Henry Jackson Society criticized for spurious Saudi report

Updated 07 July 2017

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).”

Saudi Crown prince’s visit to India will be a landmark event, says Ambassador Ahmad Javed

Updated 18 February 2019

Saudi Crown prince’s visit to India will be a landmark event, says Ambassador Ahmad Javed

  • Talking exclusively to Arab News at the Indian Embassy, the ambassador expressed his joy at the upcoming visit
  • Visit by the crown prince will continue the trend of increased cooperation

RIYADH: Ahmad Javed, the Indian ambassador in Riyadh, believes the visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to India will be a landmark event in the history of “our high-level bilateral engagements and they will certainly take an upward strategic direction.”

Talking exclusively to Arab News at the Indian Embassy in the Riyadh Diplomatic Quarter, the ambassador expressed his joy at the upcoming visit. “I began my posting as ambassador in Saudi Arabia with the visit of the Indian prime minister to Riyadh in April 2016, and I am happy that the visit of the Crown Prince will be my last assignment before ending my time in Saudi Arabia.”

The friendly relationship between India and Saudi Arabia is deeply rooted in a shared history that has been nurtured by personal relationships, said Javed. These links have been further strengthened by the development of trade and commercial ties.

“The historic visit by King Saud to India in 1955 and, prior to that, Crown Prince Faisal’s preparatory visit, plus the reciprocal visit by the first Prime Minister of Independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru, to the Kingdom in 1956, laid the strong foundation for our formal interactions,” he said. “The visit of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to Saudi Arabia in 1982 further improved our bilateral relations.”

Such important official visits have continued, said Javed, and the relationship between the nations has evolved and developed as a result.

“In recent times, the historic visit of King Abdullah to India in 2006 resulted in the signing of the ‘Delhi Declaration,’ which gave a fresh momentum to the bilateral relationship,” he said. “The visit provided the framework for cooperation in many fields of mutual interest. The reciprocal visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Riyadh in 2010 raised the level of bilateral engagement to ‘strategic partnership,’ and the ‘Riyadh Declaration,’ signed during the visit, captured the spirit of enhanced cooperation in the areas of politics, economics, security and defense.”

The relationship deepened in 2014, he added, when a memorandum of understanding on defense cooperation was signed during a visit to India by King Salman, who was at that time the crown prince.

Most recently, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Riyadh in April 2016.

“The visit...was a turning point in our growing engagement with Saudi Arabia,” said Javed. “During the visit, a joint statement highlighting the various aspects of our relationship was issued, which involved signing a number of cooperation agreements and MoUs.”

He believes the visit by the crown prince will continue the trend of increased cooperation.

“During the visit, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will have important discussions with the president, vice president, prime minister and senior ministers of the government of India, on key areas of strategic cooperation such as science and technology, agriculture, space, security, defense, maritime, counterterrorism, plus trade and investment,” he said. “Several cooperation agreements/MoUs/programs are also expected to be finalized.”

India views Saudi Arabia as a friend and part of its “extended neighborhood,” said Javed.

“More than 7 million Indians work in the Gulf region,” he said. “Saudi Arabia and the other GCC states have been the time-tested, reliable source of our energy security. The security, stability and prosperity of the region are of great importance to us.

“We attach great priority to our friendly relations with Saudi Arabia. Our traditionally close ties are anchored in shared interests based on centuries-old economic and sociocultural ties, as well as vibrant people-to-people contacts.”

Trade and business links form an important part of the bilateral relationship, said Javed. Saudi Arabia is India’s fourth-largest trade partner and about 17 percent of India’s crude-oil requirement is supplied by the Kingdom, he explained.

“In 2017-18, India-Saudi bilateral trade increased by 9.56 percent to $27.48 billion,” said Javed. “During this period, our imports from Saudi Arabia reached $22.06 billion, an increase of 10.5 percent over the previous year. Our exports to Saudi Arabia were $5.41 billion, an increase of 5.88 percent over the previous year.”

Indian information technology companies, such as TCS, WIPRO and Tech Mahindra, work with Saudi ministries and businesses and contribute in a big way to training Saudi youth, especially women, in line with the objectives of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, he said.

The growing cooperation between the two countries extends beyond trade and commerce.

“Defense ties received a major boost after the signing of an MoU on Defense cooperation...in February 2014,” said Javed.

“The India-Saudi Arabia Joint Committee on Defense Cooperation (JCDC) meets regularly; its fourth meeting was held in Riyadh on Jan. 2-3, 2019, and identified credible activities towards defense cooperation to further bolster the ties.

“Delegation-level exchanges take place regularly between the defense ministries of the two countries. Two groups of five officer cadets are currently undergoing training at the National Defense Academy in India. One officer is also at the prestigious National Defense College.”

India recognizes the significance of Saudi Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Program, said Javed, and the opportunities it offers to attract investment in India.

“The Saudi minister of energy, industry and mineral resources visited India several times during 2018 and held a series of discussions,” he said. “The Saudi oil giant, Aramco, has signed an MoU with an Indian consortium...to jointly develop the $44 billion Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemical Project Limited on a 50/50 basis.

“Since June 2018, Saudi (company) Al-Fanar has been constructing a 300 megawatt power project in Kutch worth $300 million, with the project expected to be completed by 2020. In October 2018, Saudi Aramco signed an MoU...with Mumbai-based GumPro to set up a drilling-fluids facility. A number of other investment projects are also being considered, including in our National Investment and Infrastructure Fund.”

The role that Indian workers play in the development and growth of the Kingdom is a source of pride, said Javed, and they play a key role in strengthening the links between the two countries.

“Saudi Arabia is home to an Indian community of more than 2.7 million,” he said. “The Kingdom has the largest number of Indian-passport holders outside the mother country. It is a matter of great satisfaction that the contributions made by Indians in the development of the Kingdom is well acknowledged and appreciated by the Saudi leadership, as well as by its people.

“I express my sincere gratitude to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for hosting this large Indian community and also for the excellent services provided by the Saudi authorities to Hajj and Umrah pilgrims from India.”

As Saudi Arabia increasingly opens up to arts and culture as part of the process of reform that is underway, there are also increasing opportunities for cultural exchange programs.

“It is a great honor that India was accorded the privilege of being the ‘Guest of Honor’ at the 32nd Janadriyah Festival, the National Festival of Heritage and Culture of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in 2018,” said Javed.

“The cooperation extended to us, and the interest shown by the Saudi leadership, was unprecedented. Apart from formal inauguration of our pavilion by King Salman in the presence of our external affairs minster, the Indian Pavilion was also visited by a number of ministers, Shoura Council members, royal family members, senior Government officials and huge crowds of people.”

Javed believes that the relationship between the Kingdom and India will continue to thrive.

“The state visit of the crown prince to India will not only give fresh momentum to our deep-rooted cordial relations, but also take them to greater heights with a clear reflection of the enhanced importance assigned to India by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”