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Saudi Culture Exports Extremism, Former 9/11 Commissioner Says

published May 24th 2016, 4:13 pm, by Nafeesa Syeed

(Bloomberg) —
A former U.S. lawmaker who served on the commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks said there’s a “glaring contrast” between Saudi Arabia’s high-level cooperation in uncovering terrorist plots and its “society and culture exporting extremism and intolerance.”

The kingdom produces a “disturbing number of recruits and supporters for terrorist groups around the world, including in Syria,” Timothy Roemer, a Democrat who represented Indiana in Congress from 1991 to 2003, told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing Tuesday on the “U.S.-Saudi Arabia Counterterrorism Relationship.”

That relationship has been roiled most recently by legislation passed by the U.S. Senate last week that would let victims and their families sue other countries over their alleged involvement in the al-Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Roemer said that he supports the bill, which the Saudis have said could lead them to shed their investments in the U.S., and that he also backs the release of 28 classified pages from the 9/11 commission’s report that discussed possible involvement by foreign governments.

For a report on the measure letting 9/11 victims go to court, click here.

“I am strongly in favor for declassifying this information as quickly and as soon as possible” for national security reasons and because families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks deserve it, Roemer said. The former lawmaker, who also served as U.S. ambassador to India, was cited in a report on CBS’s “60 Minutes” in April that suggested a Saudi diplomat “known to hold extremist views” may have helped the hijackers after they traveled to the U.S. to prepare for the attacks.

While 15 of the 19 hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks were identified as Saudi nationals, Roemer also acknowledged the commission’s conclusion that it “found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior officials within the Saudi government funded al-Qaeda.”

Saudi Response

On Tuesday, officials at the Saudi embassy in Washington pointed to a “white paper” that was issued by their government and sent to members of Congress defending its actions to counter terrorism and terrorist financing.

To read a Saudi report on its counterterrorism efforts, click here.

“It is in the kingdom’s national interest to defeat terrorism, and it is a national priority,” the white paper said. “Today, multiple actors, each with a respective ideological agenda, have targeted the kingdom with the goal of destabilizing the country and terrorizing the Saudi people.”

Republican Representative Ted Poe of Texas said at Tuesday’s hearing that Saudi Arabia spends billions of dollars exporting Wahhabism, a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, and Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California said “the Saudis and the Saudi royal family are right up to their eyeballs” in terrorist activity.

The New York Times reported last month that Saudi officials warned they would sell $750 billion of Treasuries and other assets in the U.S. if Congress passed the bill allowing Sept. 11 lawsuits, which awaits action in the House. The White House has said President Barack Obama would veto the legislation. Saudi officials have denied making any threats.

While Sunni-led Saudi Arabia has long been a prime U.S. ally in the Middle East, relations have been strained by the Obama administration’s support for the deal that eased sanctions against Shiite Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear program. In addition, U.S. dependence on Saudi Arabia’s oil riches has declined as U.S. energy supplies have surged.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nafeesa Syeed in Washington at To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bill Faries at Larry Liebert

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