No Ordinary Condolence Call

Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah December 2001 AP

Pledging a "merciless war" against terror and recalling a day of "horrible scenes of carnage," Crown Prince Abdullah sent an emotional letter to President Bush Tuesday assuring him of the continued friendship and cooperation of Saudi Arabia a year after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Written in warm and somewhat flowery language, the letter, together with conciliatory remarks attributed to Defense Minister Prince Sultan earlier Tuesday, seemed designed to usher in a fresh start in relations between the two allies after a year of tensions caused by the large number of Saudis among the Sept. 11 hijackers.

The kingdom's refusal to allow Washington use of its territory should it launch military strikes against Iraq has also contributed to the tension, together with persistent suggestions in the U.S. media that Washington did not think the Saudis were doing enough for the war on terror and to contain homegrown militancy.

"We in Saudi Arabia felt a specially great pain at the realization that a number of young Saudi citizens had been enticed and deluded and their reasoning subverted to the degree of denying the tolerance that their religion embraced, and turning their backs on their homeland," wrote Abdullah, who has been his country's de facto ruler since his half brother King Fahd suffered a stroke in 1995.

Saudi Arabia first denied that the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers included Saudis. In February, Interior Minister Prince Nayef became the first Saudi official to make such announcement. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers come from Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. has blamed the attacks on al-Qaeda, a terror network whose Saudi-born leader Osama bin Laden was stripped of his Saudi citizenship in 1994.

"They (the hijackers) allowed themselves to be used as a tool to do great damage to Islam, a religion they espoused, and to all Muslims," said Abdullah. "They also aimed at causing considerable harm to the historic and strong relationship between the American people and the people of Saudi Arabia," he wrote in the letter, a text of which was released by the Saudi Embassy in Washington.

Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, has been a close ally of the United States since the 1940s. It enjoys a special place among the world's estimated 1.2 billion Muslims as the birthplace of Islam's 7th century prophet and home to the religion's holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina.

Also Tuesday, the official Saudi Press Agency quoted Prince Sultan as saying the attacks on New York and Washington have caused "pain to all humanity" and that the 15 Saudi hijackers have harmed their own country more than anything else.

"The kingdom was deeply saddened by the Sept. 11 attacks that brought pain to all humanity," he said. "Those Saudis and others who have abandoned Islam and nationalism are responsible for their own deeds ... those who claim they are Saudis have fought their country before anything else and everybody knows what they have done to Saudi Arabia," said Prince Sultan, who is next in line for the Saudi throne after Abdullah.

Asserting Saudi Arabia's resolve to fight terror, Abdullah's letters to President Bush pledged Riyadh's firm stand with the U.S.-led coalition "to wage a fierce and merciless war against the terrorists in order to eradicate this deadly disease that threatens all societies."

He added that he shall never forget "the horrible scenes of carnage, the raging fires, the smoke that covered the horizon, and the innocent people who jumped out of the windows in their attempt to escape.

"On that fateful day, the whole world stood with the American people in unprecedented solidarity that made no distinction as to race, religion or language."

  • Brian Bernbaum

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