|In the meanwhile,
since the hey day of OPEC and forty dollars a barrel of oil, the population of
Saudi Arabia has increased by about 70 percent. So we have a situation where
the per capita income has declined [from] over $14,000 a year to about $4,500 a
year. ... There are poor people [in Saudi Arabia.] There are shanty
towns. There are people who have not benefited from the oil. There are people
who do not go to school because there [aren't too many] schools. There are
people who do not get medical care because there are not enough hospitals.
There is poverty in Saudi Arabia. There is no doubt about it.|
So it's not the subsidized oil paradise that we think of?
It is not the oil paradise we think of or spoke of. It never was that. ...
Because since the 60s there have been so many attempt to overthrow that
government and to rebel. We don't hear about them because Saudi Arabia is a
different place. Saudi Arabia is not they type of place where people march
down the street with [placards]. They express themselves differently. Their
occupation of Buraydah about three years ago was tantamount to an open
rebellion against the regime.
Buraydah's a city?
Buraydah's a city of about a 150,000 people. The Islamic [fundamentalists]
self divided. They raised the flag of Islam. They went to the top of the
minarets and [summoned] against the House of [Saud]. And it took 48 hours for
the Saudi National Guard to subdue it. That was open rebellion. If we close
our eyes and think of what happened in Al Khobar and the blowing up of the
American compound--that would have been unthinkable about six or seven years
ago. But it happened. Or the attack on the military mission in Riyadh, which
is the capital of the country. That would have been unthinkable. These are
expressions of unrest within the country. Conditions within the country are
conducive to that. They are unwell. And because there is oppression and
[suppression], the only way the people in the country can express themselves is
violently. And this is what we're getting at this moment in time.
Most of this violence or rebellion has the ideology of Islamic
fundamentalism behind it?
There is nothing else in Saudi Arabia at this moment in time, in terms of
political movements, except Islamic fundamentalism. The regime itself is a
fundamentalist regime when it comes internal policy, to the behavior of women.
They cannot move unaccompanied by relatives, husbands or brothers. ... But in
terms of foreign policy, it differs from the Islamic fundamentalist movements
that we know because it is a regime that is friendly to the west, and the other
fundamentalist movements are not friendly to the west. That is where the
difference is. The difference is over foreign policy and over oil policy.
So given the violent Islamic fundamentalist uprisings in Saudi Arabia, it
then becomes a little clearer where bin Laden comes from.
Osama bin Laden is the prophet of these movements. And Osama bin Laden is much
more interesting than most of them because Osama bin Laden belongs to a family
that is part of the ruling establishment in Saudi Arabia. And therefore it is
an indication of how bad things have got, when a member of the establishment
becomes a radical Islamist against the regime. He comes from a very wealthy
family. He comes from a family that benefited from the oil. And yet he is
unhappy with the foreign policy of the country. Osama bin Laden's first demand
is that the American troops [in] Saudi Arabia should leave the holy soil of
Explain that to me. I thought the American troops were in Saudi Arabia to
defend Saudi Arabia against invasion. Why wouldn't they be happy to see them
The American troops in Saudi Arabia are supposed to be there to protect Saudi
Arabia against invasion. The people of Saudi Arabia do not accept this theory.
They do not feel threatened by outside forces. The traditional outside forces
that threatened Saudi Arabia are Iran and Iraq. Iran at this moment in time is
inward looking. They have their own problems. And Iraq is really a toothless
[tiger]. So they do not see the danger. They do not see the need for the
presence of American troops. And the second thing, American troops are mostly,
I suspect, Christian. And therefore they should not be there. Because this is
holy Islamic soil. An infidel should not be camped on holy Islamic soil. ...
Religiously, their presence is unacceptable. ...
[American troops were] ostensibly to defend Saudi Arabia against external
dangers. That was the original reason. I think that was redefined and refined
by President Reagan, who said that the United States was committed to
protecting Saudi Arabia against "external and internal dangers." He added
internal to the dangers. That means that the United States of America is
committed to defending the House of Saud against any internal political
movement that might want to get rid of it. Or perhaps even reform it. ...
[American troops are] now perceived as a presence to defend the royal family
and the system of governments that exist under the royal family. And since the
system is becoming less acceptable by the day, then the danger of an attempt to
overthrow this regime, and a confrontation with the United States, is also
growing by the day. And when they ... want to attack the House of Saud, they
attack the Americans. Through attacking the American barracks and the American
training center in Riyadh, the attackers achieved a dual purpose. They
attacked their own government and they attacked the protectors of their own
So if bin Laden or his supporters or allies attack the United States, in
their minds they're also attacking the House of Saud?
Oh, without any doubt. ... I think attacking the United States is attacking
both at the same time. ...
What is the great motivation to change the foreign policy of the
A great many things. I mean, the number one issue with Osama bin Laden is that
American troops should just leave Saudi Arabia. The second demand that bin
Laden has in his long list of demands, is ... that there should be a Muslim
Jerusalem where Islamic holy places are protected. He feels very strongly that
the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is not doing enough about this subject. ... The
rest of the problems he mentions, about the setting up of Islamic governments
in other places and the change in policy of these places and Islamic unity
against the rest of the world, they are religious in nature ... [and] they
effect the structure of global power politics. ...
[Bin Laden also objects] to the way the royal family behaves. Bin Laden and the
Islamic fundamentalist groups are not happy with the fact that the royal
family takes so much of the country's income and at a time when the price of
oil is down and when the country's income has declined to the point where they
have to borrow money all the time. ...
[What strata of Saudi society support bin Laden?]
The support [for] bin Laden comes from all levels of society in Saudi Arabia.
There are members of the House of Saud who belong to Islamic fundamentalist
groups. And I don't want to mention any names for obvious reasons. But there
are some of them who have been suspected of being involved with these groups to
the extent of funding them. So this is not a movement that is the offspring of
poverty or anything of this sort. This is a political program. A political
attitude. And it does include members of the royal family. ...
So when we announce publicly in the United States that bin Laden--as
president Clinton says--is the personification of evil and that we're going to
go out and try to kill him, we shouldn't be surprised if he becomes a folk hero
in his own country?
I think to some people he is already a folk hero ... . I think you have a
fellow there in Afghanistan sort of hiding away from the only superpower in the
world. He's become somewhat of a Robin Hood ... sort of an attractive,
revolutionary figure in the middle of nowhere. What do you have to do to avoid
capture by the United States or being killed by the United States? You have to
have something special to be able to do that. And this is the way people look
at him. That does not mean, by the way, that they approve of his ways. He's
just become somewhat of a romantic hero to many of them. Some indeed do
approve of his ways. But that's a small group of people.
The Saudi government appears--in particularly their intelligence apparatus
and police apparatus--to be hunting him and his followers.
I'm not sure that the Saudi government is out to capture Osama bin Laden. Not
that they would be capable of doing it. The last thing the Saudi government
wants at this moment in time is to try bin Laden, find him guilty and execute
him. That would make him more of a hero. The Saudi government has great many
problems. Many of them economic. Many of them in terms of the behavior of the
members of the family. Many of them have to do with foreign policy. Their
influence in the Muslim and the Arab world has declined considerably since the
70s. They are in the business of survival. And if capturing Osama bin Laden,
trying him, and executing him is going to diminish their popular base in the
country, then they would rather not do it. They don't want that problem.
How do you explain their alleged visit to the Taliban asking them to expel
Well, like any other government in the world, the Saudi government has to go
through some motions. ... We don't know what went on during that visit, how
much pressure they really put on the Taliban to get Osama bin Laden back.
Saudi Arabia operates in very, very mysterious ways. I mean, we don't know
why the Saudis at this moment in time are not sharing information with the
United States of America about the bombing of the American compound in Al
Khobar. They announced on two or three occasions that they knew who the
perpetrators were. And yet the FBI and Janet Reno and everybody else has said
we're not getting any cooperation from them. Why aren't we getting any
cooperation from Saudi Arabia? This is a very interesting question indeed.
Did the people who carried out this bombing have any connection with the Saudi
government? Would that expose the weakness of the Saudi government in terms of
this connection? Perhaps. We don't know. ...
When we started out we were talking about the Saudis and Saddam being
similar. We really are talking about a totally closed society. I know that we
can't get cameras in just to film on the street.
In Saudi Arabia, it is against the law to take pictures in a public place. Not
only for foreigners but also for a Saudi citizen. The only time you can take a
picture is inside your own house. ... We are talking about a closed society.
We are talking about a closed country. We are talking about a country that
guards its reputation to a great extent, and spends a lot of money doing that.
We are talking about a country that does not want outside influences to sort of
infect their society. Because inevitably these outside influences would
include calls for human rights, equality, democracy and things of this sort
that the House of Saud is not about to tolerate. So they want to cut off the
country from the rest of the world. Now the big question--is that possible in
this day and age? Because all we have to do is put a television dish on top of
your roof and you get news from all over the world. I don't think it is
possible. And this is why they are out of step. And being out of step means
they're in trouble.
But then the revolutionary or resistant movement--let's say as expressed by
bin Laden--wants to be even more restrictive.
... Islamic movements want to be more restrictive in terms of some policies but
not in terms of the internal policy. Because that is already in place. If the
Islamists, or the Islamic fundamentalists as they are better known, are to take
over Saudi Arabia tomorrow, there would be very little change in terms of the
Sharia laws that govern the behavior of the people inside the country. Because
the letter of these laws is being applied at this moment in time. If you see
any flesh between the hem of a woman's dress and her shoes, that woman is
punished on the spot by the religious police who carry sticks especially for
this purpose. ... They still believe in beheading people in public places.
This is their way of punishing people for capital crimes. They still believe
in amputating people's arms. This is Islamic law applied to the N'th degree.
I cannot see what Osama bin Laden would do to make it more strict. It is as
strict as Iran. It is as strict as any Islamic country in the world. ...
You mentioned the bin Laden family profiting off the oil and bin Laden being
a member of this prosperous family. Can you give a thumb nail sketch of the
bin Laden family? Their role in Saudi Arabia?
The bin Laden family is originally from ... a part of the Yemen called
Hadramout. And the Hadramoutis used to be the merchants in Saudi Arabia. So
it's an old merchant family that was trading before the discovery of oil and
the benefit of the big jump in oil prices in the 70s. But they were there on
the ground. And they had a construction company. And the government was so
much in need of companies to undertake standard development targets, that the
bin Laden company was one of the big ones they called on to take these
projects. And they benefited hugely. We're talking about a family that may
very well be worth over a billion dollars. And Osama is from the main branch.
He is the son of the former owner. He is one of the heirs to this huge
fortune. And ... this is indicative of where things are ... it is not limited,
this movement of Islamic fundamentalism, to poor people. It is not a social
movement as such. It is a political movement aimed at changing the foreign
policy of the country. ...
If I understand, the bin Laden family rebuilt the major mosques in Mecca and
Medina... . They are basically the Bechtels of Saudi Arabia?
Well, one of the Bechtels of Saudi Arabia. Indeed, they are large contractors
... they have been involved in programs to rebuild the mosques throughout the
So they're an integral part of the Saudi royal family's entourage?
Very, very close. ... The House of Saud does not award huge construction
contracts except to friends. So you can assume through analyzing the amount of
contracts or the number of contracts the bin Laden family received over the
years, that they were close to the royal family. And they are still getting
business from the royal family. So Osama is one off. He's a renegade. He's an
outsider in the family. And, this should be understood, that he does not
represent the bin Laden family. Nor does he have access to the money of the
bin Laden family. He has access to a small share of it, which he has already
taken out of the family pot. And that money is no where near the numbers that
have been banded around in terms of hundreds of millions of dollars.
He's not worth 250 million dollars?
I do not believe so. I believe the most that Osama bin Laden took out of
Saudi Arabia is probably somewhere between 30 and 40 million dollars. But he
is happy for people to think that he took 250 million dollars out. Or 500
million dollars out. Because then he does not have to answer the question of,
"Where does the money to support his operations come from?" ... He gives the
impression that he's paying for it himself. In fact, I believe that money
comes from inside Saudi Arabia, from other people who belong to merchant
families. And perhaps from members of the royal family itself.
When he was building the road in Sudan--when he had his construction company
in Sudan--some of the financing came out of the Saudi national commercial bank.
Is that what you're talking about?
Well, I'm talking about that, [but] that was open financing. That was a
business transaction. We cannot complain about that. No. I'm talking about
secret money that goes into the conference of bin Laden as donations. As
political support for what Osama bin Laden stands for. That is illegal.
You're saying that the illegal flow of money out of Saudi Arabia to support
... is probably taking place at this moment in time and we don't know who's
behind it. Two and a half years ago, the Saudi government enacted a law which
was curious and which nobody noticed. It said [that] any donations made to
Islamic groups throughout the world must be registered and cleared with the
Emir of Riyadh. ... This was the first time they called for something like
that. And the reason they called for that is because they were worried where
Saudi donations were going to. ...
What was the role of the Afghan war in building up this fundamentalist
movement and its militarization?
The fundamentalist movement started, really, in a big way, after 1967,
after the Arab defeat in 1967 when King Faisal, on behalf of Saudi Arabia,
assumed the leadership of the Arab and Muslim world. ... Because Saudi Arabia
was rich and was able to pay enough countries to follow it. This encouraged a
great many groups and societies and the World Muslim Conference and people like
that to start operating all over the place. When the Russians invaded
Afghanistan, in a strange way, the Muslim world was ready to respond to them
because they ha[d] these organizations on the ground. And when volunteers
trekked [to] Afghanistan from all of these countries, including Saudi Arabia,
and the government of course supported them directly and supported them in
terms of encouraging people to donate to the mujahedeen cause in Afghanistan,
what happened is the people who went to Afghanistan became radicalized. They
assumed a political role above and beyond the original purpose of facing the
Russians. They wanted to go back home and have a say about how things were
being done in their own countries. And that is really what happened to Osama
bin Laden. And then that sense of camaraderie--it's just like the people who
fought in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s--bound them together, and you
have these affiliations. ... It is probably the one place where the Muslims
met in a serious way for the first time in the past five decades. You have bin
Laden communicating and cooperating with people from Morocco, people from
Malaysia, people [from] Indonesia--people from other places. And they found
common grounds. Which is unhappiness with the systems of government of the
countries from where they came. And this aided and abetted the creation of
smaller groups. And of course the groups that were supporting them financially
were already on the ground. And the governments were very slow to wake up and
to stop the flow of money to them after they became radicalized. Took them a
long time to realize what is happening to their boys in the field.
If I understand what you're saying, beginning with the opposition to the
communists and to Arab socialism, the Saudis helped build up Islamic
fundamentalist movements through out the Arab world.
Very much so.
Those groups then in turn were natural recruits or recruiting grounds for
the opposition to the Soviet Union's invasion in Afghanistan.
Correct, sir. ... Those groups have developed a new purpose, which is to get
rid of their creators, essentially. If Saudi Arabia and the other countries
were the countries that sponsored their creation, then those groups are
rebelling against their creators.
Would it be correct to say that the way you look at what's happening is
that, in a way, Nairobi is just the beginning?
Nairobi is an expression of something that exists and will continue to exist
with or without bin Laden. The Islamic groups that are committed to violence
have stripped into tiny little groups of about 30 people each. They don't know
a great deal about each other. So if you eliminated one, another one would
operate somewhere else. They are spread throughout the Middle East in the
Islamic world. They are unafraid. I remember a former Jordanian prime minister
saying, "How do you frighten someone who thinks he's going to heaven if you
chop his head off?" It's a good question. If they are willing to sacrifice
themselves, then they will be able to carry out operations similar to Nairobi
and other places in the future. And I believe they are willing to sacrifice
themselves. So we should expect more operations of that kind. ...