Daily Archives: June 20, 2017

Saudi Arabia: World’s Human Rights Sewer by Douglas Murray

Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, sentenced to be crucified, was accused of participating in banned protests and firearms offenses — despite a complete lack of evidence on the latter charge, and he was denied access to lawyers. Al-Nimr is also alleged by human rights groups to have been tortured and then forced into signing a confession while in custody.
Not only are the Saudi authorities preparing to crucify someone — in 2015 — whom they tortured into making a confession; they are preparing to crucify someone who was a minor at the time of arrest.
Alas not a week goes by without Saudi Arabia demonstrating to the world why they retain their reputation as one of the world’s foremost human rights sewers.
Crucifixion is a punishment which, it would appear, is not only Sharia-compliant but also — we must assume — Geneva-compliant.
The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva is an organization that may be easy to critique, but it is very hard to satirize. Ordinarily, if you told anyone that there was a place in Switzerland where Sudan, Iran and others of the world’s worst dictatorships and human rights abusers have their views on human rights treated with respect and deference, you would assume the script was written by Monty Python. Idi Amin would make an appearance at some point to share his views on how to improve equal conditions for women in the workplace. Pol Pot would crop up in order to castigate those countries where living standards had not been sufficiently raised in accordance with global averages.
Everything that happens in Geneva is beyond satire. But last week provides a demonstration, outrageous even by the standards of the UN. For this week, it came out – thanks to the excellent organization UN Watch — that Saudi Arabia has been appointed as the head of a key UNHRC panel. This panel selects the top officials who shape international standards in human rights; it is intended to report on human rights violations around the world. The five-member group of ambassadors, which Saudi Arabia will now head, is known as the Consultative Group and has the power to select applicants to fill more than 77 positions worldwide that deal with human rights issues. It appears that the appointment of Saudi Arabia’s envoy to the UNHRC, Faisal Trad, was made before the summer, but that diplomats in Geneva have kept silent on the matter since then.
That this appointment had to leak out months after the event raises the possibility that the UNHRC, contrary to popular perception, actually does have some sense of shame. Otherwise, why not shout from the rooftops that Saudi Arabia has won this prestigious position? Why not distribute a press release? After all, Saudi Arabia — and by extension the UNHRC — have nothing to be ashamed of, do they?
Alas not a week goes by without Saudi Arabia demonstrating to the world why they retain their reputation as one of the world’s foremost human rights sewers. Saudi Arabia may have beheaded more people in the last year than ISIS, but only rarely do any of these cases get more than a flicker of international attention. Occasionally a case breaks above the waves of public opinion. One such case is that of the jailed blogger Raif Badawi, sentenced last year to 10 years in jail and 1000 lashes for “insulting Islam.” The plight of Raif Badawi, who has already been served the first 50 lashes, and is being held in prison while awaiting the rest, has garnered international attention and condemnations of Saudi Arabia. The kingdom’s response has been strongly to denounce “the media campaign around the case.”
But the glare of international opinion clearly disturbs the Saudi authorities — a fact well worth keeping in mind. And it is not as though they have nothing to hide. This week brings a case that should get at least as much attention as that of Raif Badawi.
Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was just 17 when he was arrested by the Saudi authorities in 2012, during a crackdown on anti-government protests in the Shia province of Qatif. He was accused of participating in banned protests and firearms offenses — despite a complete lack of evidence on the latter charge. Denied access to lawyers, al-Nimr is alleged by human rights groups to have been tortured and then forced into signing a confession while in custody. Campaigners say that it seems he has been targeted by authorities because of his family association with Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, the 53-year-old critic of the Saudi regime who is his uncle. The Sheikh has also been convicted and sentenced to death. After the confession and “trial,” his nephew was convicted at Saudi’s Specialized Criminal Court and sentenced to death. The trial itself failed to meet any international standards. Al-Nimr appealed against his sentence, but this week that appeal was dismissed. It now seems likely that he and his uncle will now be executed. Because charges include crimes involving the Saudi King and the state itself, it seems likely that the method of death will be crucifixion.

Imprisoned Saudi dissidents Raif Badawi (left) and Ali Mohammed al-Nimr (right).
If this were in any way to cause a flicker of concern among other participants in the UNHRC farce going on Geneva, they have at least some consolation. For in Saudi Arabia crucifixion is not what it used to be. Indeed, in Saudi Arabia crucifixion begins with the beheading of the victim and only then the mounting of the beheaded body onto a crucifix, to make it available for public viewing. This is a punishment which it would appear is not only Sharia-compliant but also — we must assume — Geneva-compliant.
Of course, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr counts as having been a juvenile at the time of his arrest, so not only are the Saudi authorities preparing to crucify someone — in 2015 — whom they tortured into making a confession – they are preparing to crucify someone who was a minor at the time of arrest. Perhaps the authorities at the UNHRC in Geneva do indeed blush when they appoint Saudi officials to head their human rights panels. But it does not seem to affect their behaviour. Just as Saudi authorities think it is “international attention” rather than flogging people to death or crucifying them after beheading that is the problem, so the UNHRC in Geneva seems to think it is public awareness of their grotesque appointments rather than the appointments themselves that are the problem.
The international attention paid to the case of Raif Badawi has not yet seen him released, but it seems to have delayed the next rounds of lashes. Which suggests the Saudi authorities have the capacity to feel some shame. This should in turn be a cause for some hope among everyone who cares about human rights. It should also provide a reminder to everyone to increase global attention on the case of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr and the many others like him who suffer under a government and judicial system that should utterly shame the world outside Geneva, even if it cannot shame the UN.

Saudi Arabia: The Region’s New Superpower by Con Coughlin

The Saudis are planning to establish themselves as the Arab world’s undisputed military superpower…. At this rate Saudi Arabia will soon replace Egypt as the Arab world’s most significant military power.
The Saudi royal family is determined to secure the overthrow of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, one of Iran’s most important regional allies, and any attempt by Riyadh to deepen its involvement in the Syrian conflict is likely to result in direct military confrontation with Iran.
The tragedy of all this for the Obama administration is that, had it not been for its obsession with doing a deal with Iran, Washington could have formed a useful strategic alliance with Riyadh to defeat common foes, such as Islamic State (ISIS,Isil) in Syria and Iraq.
President Barack Obama may have hailed his deal with Iran as an historic breakthrough, but this is not how it is being viewed in Saudi Arabia, where the kingdom has responded to Washington’s attempted rapprochement with Tehran by embarking on a massive military build up.
Saudi Arabia is Iran’s fiercest regional rival, with enmity between the two countries dating back at least to Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, and the Saudi royal family has voiced deep scepticism about the Obama administration’s foreign policy tilt towards Iran. Mr Obama will hear these views most forcefully expressed himself with King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, the Saudi monarch visits Washington this weekend.
In the past, the late Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, consistently spoke out against the dangers of a U.S.-Iran deal, while other senior Saudi security officials have warned that the kingdom would strike out on its own if its interests were threatened by an unsatisfactory nuclear agreement. The most public demonstration of the Saudis’ displeasure came in May when King Salman declined to attend a Camp David summit at which Mr. Obama hoped to reassure Gulf leaders that the Iran protected their interests.
So no one should be surprised that, now that Mr. Obama has signed off his deal with the ayatollahs, the Saudis have embarked on a massive arms build up, one that promises dramatic changes to the military balance of power in the region.
Institutional concerns in Riyadh’s defense establishment over the threat posed by Iran have already resulted in Saudi Arabia having the world’s fourth largest defence budget.A recent study by London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank conservatively estimated Riyadh’s defence spend for 2014 at $59.6 billion, although other assessments have suggested it rose by 17 percent to $80.8 billion. Either way this places Saudi spending above that of Britain, at $57 billion and France’s £52.4 billion (nearly $80 billion).
Now the Saudis are planning to establish themselves as the Arab world’s undisputed military superpower by embarking on a $150 billion defense spending spree that will see the country’s Armed Forces double in size over the course of the next five years.
The new Saudi defense doctrine drawn up by senior military officers in Riyadh proposes a doubling in the size of the air force from its current strength of around 250 combat warplanes to 500. Increases of a similar scale are envisaged for the kingdom’s other armed forces, with the Navy set to see the size of its surface fleet more than double, as well as acquiring its first submarine fleet. Saudi Arabia also wants to acquire a range of sophisticated ballistic missile systems, air defence systems and battle tanks, while the total number of combat ready personnel will rise above the 500,000 mark.
At this rate Saudi Arabia will soon replace Egypt as the Arab world’s most significant military power.
Nor is Saudi Arabia’s huge arms build up confined to conventional weaponry. In a recent interview with the Daily Telegraph in London, Prince Mohammed bin Nawwaf bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Britain, warned that Riyadh would not rule out acquiring nuclear weapons if Washington failed to provide proper safeguards about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“We hope we receive the assurances that guarantee Iran will not pursue this kind of weapon,” explained Prince Mohammed “But if this does not happen, then all options will be on the table for Saudi Arabia.” Nawaf Obaid, a Saudi defence expert and visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center, said: “Saudi Arabia is preparing itself in case Iran develops nuclear weapons.”
Saudi Arabia is known to have close links with Pakistan, where Dr A.Q. Khan, the “father” of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal, is believed to have received Saudi funding for his research into building an atom bomb. Senior U.S. officials have warned Saudi Arabia has recently taken a “strategic decision” to acquire “off-the-shelf” nuclear weapons from Pakistan.
Saudi Arabia’s new arms build-up is being undertaken as a direct response to what many Saudis believe is the Obama administration’s capitulation to Tehran over its nuclear program. The defense doctrine identifies a nuclear-armed Iran as one of the three main threats the kingdom is likely to face in the future, together with terrorism and regional instability.
The new doctrine threatens to change dramatically the military balance of power in the Arab world, a change that is likely to be viewed with deep concern by Israel. Shortly before Mr. Obama announced the nuclear deal with Tehran the Saudis announced they had concluded a $12 billion arms deal with France, including helicopters and naval patrol vessels.
Saudi Arabia’s new policy of military assertiveness was recently demonstrated in the Yemen conflict, where the Saudi military played a decisive role in recapturing the strategically important port of Aden after it was overrun by Iranian-back Houthi rebels. As a result exiled Yemeni Prime Minister Khaled Balah has been able to return to his home country.
After their success in Yemen, the Saudis now intend to focus on Syria, where they are again likely to find themselves in direct conflict with Iranian-backed forces. The Saudi royal family is determined to secure the overthrow of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, one of Iran’s most important regional allies, and any attempt by Riyadh to deepen its involvement in the Syrian conflict is likely to result in direct military confrontation with Iran.
The tragedy of all this for the Obama administration is that, had it not been for its obsession with doing a deal with Iran, Washington could have formed a useful strategic alliance with Riyadh to defeat common foes, such as Islamic State (ISIS, Isil) in Syria and Iraq.
But after the Iran deal, the Saudis now appear determined to go it alone, which means they are likely to pursue aggressive policies in the region that will not necessarily be to Washington’s liking, and over which the Obama administration will be able to exercise precious little influence.
Con Coughlin is Defense Editor of London’s Daily Telegraph and author of “Khomeini’s Ghost: Iran since 1979” (Macmillan)​

Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Politicized UN by Richard Kemp and Jasper Reid

  • The UN’s assertion that the Saudi-led coalition has committed war crimes in Yemen is unlikely to be true. UN experts have not been to Yemen, depending instead on hearsay evidence and analysis of photographs.

  • The UN has a pattern of unsubstantiated allegations of war crimes against the armed forces of sovereign states. Without any military expertise, and never having visited Gaza, a UN commission convicted the Israel Defense Force of deliberately targeting Palestinian civilians in the 2014 conflict. It was an assessment roundly rejected by America’s most senior military officer, General Martin Dempsey, and an independent commission.
  • The Houthis have learned many lessons from Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, groups also supported by Iran. Those lessons include the falsification of civilian casualty figures and their causes. The UN swallowed the fake Gaza figures hook, line and sinker, and are now making the same error in Yemen.
  • The Houthis exploit gullible or compliant reporters and human rights groups to facilitate their propaganda, including false testimony and fabrication of imagery.
  • Forensic analysis shows that rather than deliberately targeting civilians, the Saudis and their allies have taken remarkable steps to minimize civilian casualties.

The United Nations, Amnesty International and other groups have accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in Yemen. A leaked UN report claims the bombing campaign against Iranian-supported Houthi insurgents seeking violently to topple the legitimate government of Yemen has conducted deliberate, widespread and systematic attacks on civilian targets.

If the UN’s assertion is true, and the coalition is deliberately and disproportionately killing thousands of innocent civilians, it is a war crime. But it is unlikely to be true. The UN has produced no actual evidence of war crimes. None of their allegations is based on investigation on the ground. Their experts have not been to Yemen, depending instead on hearsay evidence and analysis of photographs.

The UN has a pattern of unsubstantiated allegations of war crimes against the armed forces of sovereign states. Only last year, without any military expertise, and never having visited Gaza, a UN commission convicted the Israel Defense Force of deliberately targeting innocent Palestinian civilians in the 2014 conflict. It was an assessment roundly rejected by America’s most senior military officer, General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Dempsey’s own findings were confirmed by an independent commission of experienced senior military officers and officials from nine countries. The High Level Military Group found that Israel had not committed war crimes, but had in fact set a bar for avoiding civilian casualties so high that other armed forces would struggle to reach it.

Moreover, last September the UN said that a US airstrike against a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, was “inexcusable” and “possibly a war crime.” Few military forces in the world take greater precautions to prevent civilian casualties on the battlefield than the US. Anyone who has actually experienced combat knows that while such incidents are tragic, when carried out by Western forces, they are far more likely to be the result of human error or the chaos of battle than deliberate war crimes.

There is every reason to believe that the UN is again crying wolf. There is no doubt that thousands are dying in Yemen in horrific circumstances. But we cannot just accept the UN’s figures and its attribution of the proportion of deaths being inflicted by the Saudi coalition. Most of the data comes from the Houthi insurgents, either directly or via non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and is simply accepted as fact. The Houthis have learned many lessons from Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza, groups also supported by Iran. Those lessons include the falsification and distortion of civilian casualty figures and their causes. The UN swallowed the fake Gaza figures hook, line and sinker, and are now making the same error in Yemen.

As with Israel’s defensive campaign in Gaza in 2014, and the continued U.S. military support to the Afghan regime, the Saudis’ war to defend the government of Yemen and curb Iranian aggression in the region is lawful and legitimate. Therefore, the illegality of civilian deaths must be assessed according to the laws of armed conflict, in particular whether adequate precautions were taken to avoid them, whether they were proportionate to the military objectives and whether they were necessary to achieve legitimate military goals. The UN cannot possibly make such judgements without a more far-reaching and thorough investigation, and especially not on the basis of information provided by Saudi Arabia’s enemies and by interpreting photographs.

Most of us do not like the way that the Saudi regime runs their country according to the strict application of Islamic Sharia law, and we abhor their record on human rights. But the Saudi military ethos is well known and understood by Western military leaders, including from the U.S. and UK, who have worked closely with them for many years. The reality is, as our officers currently serving alongside them will attest, that the Saudis and their allies are not deliberately trying to kill innocent civilians. Indeed, they are doing their best to minimize civilian casualties. The question is whether their best is good enough.

Saudi Arabia and its coalition allies have the most sophisticated Western combat equipment, including planes, attack helicopters, drones and precision-guided munitions. But they lack battle experience. The exception to this is the Emirati forces within the coalition. They have had many years of combat experience alongside Western militaries, including in Somalia, Kosovo, Libya and Afghanistan. Because of that, they have acquitted themselves in Yemen with great professionalism and effectiveness at sea, on the ground and in the air.

But the lack of experience of the other coalition members puts them many years behind our own forces in wielding the highly complex 21st century capabilities of intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, communication and targeting.

Yet the coalition faces the same tough challenges that we face on battlefields everywhere. Their Houthi adversaries fight according to the well-developed doctrine of their backers, the Iranian Quds Force. Like Hizballah, Hamas, the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, their techniques include deliberately killing civilians, fighting from within the population and forcing innocents to become human shields.

Completely ignoring the laws of war, they exploit their enemies’ adherence to them. They lure their opponents to attack and kill civilians. They exploit gullible or compliant reporters, international organizations and human rights groups to facilitate their propaganda, including false testimony and systematic fabrication of imagery. The aim is to instigate international condemnation in order to constrain their militarily superior enemies.

We have seen credible forensic analysis of strikes in Yemen that directly contradict the findings of the UN. Forensic analysis shows that rather than deliberately targeting civilians, the Saudis and their allies have taken remarkable steps to minimize civilian deaths. Of note, they have learned much from Israel’s conduct of operations in Gaza. This has included the use of inert munitions to conduct precision attacks against insurgents while seeking to reduce collateral damage.

Why would coalition forces spend vast amounts of money in a cripplingly expensive conflict firing precision strike munitions, and put their valuable pilots at risk, if they wanted to massacre civilians? Why not use much cheaper unguided munitions or Assad’s indiscriminate barrel-bombs?

The overwhelming majority of civilian deaths caused by the Saudi-led coalition have been due not to deliberate targeting, but to inexperienced pilots and unsophisticated intelligence and targeting capabilities in the face of an enemy that fights from within the civilian population. And to the friction, confusion, stress and fog of war that leads even the most sophisticated, experienced and restrained military forces, such as American, British and Israeli, to sometimes kill civilians unintentionally. Contrary to the UN’s claim, this is unlikely to amount to war crimes.

Like every conflict in the Middle East, the war in Yemen is almost intractable, takes a heavy toll on innocent civilians, and is unlikely to end in anything approaching a perfect solution. But Saudi Arabia and its allies are making considerable efforts to restore stability to the country and its legitimate government.

Instability in Yemen undermines Western interests, including oil supplies. Instability also allows Al Qaeda and the Islamic State — proven and lethal threats to the US and the West — to flourish there.

By confronting the Houthis in Yemen, Saudi Arabia is also confronting Iran, which represents an even greater threat to the region and to the world. Emboldened by U.S. President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal, enriched by the release of billions of dollars of previously frozen funds, encouraged by the imminent boost in oil revenues, Iranian imperial aggression is today rampant in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

However unpalatable to many, Saudi Arabia is and will remain a vital ally of the West. We must continue to support them in the fight in Yemen. We must not allow the false, ill-informed and increasingly shrill condemnations by the UN, human rights groups and the media to undermine Saudi’s fighting effectiveness as they have sought to do against other legitimate government forces fighting lawless insurgents in so many other places.

Colonel Richard Kemp was Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan. He served in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the Balkans and Northern Ireland and was head of the international terrorism team for the UK Joint Intelligence Committee. Jasper Reid is a British analyst specializing in politics, defense and international security.

Saudi Arabia’s New Oil Policy by Sabah Khadri

Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed’s vision for Saudi Arabia, the way he puts it, is as a country no longer dependent on oil; with a growing economy and transparent laws, which will consequently give it a strong position in the world.
The prince has already received negative blowback from conservative members of the Al Saud clan. They have been resistant to change in the past and may not appreciate new reforms which might threaten their authority in the country.
The status quo is that Saudis are raised with the conviction that the state will always provide for their needs, healthcare and security, in exchange for their loyalty to the ruling Al Saud clan. However, the recent oil crisis has witnessed many luxuries stripped away from the Saudi people, as the state prepared to deal with a growing budget deficit. The move to impose taxes, a concept alien to the country, is sure to create discontent among ordinary Saudi people.
Saudi Arabia, long associated with oil wealth and extravagance, has decided that time has come for it to revamp its image. Last year, King Salman, 80, ascended the Saudi throne, and since then has unleashed major reforms, introduced a more assertive domestic and foreign policy, and handed over the reins of some of the most significant posts of the Saudi leadership to a younger group of Saudi leaders.
The driving force behind these reforms is the 30-year-old deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, otherwise known as MBS. Prince Mohammed’s vision for Saudi Arabia, the way he puts it, is as a country no longer dependent on oil; with a growing economy and transparent laws, which will consequently give it a strong position in the world. All of this may come across as appealing, but the ability of Prince Mohammed to deliver these reforms depends on several variables. To succeed, Prince Mohammed, although he enjoys a broad mandate, still needs the support of the rest of the country.

Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on May 7, 2015. (Image source: U.S. State Department)
Mohammed’s economic vision for Saudi Arabia, more commonly referred to in Saudi Arabia as “Vision 2030,” essentially intends to introduce major policy and economic reforms by turning its focus towards investments; creating more jobs; privatization; increased exports and creating a sustainable business environment.
Coming amid the oil price crunch in the region, Vision 2030 aims to move away from a dependence on oil and increasing private sector contribution towards the GDP from a current 40% to 65% by 2030, by investing more in sectors such as tourism, healthcare, education and manufacturing; increasing women’s participation in the workforce; reducing the youth unemployment rate, and privatizing major industries, such as the state owned oil company, Aramco.
The Saudi leadership apparently now wishes to turn Aramco into a conglomerate and sell 5% of its share in 2017 simultaneously in the London, Hong Kong and New York stock exchanges. The kingdom has also announced plans to cut subsidies on basic commodities such as water and electricity, in addition to introducing sales and transportation taxes.
As a part of these reforms, King Salman has also reshuffled various ministries, announced new ministers and ousted older ministers. A recent, much talked-about change has been the dismissal as Oil Minister of Ali Al-Naimi, whose name is synonymous with the Saudi oil economy, and who drove the country’s oil policy for the last two decades. He was replaced by the head of Aramco, Khalid Al Falih, who happens to be a close ally of the Crown Prince and relatively new to oil diplomacy.
These reforms are a clear indication that the Saudi government is coming to terms with the reality that, although oil revenues have been a great source of wealth, they have restricted Saudi economic growth and development in other sectors, while turning the country state into a rentier state — a condition that induced systemic and institutional problems in the country, such as lack of transparency, ingrained bureaucracy and growing corruption.
Is it possible, however, for Saudi Arabia, which derives 80% of its revenue from oil income, to break the dependence on oil?
The Saudi manufacturing sector has remained relatively small, with demand driven by limited domestic needs. Furthermore, the lack of an established prominent Saudi industry or alternative manufactured products that could appeal to foreign markets only makes it harder to consider venturing into other manufacturing.
Despite all the developments promised by Prince Mohammed, one question that lingers is the possibility of any of these reforms actually seeing the light of the day. Their success depends on support from Saudi society, which has heretofore provided strong allegiance to the leadership — royals, elites, the Wahhabi religious sect — and most importantly, the Saudi youth. Vision 2030 may call for comprehensive economic reforms, but might be perceived as insensitively turning a blind eye to the political, social, cultural and legal traditions with which it would be tampering. Prince Mohammed has already received negative blowback from conservative members of the Al Saud clan. They have been resistant to change in the past and may not appreciate new reforms which might threaten their authority in the country.
Another concern is how these reforms would be received by the ordinary Saudis. The status quo is that Saudis are raised with the conviction that the state will always provide for their needs, healthcare and security, in exchange for their loyalty to the ruling Al Saud clan. However, the recent oil crisis has witnessed many luxuries stripped away from the Saudi people, as the state prepared to deal with a growing budget deficit. The move to impose taxes, a concept alien to the country, is sure to create discontent among ordinary Saudi people. It is still unclear how reforms might affect and perhaps reinvent the social contract in the country.
Reforms to diversify the economy while an environment for growth, development and transparency, are much needed. Yet, while Prince Mohammed’s vision seems ambitious, it seems to lack concrete plans to achieve that vision. It may require years for change on the social, economic, cultural and political fronts. Until then, new reforms will be pitted against age-old partnerships, as Saudi Arabia rebuilds itself from scratch.
Sabah Khadri, a specialist in international economics, is based in Doha, Qatar.

Saudi Arabia’s Connection to Radicalizing British Jihadis by A. Z. Mohamed

  • The probe was to be conducted by the newly established “extremism analysis unit” of the Home Office, then headed by Theresa May, and its findings were due to be published in the spring of 2016. However, more than a year later, the investigation has yet to be completed.

  • Moreover, its contents might not be released to the public, due their “sensitive” nature, rumored to center on Saudi Arabia, Britain’s key ally in the Gulf. Since the U.K. recently approved £3.5 billion-worth of arms export licenses to Riyadh, it is possible — even likely — that any revelations about Saudi promotion of terrorism in the country could be problematic.
  • Mounting evidence suggests that British jihadis are not only groomed in Wahhabi mosques in the U.K., but many visit Saudi Arabia, where they work or study.

In the wake of the London Bridge attack on June 3, which came on the heels of the Manchester Arena bombing, Britain’s approach to combating terrorism has come under scrutiny at home and abroad. Judging by man-in-the-street interviews, it played a significant role in the June 8 general election, the outcome of which — a victory for Prime Minister Theresa May against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, yet a hung parliament — reflected a split in voter perception over whom was to blame for the country’s precarious security situation and which party is better suited to rectify it.

Although Corbyn has called terrorist groups, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, his “friends,” May not only has been holding the reins since the resignation of former Prime Minister David Cameron in September 2016 — after the Brexit referendum — but she had also served as Home Secretary for six years before that.

A few months earlier, in January, Cameron authorized an investigation into the foreign funding of radical Islamist groups inside Britain. According to a recent report in The Guardian, Cameron agreed to the inquiry, requested by the Liberal Democrat party in exchange for its support for British airstrikes against ISIS to Syria. The probe was to be conducted by the newly established “extremism analysis unit” of the Home Office, then headed by May, and its findings were due to be published in the spring of 2016.

However, more than a year later, the investigation has yet to be completed.

Moreover, its contents might not be released to the public, due their “sensitive” nature, rumored to center on Saudi Arabia, Britain’s key ally in the Gulf. Since the U.K. recently approved £3.5 billion-worth of arms export licenses to Riyadh, it is possible — even likely — that any revelations about Saudi promotion of terrorism in the country could be problematic.

During his election campaign, Corbyn attacked May for “suppressing” the report, and called for “some difficult conversations” with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, which have “funded and fueled extremist ideology.”

In a letter to Prime Minister May just over a week ahead of her re-election, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Tom Brake urged that the inquiry be finished and its findings released:

“It is no secret that Saudi Arabia in particular provides funding to hundreds of mosques in the U.K., espousing a very hardline Wahhabist interpretation of Islam. It is often in these institutions that British extremism takes root.”

Brake was correct. Mounting evidence suggests that British jihadis are not only groomed in Wahhabi mosques in the U.K., but many visit Saudi Arabia, where they work or study.

One example is Khalid Masood, the British convert to Islam killed while perpetrating the terrorist attack on Westminster Bridge in March, and which left five innocent people dead. Masood, it emerged, had taken three trips to Saudi Arabia — two of them year-long stints to teach English and a third short visit to the country’s Islamic holy sites. Each time, he was given a visa by the Saudi authorities in Britain, despite having been convicted at least twice for violent crimes and lacking the required academic qualifications and experience for the job he was doing.

Although Saudi consulates require background checks of all visa applicants, Masood was ushered through the process, which is known to be strict. By way of explanation, the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in London claimed that the reason Masood passed its vetting was that he did not have a criminal record in Saudi Arabia. This is, of course, a complete lie, which raises the question of whether Masood fell through the cracks through incompetence or collusion. Either way, the broader issue of Britons being radicalized both at home and abroad by Saudi Arabia urgently needs to be thoroughly examined and exposed.

The Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in London (pictured) claimed that the reason Westminster Bridge terrorist Khalid Masood passed its visa vetting was that he did not have a criminal record in Saudi Arabia. This is, of course, a complete lie, which raises the question of whether Masood fell through the cracks through incompetence or collusion. (Image source: prebano66/Wikimedia Commons)

A.Z. Mohamed is a Muslim born and raised in the Middle East.

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