a Royal Decree reconfirming him in the post for four more years. His close ties to Crown Prince Abdallah made him a useful ally and a bulwark against Prince Sultan's influence.
Other speculation focused on the fact that his departure came a few days before September 11th. One conjecture suggested that Turki had found out about the planned attacks and was trying to dissuade bin Laden. His failure to do so, or his failure to report his prior knowledge, could have precipitated his dismissal as intelligence chief.
A few days after 9-11, an aircraft carrying 31 Saudi nationals departed the United States. Some reports claim that among the passengers was Prince Turki bin Faisal. One of Prince Turki's brother was also said to be on board the flight.
In November 2001 the Arab station MBC carried an unusual hourlong interview with Prince Turki bin Faisal. The prince voiced support for the American effort in Afghanistan. "America is not there to occupy Afghanistan," he said. "It is there to fulfill a certain purpose stemming from the events that occurred over a month ago."
In November 2001 Prince Turki bin Faisal told the New York Times that while Saudi Arabia country regarded Saddam Hussein as one of the world's most active terrorists, it would not support any attack on Iraq by coalition forces. "You target Saddam Hussein, and no one will object. But bombings like the ones we saw against Iraq in 1998, or like the ones we've seen now in Afghanistan, with so-called collateral bombings, when bombs hit innocent people, will have very bad implications," he said.
On 15 August 2002, he was one of three Saudi princes sued for allegedly helping to finance the terrorist attacks of 11th September 2001, the other two being Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz and Prince Mohammed bin Faisal. The lawsuit sought damages from members of the Saudi royal family, Saudi banks and Saudi corporations, who had extensive financial holdings in the US. Among the defendants were two prominent members of the Saudi royal family, Prince Sultan bin Abdelaziz al-Saud, the defense minister, and Prince Turki bin Faisal, Saudi ambassador to Britain. The suit alleges that Prince Sultan "publicly supported and funded several Islamic charities that were sponsoring Osama bin Laden" and that Prince Turki negotiated a deal in which Al Qaeda agreed to end efforts to subvert the Saudi monarchy in exchange for a Saudi promise not to extradite terrorist leaders.
During the consultations with official agencies investigating 11 September attacks, Sheikh Dr Abdullah bin Abdul Mohsin Al Turki [no relation], secretary general of the World Islamic League and former Saudi religious affairs minister, stated that "those in authority (the wulat al-amr) are the ulema and the political leaders", appearing to equate the royal family and the religious establishment.
Prince Turki Al Faisal responded that " ... the Sheikh's comment struck me as strange. Never before has such an opinion been expressed in our country. In the Shi'ite world this is the equivalent of Imam Khomeini's questionable teachings about velayat-e faqih. But I do not subscribe to this view, since power resides in the political leadership, and the ulema serve solely in an advisory capacity."
Prince Turki commented in the independent, pro-government, English-language, Arab News (18 September 2002): "Saudi Arabia has worked with the United States for the past 70 years. Both countries have benefited from this enduring partnership. Remember that we face the same threat: Bin Ladin targeted Saudi Arabia before he targeted America. Al-Qa'ida has thousands of followers from more than 60 countries, including those of many U.S. allies. That he chose 15 Saudis for his murderous gang, many of whom, he boasted, did not even know the ultimate goal of their mission, can only be explained as an attempt to disrupt the close relationship between our two countries.... There are those in America who condemn all Saudi Arabians as uncivilized, close-minded and barbaric. But such blanket accusations are not worthy of the American people.... Let us deny extremists the victory of undermining our partnership. Instead, let us remain strong, and, whatever shortcomings we see in each other, let us confront them and overcome them together in a spirit of mutual respect and openness."
In 2002, he was appointed the Ambassador of The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and took up his post on 28 January 2003.
In March 2004 it was reported that information assembled by German intelligence analysts revealed that a pair of private Saudi companies linked with suspected Al Qaeda cells in Germany and in Indonesia also had connections to the Saudi Arabian intelligence agency and its longtime chief, Prince Turki bin Faisal.
On 19 January 2005 a US federal judge dismissed Saudi Arabia from 9/11 suits. Richard Casey ruled that Saudi Arabia, Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan Prince Turki al-Faisal, and the country's ambassador to Britain HRH Prince Turki Al-Faisal, all had immunity from the litigation.
On 20 July 2005 the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques issued his orders to start the process of nominating HRH Prince Turki Al-Faisal for the post of Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United States of America.
His Royal Highness is involved in a number of cultural and social activities. He is one of the founders of the King Faisal foundation and is the Chairman of the King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies, a group founded in 1983 to promote an expanded dialogue within Islam and between Islamic and Christian and Jewish groups. Some accounts claim that Prince Turki is affiliated with the fundamentalist and anti-American wing of the royal family, with sympathies to Osama bin Laden, but these seem to be in error. Indeed, he must be considered one of the most Westernized of the Saudi leaders.
He is Chairman of the board of The Prince Charles Visual Islamic and Traditional Arts Centre as well as the co-chair of the C100 Group which is affiliated with the World Economic Forum since 2003.
Among those frequently mentioned to succeed the current generation of kings are Prince Saud bin Faisal, a grandson of Abdelaziz and son of the late King Faisal who has been foreign minister since 1975; and his brother, Prince Turki bin Faisal.
The Saudi royal family has a distressingly limited number of favoriate names, distributed across a distressingly large number of men. It is thus neccessary to consider the full string of patronymics to disambiguate among the thousands of royal princes. This should not be confused with Prince Turki bin Faisal bin Saad bin Abdul Rahman Al Saud, who died on 23 December 2002 in a Swiss hospital. He was 50 years old, and had been suffering from an illness for a long time. Nor should he be confused with Prince Turki bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, one of the immediate sons of Ibn Saud so-called Sudairi Seven.
MIM: Applicants with names similar to hijackers have to wait longer for U. S. visa while reporter for 'moderate' Arab publication tears up visa application at press conference and publicly lambastes American ambassador.
Treat Us Like Human Beings, Saudi Reporter Tells US Ambassador
Raid Qusti, Arab News
RIYADH, 8 December 2005 Omar Al-Zubaidi, a well-known reporter for the Arabic satellite channel "Al-Arabiya", ripped his visa application and other papers in two in front of the American ambassador at a press conference. He had been told to submit the application and other documents to the US Embassy in Riyadh but he tore them up, saying, "We do not want your visa!"
The reporter complained to the ambassador about the abuse and humiliation he experienced when he went to apply for a business visa to the US. He said that he and another colleague were called "animals" by an embassy employee at the front gate. He told the ambassador that Saudi citizens were often mistreated and dealt with rudely when they applied for US visas. He demanded that they should be respected "as human beings."
"One of the employees told my colleague and me while we were waiting in line to enter the embassy grounds, The animals go back,' referring to Saudi citizens," Al-Zubaidi said. "Thank you Mr. Ambassador. We do not want your visa," he said, before he ripped the papers in two. "I can do my business elsewhere. I can go to Europe; I do not need to go to the US."
Al-Zubaidi then went on to address a sore point with many Saudis who have been accepted for study at American colleges and universities. "What is happening is a pity and a shame. Many Saudi students from remote villages and towns have had to come to Riyadh to apply for their visas. The Jeddah visa section is closed and no one knows when it will reopen. These students dream of studying in the US and returning to the Kingdom with a degree. Some of them have had to sleep in mosques because they have no money for hotels. And after all this, they are then abused and humiliated at the US Embassy."
The US ambassador, James C. Oberwetter, apologized to the reporter for what happened and said that such a thing was "unacceptable. I deeply regret hearing that you were badly treated. This is something we will not tolerate." He promised to investigate the matter.
During the press conference, the US Ambassador and the US Consul General explained to the press the problems of issuing visas to large numbers of Saudi students and the immense pressure on the embassy to process them.
In a press release the US Embassy said that up through Dec. 1, the embassy processed almost 700 student visas for study in the United States; in the entire year of 2004, only 647 student visas were issued. The total number of visas issued to Saudis increased from 16,004 in 2004 to 27,657 so far in 2005.
In a statement released to the press, the ambassador said, "It is unfortunate that at a time of increased visa demands, the Consulate in Jeddah had to suspend visa services on Nov. 13 due to security concerns. We have asked the Saudi government to help us address these concerns."
At present, no visas either student or tourist are being issued in Jeddah.
The ambassador said that Saudis "should be patient and plan well ahead" when applying for US visas. A request for an interview for a visa takes eight weeks and beyond that, another week is needed to obtain the visa after the passport has been collected from the applicant.
The statement said that students who had not yet received visas for their academic studies in January 2006 should request delayed admission to the US.
Replying to an Arab News inquiry about the questions Saudis are asked in the personal visa interview, the ambassador said that everyone was treated the same, without exception. "The questions that are being asked are because of new procedures. We realized that our old procedures did not work," the ambassador said, referring to the Saudis who entered the US and carried out the 9/11 attacks. He said that the US Embassy, along with the Saudi Ministry of Higher Education, was seeking ways to "smooth" the way for the large number of Saudi students who have been accepted for study in the US.
In response to a question about the number of Saudis who had complained that they had had to wait longer than usual for a visa because their names were similar to those of the 9/11 terrorists, the Consul General said that normally the process of evaluating papers takes two weeks after submission.