Search form

Last updated: 11 min 10 sec ago

You are here

Saudi Arabia

Henry Jackson Society criticized for spurious Saudi report

JEDDAH: The UK-based Henry Jackson Society’s recent report on foreign-funded Islamist extremism in the UK has come in for a lot of flak from leading and credible experts.
They have described it as a “cut-and-paste job” with no original reporting, and dismissed the allegations against Saudi Arabia as “unfounded.”
Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, told Arab News that the methodology employed by the report’s author Tom Wilson is extremely flawed.
“For example, take a look at some of the claims the report makes about Saudi Arabia, that it’s funneling hundreds of millions of dollars to fund extremist centers throughout the world, and specifically in England. They don’t back up that accusation with any accurate data,” he said.
“In the recent Manchester terror attacks, the perpetrator was associated with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), which is connected to Ali Al-Sallabi, a Qatari-financed terror supporter. That’s the hard fact, and it’s unfortunate that the Henry Jackson Society didn’t look at the data as it exists.”
Sir John Jenkins, executive director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies – Middle East, said the report lacks original research.
“Virtually all the things it says are taken from secondary sources. This means the report takes a lot of things from newspaper reports and from Innes Bowen’s book about mosques in the UK, which came out about four years ago,” Sir John told Arab News.
“As far as I can see, there’s very little, if any, original research. It’s a bit of a cut-and-paste job. It’s very superficial.”
He said the report fails to distinguish between funding from private individuals or semi-autonomous institutions such as the Muslim World League (MWL) and the World Association of Muslim Youth (WAMY), and official Saudi government funding.
“If you can’t distinguish between official funding and private, you’re confusing the issue rather than clarifying it,” he said.
Shahbandar defended Saudi Arabia’s solid track record in countering terrorism. “I’m a counterterrorism specialist and worked in the US defense sector for nearly a decade. The Kingdom was an important partner in countering the financial, operational and ideological foundations that international terror networks need to thrive,” he said.
It is “really unfortunate” that the Henry Jackson Society would take “such a lopsided, anti-Saudi position,” he said.
The report does not take into account the vast Saudi efforts over the past 16 years to actively counter radical extremist ideology, said Shahbandar.
“The religious leadership in Saudi Arabia has actively denounced foreign fighters, suicide attacks and groups such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh. Frankly, the accusations against the Kingdom don’t hold water.”
While Sir Jenkins thinks the timing of the report’s release is “coincidental,” Shahbandar finds it “highly suspicious.”
Sir Jenkins said: “The way it has been presented in the press clearly has been influenced by the current crisis within the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council).”
Shahbandar sees the timing as suspicious because it came in the wake of the pressure on Qatar from the Anti-Terror Quartet to stop financing terror groups.
“On the day of its release two days ago, the Qatari-controlled media was replaying the report. It’s very clear the Qataris were attempting to use this report as leverage,” he said.
“We all know the demands that have been made of Qatar to counter terrorism. There’s the issue of Qatar’s extensive and documented financial support for key terror finance facilitators operating in Doha to this day. The fact that this report is coming out at this time and making these kinds of accusations against the Kingdom, coupled with the fact that the Qatari-backed satellite media is actively giving airplay to these accusations, specifically to the accusations against Saudi Arabia, make the timing of the report’s release highly suspicious.”
Shahbandar said the report does not take into account the enormous amount of intelligence sharing by Riyadh with Western nations that led to the thwarting of many terror attacks.
“It was because of Saudi Arabia’s help that Western intelligence was able to break up a major plot by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) that targeted airlines. That was in large part due to the partnership of the Saudi government and its security services with the UK and the US,” said Shahbandar.
“Saudi Arabia has exerted a great deal of effort to ensure that no illicit money ever goes from private hands in the Kingdom into the hands of extremist groups. So for the report to make the accusation that Saudi Arabia is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to spread extremism is not only utterly false, it’s libelous.”
Shahbandar said his message to the Henry Jackson Society is “to talk to the Saudis, which clearly they haven’t done. They should’ve traveled to Saudi Arabia and see the progress that has been made. Obviously, they weren’t interested in the Saudi side. Unfortunately, it certainly looks like (they had an agenda).”
The Henry Jackson Society has in the past been criticized for dubious reporting and funding. In January this year, the Sunday Times exposed it for being paid by Japan to wage a propaganda campaign against China.
“The Henry Jackson Society’s deal with the Japanese Embassy in London was reached in response to growing cooperation between Britain and China, advocated by George Osborne when he was chancellor of the exchequer,” said the newspaper report.
Sir Jenkins said the Henry Jackson Society produces “some good” stuff and “some not good” stuff. “It’s usually thought of not as a right-wing but as a libertarian right-wing think-tank.”
Shahbandar said it has hosted some notable roundtables in the UK. “They published some well-researched papers in the past. It’s really unfortunate that they’d publish this against Saudi Arabia, and in a manner that’s clearly biased and not at all well-researched,” he said.
“When you look at the accusations they make against Saudi Arabia, it just doesn’t read as analysis. They’re simply stating accusations without backing them up with hard data. It raises some serious questions (about their credibility).”

MORE FROM Saudi Arabia