LONDON, 23 October 2003 — Saudi Arabia has arrested nearly 600 suspects in a nationwide crackdown on militants after the Riyadh bombings in May, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, the Kingdom’s ambassador to Britain, announced here yesterday.
“The number of (arrested) must be close to 600 in the last six months,” the prince told a conference in London. “Of the arrested, around 190 had already been released, between 70 and 90 were being sent for trial and between 250 and 300 were still being interrogated,” he said.
Inaugurating a seminar on “Countering Terrorism: The Experience of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” here, Prince Turki highlighted Riyadh’s leading role in the fight against terrorism. “Saudi Arabia has been a victim of terrorism for a long time,” he said.
Prince Turki opened the seminar by reading out a message from Interior Minister Prince Naif who said: “The Kingdom was and still is in the forefront of nations targeted by terrorists.”
“It suffered a great deal of harm from terror...In equal terms, the Kingdom bravely stood up to this phenomenon of terror which is a combination of regional and international elements,” he said.
“This stand is borne out by our Islamic belief and strong conviction of fighting anything that brings harm or exposes life to danger,” he said.
Prince Naif said Saudi Arabia had played a big role in mobilizing Arab efforts to counter terrorism. “We called for adopting an Arab strategy to combat terrorism... and worked to set out a comprehensive media plan to mobilize Arab public opinion against terrorism and deviant thought,” he said.
The Saudi interior minister refuted the allegation that terrorism is a product of Islam and called for joint global efforts to root out terrorism. “The Kingdom’s efforts in fighting terror are crystal clear and cannot be denied by anyone except the cynical,” he said.
“These efforts are pursued on bilateral, regional and international arenas and in areas of finance and security as well as chasing terror cells and dealing with those involved or sympathetic to terrorists wherever they are,” the minister said.
The one-day seminar was organized by the Saudi Embassy in London in cooperation with the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), and was attended by a number of Arab ambassadors, leading members of RUSI — an important defense think tank here — experts in counterterrorism, officials and media representatives.
The participants included Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Dr. Magnus Ranstorp, director of the Center for the Study of Political Violence & Terrorism, St. Andrew’s University, and Khaled Al-Maeena, editor in chief of Arab News.
In his opening address, Prince Turki said the Kingdom had taken tough measures to stamp out terrorism. “This included changes in school and university curricula and reorganizing of charitable societies,” he pointed out. “We have taken steps to prevent charity funds from reaching suspected organizations,” he said.
The participants emphasized the need for strengthening US-Saudi cooperation in confronting the danger of terrorism and said heeding to the call to weaken the partnership between the two countries would only strengthen the hands of terrorists.
Prince Turki said Saudi Arabia was a target of an Al-Qaeda attack in 1995, before the Sept. 11, 2001 events.
Prince Turki expressed the Kingdom’s determination to continue the fight against terrorism in order to eradicate it and save the world from its harmful and dangerous impact.
The ambassador highlighted the Kingdom’s continuing efforts in widening the scope of cooperation within the international community to counter terrorists and their supporters.
More than 3,000 imams in mosques across the Kingdom had been attending “programs of re-education” which encouraged them to emphasize tolerance in Islam, Prince Turki said.
Most of the people arrested in recent months were youths between the ages of 15 and 25 years. “They are definitely inspired by a definition of religion which is contrary to the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad and the teachings of Islam,” Prince Turki said.
In his speech, Cordesman said that much of the focus on terrorism since Sept. 11 has been on Al-Qaeda as if it were the only major Middle Eastern terrorist group.
The reality however is that a wide range of external groups exists and Al-Qaeda is only one of them, the expert in the Washington-based center told the conference.
He said it should be clear that the problem of terrorism does not have its roots in Saudi Arabia and will go on long after Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda disappear from the scene.
No one country is a major source of financing terrorism and most groups concentrate their agenda on their own governments and not on the US and the West, Cordesman said.
Al-Maeena was the chairperson in the afternoon session for which the topic was: “The Roots of Terrorism: Severing Funding & Support”. The session was addressed by Dr. Ahmed Turkistani of Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University in Riyadh, Ruqayya Al-Shuaibi of Al-Nahda charity, and Malise Ruthven, author of “Islam in the World.”