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House Lawmakers Blast Saudi Arabia for Spreading Extremism

Several House lawmakers angrily accused the Saudi government of stoking extremism as they considered a new Senate bill Tuesday to allow victims of the 9/11 terror attacks to sue the oil-rich monarchy.

Saudi new King Salman (C), Crown Prince Moqren bin Abdul Aziz (3L) and deputy Crown Prince and Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef (L) walk to greet US President Barack Obama (unseen) and First Lady Michelle Obama (unseen) at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh on January 27, 2015. Obama landed in Saudi Arabia to shore up ties with new King Salman and offer condolences after the death of his predecessor Abdullah. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB / AFP / SAUL LOEB        (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Saudi new King Salman (C), Crown Prince Moqren bin Abdul Aziz (3L) and deputy Crown Prince and Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef (L) walk to greet US President Barack Obama (unseen) and First Lady Michelle Obama (unseen) at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh on January 27, 2015. Obama landed in Saudi Arabia to shore up ties with new King Salman and offer condolences after the death of his predecessor Abdullah. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB / AFP / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Several House lawmakers angrily accused the Saudi government of stoking extremism as they considered a new Senate bill Tuesday to allow victims of the 9/11 terror attacks to sue the oil-rich monarchy.

It was the latest sign of Capitol Hill’s growing frustration with the Saudi kingdom, which lawmakers criticized for financing the spread of Wahhabism, an ultraconservative form of Islam.

“The Saudis and the Saudi royal family have been right up to their eyeballs in terrorist activity,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.).

Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), the chairman of a House subcommittee on terrorism, noted that “Wahhabi followers are more easily recruited by terrorist groups.”

Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman of California accused Riyadh of funding religious leaders who “preach violent murder against those who they disagree with.”

In anticipation of the criticism, the Saudi government released two fact sheets to reporters Tuesday touting strong counterterror ties between the U.S. and the Mideast kingdom, including curbing Iran’s influence and cracking down on terrorism financing. The documents also rebutted claims that the Saudi government had any role in supporting the 9/11 hijackers, 15 of whom were citizens of Saudi Arabia.

Riyadh has made no secret it opposes the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which the Senate passed last week and could go to a vote in the House as early as next week. The legislation would allow the victims of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil to sue foreign countries for supporting terrorist activities.

The White House opposes the legislation, saying it could expose the U.S. to lawsuits around the world. “It’s difficult to imagine the president signing this legislation,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said last week.

During the hearing, Rohrabacher asked the four Saudi expert witnesses — who included former 9/11 commissioner Tim Roemer — to raise their hands if they believed the Saudi Royal family did not know of the 9/11 plot ahead of time. Two experts, Karen Elliot House of the Belfer Center and Daniel Byman of Georgetown University, raised their hands, while Roemer and Simon Henderson of the Washington Institute kept their hands down. Later, Roemer said the question was too complex to deal with in an up-or-down fashion, but Rohrabacher rejected that view. “The Saudis have been financing terrorism now for 20 years at least,” Rohrabacher said.

The dispute comes as the Obama administration considers the public release of 28 classified pages of a congressional inquiry into 9/11. A handful of former U.S. officials say the pages show that some Saudi authorities were complicit in the 9/11 attacks — an allegation that Riyadh strongly denies. Saudi Arabia has said it supports the release of the pages so it can finally defend itself against the accusations of its critics.

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John Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013. @john_hudson

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