A major shift in power took place early last month in Saudi Arabia, when 11 princes and 38 other top figures in the kingdom, including ministers, military officers, and influential businessmen, were arrested in a corruption probe. The crackdown will test whether the desert kingdom can bring about a peaceful transfer of power, and cast off a radical ideology that has influenced its relations with the United States.
A new anti-corruption committee led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman carried out the arrests beginning on Nov. 4, with more than 500 eventually rounded up. The targeted top officials and members of the royal family are reputed to be fabulously wealthy, with superyachts, jets, and hundreds of cars, and were previously believed to be above the law.
The government-friendly press in Saudi Arabia reported on the arrests as a sign that the crown prince was serious about an ambitious reform agenda.
Not mentioned publicly by the government is what critics say is the most powerful reason for the crackdown: the desire to remove any challenges to the crown prince’s rule, before he formally ascends to the throne. Among the challenges facing the reformist crown prince are radical interpretations of Islam that have been used to justify terrorism around the world and strict enforcement of Islamic law at home.
At the center of the drama is billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the 50th richest person in the world. Alwaleed resented being passed over when King Abdullah announced his successor. Alwaleed’s father worked to bring radical interpretations of Islam to Saudi Arabia, and Alwaleed himself has imported radical Islamist teachings into the United States, as did others who were swept up in the early November raids.
In 2009, Alwaleed thought he’d become king. Forbes reported at the time that Alwaleed had been “making noises lately about eventually becoming king,” and that Alwaleed had in his career made contact with more than 209 prime ministers and heads of state. He had fostered ties with then-President Barack Obama, as well as with the Bush family and the Clintons.
In March 2009, Alwaleed’s father, Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, began publicly questioning Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah about who would be his successor, after it became apparent his son was not the choice.
When King Abdullah announced in October 2011 that Muhammad bin Nayef al-Saud would be crown prince, rather than Alwaleed, Talal made his dissatisfaction known.
Talal withdrew from the Allegiance Council that determines succession to the throne and a month later declared, according to Middle East research institute MEMRI, that the “hand of justice” in the National Anti-Corruption Authority should reach everyone, regardless of their social status. Soon after, in June 2012, he began publicly questioning the legitimacy of the crown prince.
For those familiar with Talal’s history, this could very well have been taken as a direct threat.
‘The Red Prince’
Talal has a history of radical Islamist politics, and was previously suspected of attempting a coup in Saudi Arabia.
In the 1950s, the threat of communist takeover came to the doors of Saudi Arabia under the banner of “modernization.” This followed trends that had already taken shape in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood was spreading a new form of Islam that merged socialism with the Islamic religion.
The new system originated with Sayyid Qutb, who was considered to be the founding father of the Muslim Brotherhood, and whose books, “Milestones” (1964) and “In the Shade of the Quran” (written 1951–1965), helped create the model for the new Islamic regimes that would sweep the Arab world.
“He evokes a lot of Islamic ideology to push for theocracy,” said Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, in an earlier interview. Jasser said Qutb’s new socialist form of Islam, which he described as “Islamism,” warped the concept of sharia (Islamic law) to push the idea that religion should be enforced by the state.
Qutb also advocated “offensive jihad,” which could justify armed conquest on behalf of Islam. The Saudi Osama Bin Laden was mentored by a student of Qutb’s brother, and Qutb’s ideas helped inspire the terror group al-Qaeda.
According to the 2005 book “The Saudi Enigma: A History” by Pascal Ménoret, leftist Islamic scholar Ali al-Umaym described the Muslim Brotherhood’s new brand of Islam as one that “concerns itself with communism, socialism, nationalism, liberalism, and all the currents from the West.”
In Saudi Arabia in the 1950s, communist and socialist movements were calling for these “Egyptian reforms” to replace the conservative monarchy. Among these groups were the Central Committee of Arabian Workers, the Organization of Saudi Communists, and the National Renewal Front, which later became the National Liberation Front in 1958—a precursor to the Communist Party of Saudi Arabia.
The revolutions eventually reached the royal family. A group of princes formed the “Free Princes” movement to demand reforms and directly challenge the king. Leading this movement was Alwaleed’s father, Talal, who was then known as “The Red Prince.”
King Saud, who ruled until 1964, declared that the Free Princes movement was a form of veiled communism, according to Ménoret, and he took actions to quell the unrest, which included the creation of the King Saud University based on the Muslim Brotherhood’s new brand of Islam.
Yet, for the communists, this was not enough. In 1962, a Saudi air force pilot fled to Egypt and revealed that a communist organization within the Saudi military was planning a coup. Around this time, Saudi authorities searched the palaces of Talal, who criticized the Saudi royalty and temporarily went into exile in Egypt.
In 1969, a military coup was prevented and, according to Ménoret, “hundreds of officers, workers and civil servants were arrested.” Over the next year, three more attempted coups would be uncovered.
As Talal began to back away from his attempted revolution, however, his son Alwaleed would carry forward his father’s support for communist movements, the Muslim Brotherhood, and a push for power.
Alwaleed brought his father’s politics to a new arena: the United States.
During a 2008 interview on the NY1 TV station talk show “Inside City Hall,” pro-communist and former Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton said he had been introduced to a young Barack Obama when the future U.S. president was applying to Harvard Law School in the late 1980s.
Sutton said he was introduced to Obama “by a friend who was raising money for him,” and he identified this friend as Dr. Khalid al-Mansour, whom he described as “a principal adviser to one of the world’s richest men.” Al-Mansour asked Sutton to write a letter to his friends at Harvard to support Obama’s entry.
The individual Sutton described as “one of the world’s richest men” was Alwaleed, and his principal adviser, al-Mansour, was helping to finance the education of select individuals who they believed could become assets in the future.
According to Trevor Loudon, author of “The Enemies Within,” Alwaleed’s choice of principal adviser was significant. Al-Mansour, formerly known as Donald Warden, was a mentor of Huey Newton, the founder of the Black Panther Party, which advocated for Maoist guerrilla warfare.
Obama’s campaign initially denied Sutton’s recollection, but news outlets found a 1979 column by Chicago Tribune columnist Vernon Jarrett titled “Will Arabs Back Ties to Blacks With Cash?” that further detailed al-Mansour’s agenda.
Investor’s Business Daily reported in September 2012 that Jarrett’s column detailed how al-Mansour was working on a program to secure $20 million a year, for 10 years, to finance minority students. It states, “These minority students would then migrate through the political system, promoting Palestinian and radical Islamist causes.”
Alwaleed was also financing Islamic study programs with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorist organizations at universities around the world.
In December 2005, Alwaleed gave $20 million to Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim–Christian Understanding. The move was considered especially controversial because of the center’s director, John Esposito, whom FrontPage Magazine described in 2008 as being “known for his vigorous apologetics for Islamic extremism.”
Around the same time, Alwaleed gave another $20 million to fund a similar program at Harvard University. Suzanne Gershowitz of the American Enterprise Institute wrote in National Review that the program tends “to amplify anti-American rhetoric, legitimize conspiracy theories, and, in the name of cultural relativism, gloss over the oppression that exists in the Arab world.”
The Saudi connections go beyond support for Obama and influence at American universities, however, and extend to other Saudi officials swept up in the recent arrests.
Saudi Arabia is among the largest donors to the Clintons, and according to Fox News, by 2008 the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had given between $10 million to $25 million to the Clinton Foundation. According to The Washington Post, the Saudis also gave close to $10 million to Bill Clinton’s presidential library.
Soon after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, it was revealed that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals. The recently declassified sections of the 9/11 Joint Congressional Inquiry’s report also revealed that the hijackers had ties to key members of the Saudi government.
According to Harper’s Magazine, a July 2, 2002, memo said there was “incontrovertible evidence that there is support for these terrorists within the Saudi government.”
John Lehman, President Ronald Reagan’s Navy secretary and a member of the 9/11 Commission, also explained the known Saudi ties to terrorism, according to “The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation” by Philip Shenon.
“Lehman said it was well-known in the intelligence circles that the Islamic affairs office functioned as the Saudis’ ‘fifth column’ in support of Muslim extremists,” Shenon states.
Other documents revealed, according to New York Post, that the Saudi Embassy paid for two Saudi nationals to fly from Phoenix to Washington for a “dry run for the 9/11 attacks.”
Former President George W. Bush was pressured to launch an inquiry into the attacks, and initially nominated Henry Kissinger to head the investigative commission.
Kissinger was soon revealed, however, to have defended Saudi Arabia from accusations that it was tied to terrorism, and may have himself had financial ties to Saudi Arabia.
Just 16 days after Kissinger was appointed, in December 2002, he resigned from his position as head of the 9/11 panel, allegedly because the position would force him to liquidate his Kissinger Associates Inc., but also under accusations of conflicts of interest.
In “The Commission,” Shenon detailed what took place behind the scenes in the 9/11 Commission, and noted that during a meeting in 2002, when Kissinger was asked if any of his clients were named bin Laden, he spilled his coffee and “seemed to lose his balance from the sofa at the same moment, nearly falling to the floor.”
The bin Laden family, of which former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was a part, is highly influential in Saudi Arabia. Bakr bin Laden, chairman of the Saudi Binladin Group and brother of Osama bin Laden, was among those recently arrested alongside Alwaleed.
The Bush family also had ties to the bin Ladens through George W. Bush’s Arbusto Energy, which received a $50,000 investment from aircraft broker James Bath. According to The Wall Street Journal in 1999, Bath was appointed as the Houston representative to Salem bin Laden, Osama bin Laden’s half-brother, in 1976.
Salem bin Laden and Osama bin Laden had met several times in 1986 in London to negotiate the purchase of Russian-made surface-to-air missiles, according to The Washington Post in 2008, which cited “The Bin Ladens” by Steve Coll. This was at a time when Osama bin Laden was fighting for the Mujahideen against the Soviet Union.
The Bush family also had close ties to Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan al-Saud, a former ambassador to the United States and the former head of Saudi Arabia’s main intelligence agency.
Bandar is allegedly one of the princes being investigated in the recent crackdown.
In July 2016, a 28-page section of the 9/11 report that had been withheld from the public was declassified. It revealed that Bandar had ties with the 9/11 hijackers. This included his relations with Osama Bassnan, a suspected Saudi intelligence agent, who cashed a $15,000 check from bin Sultan.
Bandar had also been in contact with at least two of the 9/11 hijackers, and with terrorist supporter Omar al-Bayoumi, who allegedly provided assistance to the hijackers and received monthly payments from a company the FBI believed had ties to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.
Bandar also frequently went hunting and fishing with George Bush Sr., and according to the 2008 book “State of Denial: Bush at War” by Bob Woodward, Bush Sr. encouraged George W. Bush to consult with Bandar on foreign affairs. The younger Bush allegedly stated, “My dad told me, before I make up my mind, go and talk to Bandar,” and that Bandar “knows everyone around the world who counts,” and “maybe he can set up meetings for you with people around the world.”
Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Bush met privately with Bandar, on Sept. 13, 2001. The content of their discussion is still largely unknown. According to The Guardian in 2004, Bush was already alerted of the Saudi involvement in the attacks, yet, on the same afternoon as his private meeting with Bandar, he allowed 11 chartered planes to fly more than 140 Saudis out of the country—many of whom were not interviewed by the FBI.
Just days after the terrorist attacks, on Sept. 18, 2001, Alwaleed offered $10 million to New York City for relief. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani rejected Alwaleed’s donation, however, after Alwaleed suggested the attack was tied to U.S. policies on the Middle East.
Alwaleed was later a key supporter of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the cleric who aimed to build a 15-story mosque two blocks from Ground Zero.
In September 2016, Obama vetoed a bill that would allow family members of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia, arguing such a law would expose U.S. officials to being sued in foreign countries. Congress promptly overrode his veto.