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Saudis silent on strikes; bin Laden statement draws support

From Rym Brahimi

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (CNN) -- Saudi Arabia's leadership has been publicly silent about the U.S.-led strikes against Afghanistan, but some Saudis said the remarks from suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden struck a chord in the Muslim world.

During the bombings, Saudi TV merely relayed a large passage of President Bush's message without comment, and a second Saudi channel continued its nature program without interruption. There have been no street demonstrations in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia broke diplomatic relations with Afghanistan's ruling Taliban last month, but the Saudi government has made it clear that no U.S. bases on its territory would be used to launch attacks against Afghanistan.

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A number of Saudis interviewed offered frank opinions about the strikes.

"The most powerful country in the world is hitting poor Afghans who have nothing to do with what happened in New York. Do they have to attack an entire people to go after one man?" a 19-year-old Saudi man asked.

"We're Muslims, and we have a duty to defend ourselves against infidels," another said. "Americans are infidels, and they are responsible for the suffering of many Muslims in the world."

Some Saudi analysts said that with a videotaped statement aired Sunday, bin Laden has "won the election."

In the statement, aired during the attacks by Qatar's al Jazeera satellite network, bin Laden said the United States "came out to fight Islam with the name of fighting terrorism" and tried to link his battle to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"It is his greatest public relations stunt ever," said Jamal Khashoggi from Arab News. "With that broadcast, he is now the most popular figure throughout the Muslim world."

One businesswoman said bin Laden "managed to look like the victim. ... Now, anyone among those less educated here that hesitated to support him after the September 11 attack will have been convinced by his sincerity, his simplicity and his eloquence."

A student added, "Bin Laden is right: There should be no peace until there is peace in Palestine."

But a few disagreed with bin Laden's statement.

One Saudi said, "He didn't add anything new. Yes, the Palestinians are suffering, but I don't see their situation improving with what is going on right now."


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