Saudi Arabia is fending off a growing number of terror attacks inside its borders even as it tries to lead a multinational counterterrorism coalition in a financial and physical battle with the Islamic State and al Qaida, a senior Saudi official said Wednesday.
The ultraconservative country is the head of a 34-nation effort to combat terrorism in the Middle East and a key participant in the U.S.-led campaign to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. But those efforts have not kept Saudi Arabia itself safe from terror attacks, according to Maj. Gen. Mansour al Turki, a senior Interior Ministry official who spoke by phone from Riyadh with reporters who’d been gathered at the Saudi Embassy in Washington.
We had 26 attacks terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia within the last two years and . . . more than a hundred citizens or policemen were killed or injured.
Maj. Gen. Mansour al Turki, Saudi official
Turki said that 26 of the 63 terror attacks his country has suffered since 1932 took place in the past two years, and that nine of those had taken place in the past six months.
“Most of these attacks targeted police persons or policemen or police facilities,” he said. He added that the attackers were “trying to scare off our people.”
Turki’s comments offer a rare glimpse into the insular kingdom’s internal struggle against terrorism and come as American officials once again are discussing possible Saudi links to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States.
Members of Congress are urging President Barack Obama to make public a 28-page portion of an 838-page report on those attacks that details allegations of Saudi contacts with the 9/11 hijackers, 15 of whom were Saudi subjects. The section was classified at the time the report was done and has never been shared with the public.
North Carolina Republican Rep. Walter Jones, one of the lawmakers trying to secure public access to part of the report, met with Director of National Intelligence Gen. James Clapper in May and urged him to declassify the report. Jones had initially petitioned Obama to declassify parts of the report in a 2014 letter.
Also advocating for release of the pages is former Sen. Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat, who chaired the congressional panel that produced the report.
Turki declined to respond to questions about the report, including one about allegations reportedly in the classified section that a member of the Saudi royal family gave money to a person who’d been in contact with two of the hijackers.
“I’m not really involved in the so-called white paper and I would not like actually to comment on something that I’m not really following or involved in in any way,” he said.
Saudi officials insist that they are victims of terrorism themselves.
“Unfortunately, yes, we had 26 attacks terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia within the last two years and . . . more than a hundred citizens or policemen were killed or injured,” Turki said.
Saudi Arabia represents a paradox for U.S. counterterrorism.
Daniel Byman, Center for Near East Policy
The relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia is a complex one. The kingdom is one of only five countries that provide support for anti-Islamic State operations inside Syria. Kingdom officials also are leading a controversial military intervention in Yemen for which the United States has provided logistical and intelligence support.
But legislation has been proposed in Congress to limit arms sales to Saudi Arabia and to allow Saudi Arabia to be sued in court over alleged support for the hijackers, a notion that has angered Saudi officials. President Barack Obama has said he would veto the bill, which has passed the Senate but has yet to come before the House.
“Saudi Arabia represents a paradox for U.S. counterterrorism. On the one hand, the Saudi government is a close partner of the United States on counterterrorism,” Center For Middle East Policy Research Director Daniel Byman said during a May congressional hearing on the U.S.-Saudi Arabia counterterrorism relationship.
“On the other hand, Saudi support for an array of preachers and non-government organizations contributes to an overall climate of radicalization, making it far harder to counter violent extremism. Both these problems are manifest today as the United States seeks to counter the Islamic State and its allies.”
Graham said on CNN last month that the White House told him that the classification review of the 28 pages was nearing completion and that he believed they could be released as early as this month.
Maggie Ybarra, 202-383-6048 @MolotovFlicker