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Target: Terrorism - Simon Henderson's Insights on Saudi Arabia

Aired October 3, 2001 - 05:36   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, another key stop on Secretary Rumsfeld's tour is Saudi Arabia. For some more background this morning, we turn to author Simon Henderson. He's written extensively on Saudi Arabia and its royal family as well. He joins us now live from London.

Good morning, sir, we thank you for taking time to talk with us today.

SIMON HENDERSON, KING FAHD BIOGRAPHER: Good morning.

HARRIS: Well considering how your knowledge of the Saudi royal family and the Saudi Arabian history there, I'd like to ask you about a comment that we saw in reports yesterday from Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal, who told the European Union that whatever happens there should be linked to a peace settlement between the Palestinians and Israel saying that it would shorten the campaign against terrorism to 3 years instead of 10. Give us some insight on the Saudi perspective on this. What exactly does this mean?

HENDERSON: Well, the Saudis have been very concerned for the last year of the intifada between -- by the Palestinians against the Israelis, that this has been having a destabilizing affect on the whole region, and particularly the conservative countries like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia where they fear that Islamic extremists can see the tremendous political effect that such trouble can -- that it works and will start playing against these regimes themselves. They -- I think that this view is a slightly mistaken view because Osama bin Laden's basic two claims are that he wants the American forces out of Saudi Arabia and he considers that the house itself, the Saudi royal family is illegitimate. He wants them to be overthrown as well.

HARRIS: And what are his reasons for that? Is it strictly the fact that the Saudis have allowed U.S. troops or U.S. equipment to come on the ground there in Saudi Arabia? Is that strictly the final answer on that one?

HENDERSON: Yes, well the problem was that Osama bin Laden was involved in helping to finance and helping to organize the fighters against the Soviet army in Afghanistan in the late 1980s. And when Saddam Hussein invaded Iraq in 1990 and threatened Saudi Arabia, Osama bin Laden said to the Saudi government the correct response here is to raise an Islamic army to confront Saddam Hussein. King Fahd of Saudi Arabia went against this advice and decided to invite in the Americans and so bin Laden hates both the Saudi government for ignoring his good advice and the Americans for being in Arabia, even though the Americans are very cautious to keep -- very careful to keep out of or not even fly over the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

HARRIS: Well let me ask you then, where do you -- where do you see all of this headed as far as Saudi Arabia is concerned because there were Saudis who have been implicated. There were some who may have their identities questioned in the -- in the end, but there have been Saudis identified as being linked to these terrorist attacks in New York and in Washington. How do you see all of this playing out there?

HENDERSON: Well, I identify the problem as mainly in particular and this is -- hasn't really been stated very clearly as being a Saudi problem rather than a Israel-Palestinian problem. The Saudis are being threatened here. The -- it appears that the majority of the hijackers were Saudi. The claims -- the wishes of bin Laden, although not stated in this particular case, are clearly against Saudi Arabia itself. The Israel-Palestine is a sort of coloring to this problem but it's not the central part of the problem.

HARRIS: Let me ask you finally, I'm not sure if you're familiar with the report that's in the "Washington Post" this morning about in -- back in 1996, the CIA had been talking with the foreign minister of Sudan about actually turning over Osama bin Laden because he had been -- he was in Sudan at the time. And the talks were about turning him over to Saudi Arabia but the Saudis balked saying that that would cause too much conflict and chaos within their own country. Now have things changed to the degree where that would not be a problem this time around?

HENDERSON: Oh I think that would certainly be a problem. Saudi Arabia is an incredibly conservative country and an incredibly strong Islamic religious country. And many Saudis are very sensitive to the notion that they need the United States to protect the country from external enemies and they'd much rather that the United States wasn't there at all, even though it's hidden away in facilities which Washington is careful to call facilities rather than bases. And so the -- when Osama bin Laden complains about America being in the Kingdom and complains about western influences, he does strike a chord with many of the Saudi population or a certain part of the Saudi population.

The House of Saud, the Saudi royal family, are very aware of this and they don't want to aggravate the situation. They're walking a very careful line at the moment, a very difficult line, and to my mind, they're facing the same sort of internal political problem that they faced in 1979 when the big mosque -- the grand mosque in Mecca -- the holy city of Mecca was seized by extremists then. They're not related to bin Laden, but it was a tremendous shock against the Saudi political structure which I think is occurring now as well.

HARRIS: Boy, this line you describe that they're walking is part of a very complicated web.

Simon Henderson, thank you very much for your time and your insight this morning, really appreciate it.

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