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Last Updated: Saturday, 20 September, 2003, 08:58 GMT 09:58 UK
Saudi defends anti-terror drive
Saudi police
Saudi authorities have intensified their search for al-Qaeda suspects
The Saudi ambassador to the United States has defended his country's counter-terrorism efforts, in a riposte to US officials who believe Saudi Arabia is not doing enough.

In a rare public speech, Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz told a foreign affairs forum in San Francisco that Saudi Arabia had employed effective measures to counter the threat.

He also accused Western media of giving the false impression that everyone in the kingdom supported al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, blamed for the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York and Washington.

US-Saudi relations have been tense since the discovery that 15 of the 19 hijackers involved in the 9/11 attacks were Saudi nationals.

If you read the papers... everybody and their mother (in Saudi Arabia) are bin Laden supporters. That's not true
Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz

Saudi Arabia has intensified its crackdown on Islamist groups with suspected links to al-Qaeda since a May car bombing in the capital Riyadh, which left 35 people dead.

Since the attack, scores of militants have been arrested and dozens of suspects have been killed in gunbattles with the Saudi security forces.

But there is still concern in Washington that Saudi Arabia is providing only limited co-operation in America's war on terror, and that some Saudi charities may still be funding organisations like al-Qaeda.

'Ugly things'

"If you read the papers... everybody and their mother (in Saudi Arabia) are Bin Laden supporters. That's not true," Prince Bandar told the gathering, organised by the World Affairs Council.

Debris at bombed al-Hamra complex
At least 35 people were killed in a bomb attack in Riyadh in May

"Nine-eleven shook me to the roots," he said, adding that the atrocities were also a wake-up call for the Saudi Government to rein in Muslim radicals in the kingdom.

"The bad news is that we found some ugly things do exist. The good news is that there was not really as much as you have been led to believe," Prince Bandar said.

"I think we have taken enough steps that will be proven to be the right steps.

"We didn't do it to please the United States of America. We did it because it violated the essence of our religion."

'Intellectual arrogance'

But in carefully measured remarks, Prince Bandar - who has served as Saudi ambassador to the US since 1983 - also said Washington's desire to dominate world affairs brought risks of its own.

"I personally feel it's not in America's interest to be the only game in town," he said.

"It costs money and no one says thank you."

The ambassador said he detected what he described as "a little bit of intellectual arrogance" in the American belief that promoting democracy was a universal solution to the world's problems.

"It didn't solve all your problems here," he said.




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