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The specter of the Sept. 11 attacks

All evidence pointed to Al-Qaeda, the number-one enemy of Saudi Arabia, which has fought the organization since the 1990s

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

When it turned out that 15 of the terrorists who participated in the Sept. 11 attacks were Saudi, we realized this represented a potentially long-term crisis in relations between two countries that had always been friends and allies. Years later, an investigation committee confirmed Saudi Arabia’s innocence.

However, recent weeks have witnessed great tension between Riyadh and Washington due to a bill - which the Senate has passed unanimously - allowing the victims of the attacks to sue Saudi Arabia if they prove in court that it was involved. This despite American investigators not finding any evidence of such involvement. All evidence pointed to Al-Qaeda, the number-one enemy of Saudi Arabia, which has fought the organization since the 1990s.

No one who is well-informed about Middle Eastern affairs could think Saudi Arabia has anything to do with what Al-Qaeda has done anywhere in the world. This silly accusation only became a serious political affair recently, when relations cooled due to several issues, and as Iran opened up to the West.

The final 28 pages of the Congressional report on the Sept. 11 attacks were classified by former President George W Bush to avoid harming relations with Saudi Arabia at a time when anger failed to discriminate between mistakes and intentional actions.

Riyadh has never had anything to do with Al-Qaeda, though it has been confirmed that Tehran has dealt with the organization

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Back then, I asked a Saudi official about these 28 pages. He said Riyadh did not request their classification, and did not mind making them public as all the facts were known to the investigation committee. The classified pages have now been published, and although they are unconvincing, they will be used by Saudi Arabia’s rivals in the ongoing political controversy.

Iran

Riyadh has never had anything to do with Al-Qaeda, though it has been confirmed that Tehran has dealt with the organization and sheltered dozens of its leaders who escaped US bombing in Afghanistan in 2001.

The Washington Post published documents that the Americans found in Osama bin Laden’s safe in his hiding place where they killed him. They revealed how he instructed his men not to harm Iran or Iraqi Shiites because Tehran is an ally of al-Qaeda and supplies it with funds, men, arms and communication equipment.

The Syrian regime, Iran’s ally, hosted thousands of al-Qaeda fighters who entered Iraq and carried out most of the operations against American troops, killing around 4,000 of them. Most of these operations were carried out under the name of the Iraqi resistance.

The issues between Riyadh and Washington are not substantial. In the past, the most serious ones related to extremists’ activities, radical preachers, and funders and media outlets in favor of al-Qaeda. These issues were overcome after the Saudi Interior Ministry succeeded in destroying the pillars that ideologically supported terrorism, and arrested thousands of those who supported jihadists. Riyadh allowed US federal investigators to examine all suspicions.

Tehran, which adopted a hostile policy against Washington, realized after 30 years that it was the only one harmed by this rivalry, so it decided to reconcile and make concessions. However, the nature of the Iranian regime will prevent it from achieving a real transformation toward the West, and from maintaining permanent relations with it.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on May 19, 2016.
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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.