Over the past two weeks, the civilized world has reacted with appropriate horror and moral outrage to the gruesome murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi by agents of the Saudi government.
While most of America was shocked by the news that the Saudis would commit such an overt and barbaric crime and then blatantly lie about it, those of us who lost loved ones on Sept. 11, 2001 and have spent 17 years trying to hold the kingdom accountable for its role in those attacks, are not in the least bit surprised by the Saudi royals’ most recent act of depravity or implausible denials of responsibility.
If you are surprised by the monstrous lengths the House of Saud will go to maintain its grip on power, you simply haven’t been paying attention.
For at least the last 30 years, the Saudi royals have systematically exposed the world to violence and the menace of jihadist terrorism, solely in service of their own self-interests. They have retreated to the comfort and security of their lavish palaces while innocent people like my husband, Tom, died as a direct result of their crimes.
Mohammed bin Salman’s recent reign of terror is nothing new — he is simply playing from the same brutal playbook his family has been using for decades.
Indeed, in the two short years since Mohammed bin Salman became crown prince, the kingdom has carried out an indiscriminate bombing campaign in Yemen, killing thousands of innocent children and women. It has beheaded 48 people over a four-month period this year alone. Less than a year ago, the crown prince arrested hundreds of his own relatives and prominent businessmen in a massive shakedown that reportedly netted in excess of $100 billion. Detainees who resisted his demands to turn over their wealth were tortured, making clear that he is more crime family boss than world leader.
The crown prince’s modus operandi is to eliminate any threat to his absolute rule, no matter how minor, with unflinching brutality and brazen disregard for basic norms of humanity.
But none of this is new. For decades, the Saudi royals have been murdering (or sometimes just arresting) perceived antagonists and using their oil wealth to channel perceived threats to their rule outwards. As awful as it is, this history of targeted killing pales in comparison to the House of Saud’s deliberate unleashing of global jihadism on the civilized world and the terror and global upheaval that has flowed naturally from its pursuit. As with the killing of Khashoggi, the Saudis turned the jihadist menace on the world to preserve their own grip on power at home. They were more than happy to let the civilized world bear the deadly consequences of their actions.
A brief refresher is in order. In the early 1990s, the Saudis were confronted with a crisis. The radical Wahhabi clerics who provide religious legitimacy for the Saudis’ monarchical rule were not happy with the Saudi royals. The clerics were outraged that the royals were unable to protect the nation and had invited the “infidel” U.S. army onto Saudi soil to protect the kingdom in the Gulf War. This military impotence exacerbated the clerics’ anger concerning the royals’ staggering corruption.
In short, the pact between the House of Saud and the Wahhabi clerics that comprises the foundation for the royals’ power was breaking down. The clerics issued an unprecedented challenge to the Saudi royals’ rule, demanding that the royals curb their own corruption, establish a “mujahideen army inspired by the spirit of jihad,” and use the kingdom’s vast oil wealth to spread their intolerant, anti-American, and pro-jihadist ideology abroad.
So, what did the Saudi royals do? They appeased the clerics by funding this project, spending billions to direct the Wahhabis’ fury, hatred, and lust for jihad outward at the rest of the world. Over the next decade, the hate machine that the Saudi royals had built spread Wahhabi teachings globally, radicalizing young Muslims throughout the world and providing the ideological foundation for the rise of al Qaeda, ISIS, and every other Sunni terrorist organization that has targeted America and the West over the last 30 years. It also produced a steady stream of jihad-inspired recruits for Osama bin Laden, including the 15 Saudi hijackers who attacked America on 9/11 at the direction of their Saudi terrorist leader whose organization had long lived off Saudi money.
Stated simply, the Saudi royals literally fueled the global jihadist movement as a means to deflect attention from their own corruption and impotence. We saw the culmination of this strategy when 3,000 innocent souls were murdered here in America. Since then, our nation and its allies have spent trillions of dollars and countless lives battling the terrorist menace the House of Saud created.
The grotesque killing of Jamal Khashoggi is a tragedy that we should all abhor, but given the Saudis’ willingness to unleash that terrorist monster on the entire world, are you really surprised they would murder a journalist they found inconvenient?
Of course not, but this is not about the crown prince alone. The Saudis have been doing this for decades, and they’ll do it again as long as we keep allowing it.
Terry Strada is the National Chair of the 9/11 Families and Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism. Her late husband, Tom, was on the 104th Floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.