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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 December 2005, 21:27 GMT
Saudi militants repent 'errors'
By Sebastian Usher
BBC World Media correspondent

Grab from programme, showing former al-Qaeda militant Walid Khan, with the Arabic word for 'deception' superimposed
The programme stressed how the men felt 'deceived'
Saudi Arabia has launched another initiative in its efforts to combat home-grown Islamic militancy with a new prime-time television programme.

After years of denying and covering up the threat of Islamic extremism amongst its own citizens, Saudi Arabia has recently done a complete switch-around and mounted a big anti-terrorism drive - of which this is the latest example.

There was little ceremony about the new programme on the main state TV channel in Saudi Arabia.

After the evening news, it plunged straight into interviews with three young Saudis who had been in al-Qaeda-linked training camps in Afghanistan.

The men all had long, straggly beards and wore their traditional clothing loose - signs that they were strongly religious.

The programme is called Experiences in the Name of Jihad: Deception, and its main point is that the young men - who did not come across unsympathetically - had been seduced into Islamic extremism by what it calls "deviant ideology".

Intense media campaign

They told how radical preachers had won them over. One, Ziad Ibrahim, described what it was like in an Afghan training camp.

"We trained on light weapons and of course heard plenty of zealous poems and lots of fiery language was used," he said.

A Yemeni once told me that we will conquer Riyadh, God willing
Abdullah Khujah
"It all revolved around Jewish and Christian conspiracies in Muslim lands, at the forefront of which of course was our main cause - the Palestinians."

Another, Abdullah Khujah, recalled how Saudi Arabia, too, was a target for the militants:

"A Yemeni once told me that 'We will conquer Riyadh, God willing.' I asked him: 'Why conquer it as our families, brothers and sisters are there?' But he said I did not understand."

The programme was followed by a live discussion involving Saudi academics, writers and religious authorities. Viewers were also encouraged to phone in. The debate focused on why the young men were drawn to extremism.

Possible reasons suggested included marginalisation within their own society, fiery preaching by local mosque leaders, and the effect of the constant stream of violent images from the Palestinian territories and Iraq.

The programme was the latest in an intense media campaign both at home and abroad by Saudi Arabia to combat the surge in home-grown Islamist militancy that has threatened the country's stability and damaged its international image.

Such openness is in complete contrast to Saudi Arabia's original response to the problem, which was for many years to try to cover it up or blame it on foreigners.

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