INTERNATIONAL

Riyadh sees campaign to malign nation

Washington DEC. 4. The Government of Saudi Arabia went on a diplomatic and public relations offensive, denying that it is funding terror groups and contesting the argument that it has not done enough in the war against terrorism.

"We believe that our country has been unfairly maligned. We believe we have been subjected to criticism that we do not deserve'', the Kingdom's foreign policy advisor, Abdel Al-Jubeir, remarked here, going on to make the point that the anti-Saudi campaign "borders on hate''.

The public relations exercise took place at the Saudi Arabian embassy where the Crown Prince's foreign policy advisor lashed out at critics by saying that unfair targeting of the Kingdom was playing directly into the hands of Osama bin Laden. Mr. Al Jubeir argued that more than 2,000 terror suspects had been questioned and more than 100 were in detention. If Saudi Arabia is seen to be going the distance in making its point of view heard in the United States, it is partly on account of recent reports alleging that members of the royal family may have at least inadvertently and indirectly financially helped two terrorist hijackers responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Some of the focus in this country has been on the effectiveness of Saudi Arabia in keeping an eye on the money going to overseas charitable institutions. The perception in some quarters is that much of the funds is being used for terrorist purposes and to institutions that teach hate and violence which eventually transforms into anti-American feelings.

Mr. Al Jubeir disputed reports that his Government is doing a poor job of keeping money from terrorists. The top foreign policy advisor took the position that in all the investigations, there was no direct link between charity groups and terrorism. Further, a report issued by the Saudi Arabian embassy here points to the fact that three Al-Qaeda cells had been broken up and more than 30 accounts totalling $5.5 millions have been frozen.

The counter arguments and protestations of Saudi Arabia are unlikely to have any lasting impact in some sections of Capitol Hill where Republicans and Democrats are blaming the Kingdom for not doing enough in the war against terror; and the Bush administration for not fully pursuing the funding trail of the Sept. 11 terrorists.

While the State Department was quick to praise the Saudi Government in the aftermath of Mr. Al Jubeir's press conference, at least two leading lawmakers in the Senate Intelligence Committee — who routinely receive classified and closed door briefings from the nodal intelligence agencies — have said that a lot more needs to be done both by Saudi Arabia and the Bush administration. "The Bush administration and the Saudis have done a masterful job of turning attention away from... the trail that leads to the possibility that a foreign government provided support to some of the September 11 hijackers'', Senator Bob Graham, the outgoing Chairman of the Intelligence Committee remarked. "If, in fact, there is such a trail it leads to some very significant questions'', he said. According to Senator Richard Shelby, the incoming Chairman, the Bush administration should pursue whether members of the Saudi royal family financed terrorists "either directly or indirectly'', going on to say that Saudi Arabia has cooperated to some extent "but probably begrudgingly. And I'm not sure how thoroughly''.

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