Saudi leaders agonize: Where did Wahabism go wrong?

Thursday, July 3, 2003

ABU DHABI Saudi leaders are planning to revise the ruling Wahabi ideology said to have spawned Al Qaida and related insurgency movements.

On Tuesday, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef Bin Abdul Aziz cited what he termed extremist ideas among young Saudis for the emergence of the Al Qaida network in the kingdom. Prince Nayef said these ideas have deviated from mainstream Islam and led to the attacks in Saudi Arabia, Middle East Newsline reported.

"Why are these things happenings?" Prince Nayef told the Shura Council on Tuesday. "What are the motives behind them? We need to ask: Did the source of this ideology come from this land or was it imported from outside?

Was it the result of fanatical ideas from people who have been brainwashed? Or is it a combination of factors, inside and out? But above all, how powerful is this ideology and how widespread is it?"

"They blame us for being Wahabis," Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz told military commanders on Tuesday. "Everybody knows who was Mohammed Bin Abdul Wahab. He was a worldly man who studied Islamic culture in India, Pakistan and Egypt."

Nayef said the kingdom must focus on the beliefs and behavior of young Saudis. He said a government priority is to return these youngsters to what he termed the straight path of the Muslim nation.

"We have witnessed the criminal acts of some of our youth, who are citizens of this country," Nayef said. "They have killed people, destroyed property and terrorized families. If a person does something wrong and is convinced it is right, then we have to look at the root causes."

Saudi leaders said Al Qaida and related insurgency groups have distorted Wahabi beliefs and focused only on jihad. They said this has hurt both the domestic and foreign interests of the kingdom.

Western diplomatic sources said the Saudi royal family have discussed the prospect of removing elements of Wahabi doctrine taught in mosques and schools around the kingdom. They said Saudi security and intelligence agencies have concluded that Wahabi teachings were exploited to launch insurgency operations against the kingdom.

So far, up to 1,000 Saudi clerics regarded as being linked to Al Qaida have been either dismissed or restricted in their activities, the sources said. They said Riyad has also drafted regulations that would restrict the references to jihad, or holy war, in radio and television broadcasts.

Saudi officials, who have not denied the report, said at least 124 people were arrested in the kingdom since the May 12 suicide strikes by Al Qaida in Riyad. The suicide bombings against Western compounds killed 35 people, eight of them Americans.

Many of those arrested, the officials said, were minors who had been recruited by Al Qaida. They said in many cases the parents were either uninformed or pressured into allowing their children to help carry weapons or relay messages within the Al Qaida network.

Nayef said the recent crackdown of Al Qaida suspects included many foreign nationals. He said many of the suspects were under age 25 and appeared to have been brainwashed.

Saudi Arabia has also bolstered its security and intelligence apparatus. King Fahd appointed Prince Faisal Ibn Abdullah Bin Mohammed Al Saud as deputy national intelligence chief. The Saudi Royal Court said in a statement that Al Saud will be responsible to Prince Nawaf, appointed chief of domestic intelligence in August 2001.

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