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Tuesday, 18 September, 2001, 15:01 GMT 16:01 UK
Saudi king promises US full support
Thousands of Muslim pilgrims inside the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Saudi citizens do not want to see their holy soil defiled
By BBC Middle East correspondent Frank Gardner

King Fahd of Saudi Arabia has said his country will offer America full co-operation in its fight against terrorism.

A US solider in the Saudi desert
There are already 5,000 US airmen in the Saudi desert
Thousands of US troops and several squadrons of Western war planes are already based in Saudi Arabia.

They could form an integral part of any coming military action against those Washington believe were behind last week's terror attacks.

But many Saudis deeply resent their government's alliance with America.

Diplomatic tightrope

The Saudi ruling family is faced with an awkward dilemma - just how far should it go in supporting America against an enemy which could turn out to be Arab and Muslim.

For now the Saudi leadership appears to be tagging along behind Washington, offering its full support in the global struggle against terror.

The estimated 5,000 US airmen and their warplanes already based in Saudi Arabia are so far out in the desert as to be invisible to the public eye.

That is just as well because most Saudis do not want them in their country.

Holy Islamic soil

Still less do they want to see Saudi Arabia, home to the two holiest shrines in Islam, being used as a springboard to attack so called Islamic terrorists.

Osama Bin Laden, the exiled Saudi born dissident, still enjoys a lot of sympathy in his home country.

King Fahd of Saudi Arabia
King Fahd is caught between the US and his subjects
The peace loving Saudis may not approve of his violent methods, but many agree with his motives.

They too believe that America and the West are biased against Muslims, particularly the Palestinians and Iraq.

Privately many Saudis are gloating that the world's only superpower has been humbled by last week's attacks.

Potential dissent

But America is still a major strategic ally of Saudi Arabia, so the ruling family is now having to tread something of a tightrope.

On the one hand it wants to stay on the right side of Washington, lining up to combat terror.

On the other hand it is having to appease its own restless population, insisting, for example, that Israel does not take advantage of the current situation.

Over the coming days and weeks Saudi Arabia's mainly devout population will be watching closely to see if their rulers are acting in their country's best interest.

See also:

14 Sep 01 | Americas
How far can Arab states co-operate?
14 Sep 01 | Americas
Islamic world deplores US losses
17 Sep 01 | Middle East
Iran condemns attacks on US
16 Sep 01 | Middle East
Iran weighs up its options
12 Sep 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Impact on the Middle East
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