Jonathan Manthorpe: Saudi Arabia funding fuels jihadist terror

Big chunks of the country’s huge oil earnings have been spent on spreading a violent and intolerant variety of Islam


Where Wahhabi teachings venture, violence soon follows. This anonymous group in the Caucasus area of southern Russia vowed on YouTube to fight back against armed Wahhabi-inspired Caucasus militants. The Black Hawks emerged in mountainous Kabardino-Balkariawith a dramatic promise to destroy “bearded Islamists” on an eye -for-an-eye principle. AFP/Getty Images files Photograph by: - , AFP/Getty Images

The ultimate responsibility for recent atrocities like the Boston Marathon bombing and the butchering last week of an off-duty British soldier is very clear. It belongs to Saudi Arabia. Over more than two decades, Saudi Arabia has lavished around $100 billion or more on the worldwide promotion of the violent, intolerant and crudely puritanical Wahhabist sect of Islam that the ruling royal family espouses.

The links of the Boston bombers and the London butchers to organizations following the Saudi royal family’s religious line are clear. One of the two London butchers, Nigerian-born Michael Adebolajo, was radicalized by the cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, who headed the outlawed terrorist group Al-Muhajiroun. The group follows Wahhabist teachings and advocates unifying all Muslims, forcibly if necessary, under a single fundamentalist theocratic government. Similarly, the Boston bombers, Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev, hailed from Russia’s southern predominantly Muslim province of Chechnya. Starting in the late 1980s, Saudi Arabia began dispatching Wahhabist clerics and radical preachers to Chechnya. The spread of Wahhabism sparked not only a separatist war against the Russians, but also a good deal of violence among Muslims. Wahhabism is now institutionalized in Chechnya and is particularly attractive to young men. There are similar strands leading back to Wahhabist indoctrination in the histories of very many of the known Muslim terrorists of the last 20 years. The founder of the sect, Muhammad ibn abd al-Wahhab, was an eighteenth century Muslim zealot allied to the Al-Saud clan who promoted an extreme version of Salafism. Salaf is the Arab word meaning pious ancestor and refers to those who attempt to emulate the pure Islamic life of the Prophet Muhammad and his generation of followers. But Wahhab and his modern disciples take this notion to extremes. The list of people whom Wahhabists should consider their enemies includes not only Christians, Jews, Hindus and atheists, but also Shiite, Sufi and Sunni Muslims. And yet no western politicians seem prepared to accept the obvious. The chances of disaffected young men being drawn into the evil web of Wahhabist murderous extremism would be significantly decreased if the Saudi funding was blocked. The Saudis began exporting Wahhabism in the early 1970s when the country’s oil wealth began growing at an ever-increasing rate.

The amount the Saudi royal family, both by government donations and the generosity of individual princes, now lavishes on Wahhabist schools, colleges, mosques, Islamic centres and the missionary work of fundamentalist imams around the world is extraordinary. In 2003, a United States Senate committee on terrorism heard testimony that in the previous 20 years Saudi Arabia had spent $87 billion on promoting Wahhabism worldwide. This included financing 210 Islamic centres, 1,500 mosques, 202 colleges and 2,000 madrassas (religious schools). Various estimates put the amount the Saudi government spends on these missionary institutions as up to $3 billion a year. This money smothers the voices of moderate Muslims and the poison flows into every Muslim community worldwide. Key figures in the September 2001 attacks on the United States were radicalized at mosques in Germany. Britain is now reckoned by some to be the worst breeding ground anywhere for violent Muslim fundamentalists Indian newspapers recently reported Saudi Arabia has a massive $35 billion program to build mosques and religious schools across South Asia, where there are major Muslim communities in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the divided territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Indian police and Central Intelligence officers were quoted as saying their information came from American intelligence agencies. There are unconfirmed reports that Saudi Arabia and members of the royal family have donated millions of dollars to fund mosques and Islamic centres in Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary and Quebec. The money, and the emphasis on Wahhabist teaching that comes with it, has caused sharp divisions among Canadian Muslims. Over the years, there have been repeated complaints to Saudi Arabia about its funding of radical indoctrination. But while there has been some toning down of the most inflammatory language in the Wahhabist texts the Saudi’s disperse, the overall message of the propaganda program has changed little.

Where the Saudi government has retreated under pressure from Washington is in the direct funding of terrorist organizations. It is widely believed by western intelligence agencies that in the 1980s and 90s, the Saudi government had a deal with Wahhabist terrorist groups like al-Qaida that their fundraising would not be hindered so long as they only operated in foreign countries. However, after the terrorist attack on a residential compound for foreigners in Riyadh in May, 2003, the Saudi government began a crackdown on terrorism. But even though the Saudi government ended official support for groups like al-Qaida, the Taliban and the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, private donations from Saudi Arabia still find their way to these and similar groups. But when all is said and done, curbing direct payments to terrorist groups is a small matter when so many billions of dollars continue to be directed at creating terrorists.

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