saudi dispatches

+ Inside the Kingdom
24-25 September, Riyadh

+ My Baffling Question
27 September, Unizah-Buraydah

+ An Obedient Dissident
27 September, Buraydah

+ An Audience with the Crown Prince
2 October, Riyadh

In late September 2002, FRONTLINE's producers traveled to Saudi Arabia, another country whose stability is threatened by an undercurrent of militant Islamic fundamentalism. A vital U.S. ally in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is increasingly viewed as a reluctant partner in the war on terrorism.

For years, Saudi-born Osama bin Laden and his supporters have called for expelling the 5,000 "infidel" U.S. troops stationed in the country and toppling the Saudi government that invited them. At the same time, Saudi money has fueled the worldwide spread of Wahhabism, the kingdom's austere form of fundamentalist Islam.

Producer Martin Smith found both the Saudi establishment and Saudi dissidents reluctant to discuss bin Laden or Al Qaeda, even though many Al Qaeda members are believed to have returned to the kingdom after dispersing from Afghanistan.

In their behind-the-scenes e-mail dispatches from Saudi Arabia (see the left side of this page), FRONTLINE's team details the stonewalling they encountered. Crown Prince Abdullah, the functional head of the government, evaded producer Smith's questions about bin Laden and Al Qaeda. And the dissident Sheik Salman Al-Oudah appeared to have been effectively silenced; having spent time in jail for his part in anti-government protests, he refused to speak about Al Qaeda, bin Laden, or even the royal family.

After a week of getting the runaround, Smith and cameraman Scott Anger joined producer Marcela Gaviria in Yemen.

For more on Saudi Arabia, see FRONTLINE's November 2001 report Saudi Time Bomb?


Prince Saud al-Faisal
The son of the late King Faisal, he is the Saudi foreign minister. He argues that Saudi Arabia has been an active participant in the U.S.-led war on terrorism. He tells FRONTLINE that in Saudi Arabia, Al Qaeda are "pursued people. They are people under the microscope."

Saad al-Fagih
A Saudi Arabian dissident living in exile in London, Dr. Saad al-Fagih heads the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia. He tells FRONTLINE that the Saudi regime's claims that they have eradicated Al Qaeda within the kingdom are false and that every Saudi is a potential bin Laden. He also says that sources in Saudi Arabia have told him that the bulk of Al Qaeda leaders are alive and probably hiding in eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan.

Related Links

Saudi Time Bomb
In this November 2001 report, FRONTLINE and The New York Times explore tensions in the U.S.-Saudi relationship; the internal forces that threaten the stability of Saudi Arabia, one of America's most important allies in the Arab world; and the growing Islamic fundamentalism within Saudi Arabia and its possible ties to terrorism.

Looking for Answers: Saudi Arabia
This FRONTLINE report, produced in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, looks at how and why radical Islam sprang from Saudi Arabia and Egypt -- two of the most important U.S. allies in the Middle East.

Terrorism Q&A: Saudi Arabia
This fact sheet from the Council on Foreign Relations describes Saudi Arabia's participation in the U.S.-led war on terrorism and the depth of support for bin Laden within Saudi society.

King's Ransom
In this report for The New Yorker, investigative journalist Seymour M. Hersh looks at the vulnerability of the Saudi royal family, which he describes as "a regime increasingly corrupt, alienated from the country's religious rank and file, and so weakened and frightened that it has brokered its future by channelling hundreds of millions of dollars in what amounts to protection money to fundamentalist groups that wish to overthrow it." [Oct. 22, 2001]

The House of Bin Laden
In another New Yorker article, Jane Mayer examines the divided loyalties of Osama bin Laden's family, and of Saudi Arabia itself. "As President Bush demands that the countries of the world choose sides, and declare whether they are with the United States or with Osama bin Laden, for some members of the bin Laden family -- and for many other conflicted Saudis, too -- the situation is so complex that they would have to respond 'Both.'" [Nov. 12, 2001]

Bin Laden Adheres to Austere Form of Islam
An article from The New York Times (Oct. 7, 2001) outlining how the faith that drives Osama bin Laden and his followers is a particularly austere and conservative brand of Islam known as Wahhabism, which was instrumental in creating the Saudi monarchy, and, if sufficiently alienated, could tear it down. [Note: Free registration required.]

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