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Future of free speech in Pakistan looks bleaker

Usman Ahmad in Lahore
 
Pakistan’s relationship with its blasphemy laws appear to be entering a new and critical phase with the recent decision of a counter-terrorism court to sent3nce a Shia man to death for allegedly sharing blasphemous content on social media.
The verdict was handed out against Taimoor Raza on Saturday, June 10, after a court in Bahawalpur found him guilty of posting derogatory remarks on Facebook about Sunni religious figures and the wives of the Prophet Muhammad.
Raza was arrested in April last year as part of a government sting operation. Raza’s defence attorney, Rana Fida Hussain, maintains his innocence and will appeal the sentence, while few hold out hope that he will prevail.
 
Always a problem
Like other countries in the region, Pakistan has never had an easy relationship with free speech. The value of diverse thought has been far from self-evident, facing innumerable enemies and few defenders.  Freedom of expression also had to contend with the frantic drive of a young nation carving out a coherent identity for itself, the results of which have seen uniformity win out over multiplicity. The country’s blasphemy laws stand out as a stark symbol of Pakistan’s predominant inclination to uphold singular versions of the truth.
Blasphemy is a highly sensitive and tumultuous issue in Pakistan and its laws – introduced by the British in 1860, expanded in 1927 and Islamised in the 1980s, under then military dictator General Zia ul Haq, to include the death penalty for offences committed against the Prophet – have proved to be a significant indicator of the measure and depth of intolerance in the country over the years. Prior to 1986, only 14 blasphemy related cases were reported. Since then, the numbers have surged and an estimated 1,274 people have been charged under the statutes.
Though the presence of such legislation is problematic, it is not the major issue. Many countries throughout the world regulate what can be said about religion. However, in the case of Pakistan, the laws are excessively harsh and the language is vague, providing no clear definition of what constitutes blasphemy or any minimum standard of evidence, leaving them open to abuse.
As things stand, blasphemy legislation is often used to provide cover for the settlement of personal scores, usually involving property and land, or to stigmatise and persecute religious minorities who are not considered equal to Muslims in the eyes of the law.
 
A government crackdown
Outside of official procedure, the charge of blasphemy comes with another form of reckoning: vigilante justice. Since 1990, 51 people accused of blasphemy have reportedly have been murdered in extra-judicial killings before the completion of their trial. In November 2014 a Christian couple were burned alive at a brick kiln in the town of Kor Rada Kishan for allegedly desecrating pages of the Holy Quran. Matters often don’t make it to the courts.
But even set against such a grim historical backdrop, the verdict against Raza is being seen as a watershed moment as it marks the first time a death sentence for the charge of blasphemy has been issued for an internet-related crime. Whereas accusations of religious sacrilege formerly emerged from real-world interactions, blasphemy charges are now being applied in the cyber sphere. This has reduced the already limited space for freedom of speech and expression in the country.
One of the fundamental problems for free speech in Pakistan, particularly speech pertaining to religion, is weak institutions that are unwilling or unable to uphold pluralistic values. In a testament to the increasing government crackdown on blasphemy charges, the government has begun to take an active role in the process.
For months now, authorities have conducted a systematic campaign against activists, journalists and those deemed guilty of acting against the established national narrative, under the pretext that they are a danger to national security. The intense response of the government occurred after the passing of last year’s cyber-crimes Bill and speaks to the unhappiness felt by the unprecedented growth of free speech through social media.
 
Future of speech in Pakistan
At the beginning of the year, five liberal online activists known for their opposition to religious extremism mysteriously disappeared. Four of them have since been returned to their families, but not before a sustained campaign was undertaken to paint them as blasphemers and enemies of Islam. As the issue came to the fore, interior minister Chaudhry Nisar threatened to ban all social media websites which contained blasphemous content.
In a further escalation, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority sent a text message to millions of Pakistanis last month asking them to report blasphemous content online.
As liberals come under attack, the online activities of extremist groups seem immune to the clampdown. A recent investigative report published by the country’s leading English-language   newspaper Dawn found that 41 out of 64 banned terrorist outfits in Pakistan were operating hundreds of pages, groups and individual profiles on Facebook in ‘plain sight’. Most of the content published was identified as sectarian and extremist, with users encouraged to make private contact with the organisations or even join them. While the story has prompted a deluge of criticism, there has so far been no direct response from the administration.
Where the government has led, the society has followed. The politicising of speech at the everyday level, through an insidious model of self-censorship, has brought a spike in violence against those accused of blasphemy.
 
A frightening new frontier
In April, Mashal Khan, a journalism student at the Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, was savagely lynched to death in his dormitory by an angry mob for alleged blasphemous activities. The murder made international headlines and drew widespread condemnation. Several weeks later, another mob attacked a man accused of blasphemy during Friday prayers in the northern outpost of Chitral. Then in May, a ten-year-old boy was killed and five others injured when a mob laid siege on a police station in southwest Pakistan in a bid to lynch a Hindu man after he was accused of insulting Islam.
Liberal voices in Pakistan are now facing a frightening new frontier, as the pressure to suppress blasphemy and free speech increases. Many will now be forced to think twice about any sort of opinion in the public or on social media. Will it be okay to critique Islamic extremism? Can you post a picture of food during Ramzan fasting hours?  Will passing a joke about a cleric be enough to have you arrested or even killed? The answer to these seemingly-ordinary questions will determine the outline and conception of free expression in Pakistan for years to come.

Comment

Usman Ahmad in Lahore
 
Pakistan’s relationship with its blasphemy laws appear to be entering a new and critical phase with the recent decision of a counter-terrorism court to sent3nce a Shia man to death for allegedly sharing blasphemous content on social media.
The verdict was handed out against Taimoor Raza on Saturday, June 10, after a court in Bahawalpur found him guilty of posting derogatory remarks on Facebook about Sunni religious figures and the wives of the Prophet Muhammad.
Raza was arrested in April last year as part of a government sting operation. Raza’s defence attorney, Rana Fida Hussain, maintains his innocence and will appeal the sentence, while few hold out hope that he will prevail.
 
Always a problem
Like other countries in the region, Pakistan has never had an easy relationship with free speech. The value of diverse thought has been far from self-evident, facing innumerable enemies and few defenders.  Freedom of expression also had to contend with the frantic drive of a young nation carving out a coherent identity for itself, the results of which have seen uniformity win out over multiplicity. The country’s blasphemy laws stand out as a stark symbol of Pakistan’s predominant inclination to uphold singular versions of the truth.
Blasphemy is a highly sensitive and tumultuous issue in Pakistan and its laws – introduced by the British in 1860, expanded in 1927 and Islamised in the 1980s, under then military dictator General Zia ul Haq, to include the death penalty for offences committed against the Prophet – have proved to be a significant indicator of the measure and depth of intolerance in the country over the years. Prior to 1986, only 14 blasphemy related cases were reported. Since then, the numbers have surged and an estimated 1,274 people have been charged under the statutes.
Though the presence of such legislation is problematic, it is not the major issue. Many countries throughout the world regulate what can be said about religion. However, in the case of Pakistan, the laws are excessively harsh and the language is vague, providing no clear definition of what constitutes blasphemy or any minimum standard of evidence, leaving them open to abuse.
As things stand, blasphemy legislation is often used to provide cover for the settlement of personal scores, usually involving property and land, or to stigmatise and persecute religious minorities who are not considered equal to Muslims in the eyes of the law.
 
A government crackdown
Outside of official procedure, the charge of blasphemy comes with another form of reckoning: vigilante justice. Since 1990, 51 people accused of blasphemy have reportedly have been murdered in extra-judicial killings before the completion of their trial. In November 2014 a Christian couple were burned alive at a brick kiln in the town of Kor Rada Kishan for allegedly desecrating pages of the Holy Quran. Matters often don’t make it to the courts.
But even set against such a grim historical backdrop, the verdict against Raza is being seen as a watershed moment as it marks the first time a death sentence for the charge of blasphemy has been issued for an internet-related crime. Whereas accusations of religious sacrilege formerly emerged from real-world interactions, blasphemy charges are now being applied in the cyber sphere. This has reduced the already limited space for freedom of speech and expression in the country.
One of the fundamental problems for free speech in Pakistan, particularly speech pertaining to religion, is weak institutions that are unwilling or unable to uphold pluralistic values. In a testament to the increasing government crackdown on blasphemy charges, the government has begun to take an active role in the process.
For months now, authorities have conducted a systematic campaign against activists, journalists and those deemed guilty of acting against the established national narrative, under the pretext that they are a danger to national security. The intense response of the government occurred after the passing of last year’s cyber-crimes Bill and speaks to the unhappiness felt by the unprecedented growth of free speech through social media.
 
Future of speech in Pakistan
At the beginning of the year, five liberal online activists known for their opposition to religious extremism mysteriously disappeared. Four of them have since been returned to their families, but not before a sustained campaign was undertaken to paint them as blasphemers and enemies of Islam. As the issue came to the fore, interior minister Chaudhry Nisar threatened to ban all social media websites which contained blasphemous content.
In a further escalation, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority sent a text message to millions of Pakistanis last month asking them to report blasphemous content online.
As liberals come under attack, the online activities of extremist groups seem immune to the clampdown. A recent investigative report published by the country’s leading English-language   newspaper Dawn found that 41 out of 64 banned terrorist outfits in Pakistan were operating hundreds of pages, groups and individual profiles on Facebook in ‘plain sight’. Most of the content published was identified as sectarian and extremist, with users encouraged to make private contact with the organisations or even join them. While the story has prompted a deluge of criticism, there has so far been no direct response from the administration.
Where the government has led, the society has followed. The politicising of speech at the everyday level, through an insidious model of self-censorship, has brought a spike in violence against those accused of blasphemy.
 
A frightening new frontier
In April, Mashal Khan, a journalism student at the Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, was savagely lynched to death in his dormitory by an angry mob for alleged blasphemous activities. The murder made international headlines and drew widespread condemnation. Several weeks later, another mob attacked a man accused of blasphemy during Friday prayers in the northern outpost of Chitral. Then in May, a ten-year-old boy was killed and five others injured when a mob laid siege on a police station in southwest Pakistan in a bid to lynch a Hindu man after he was accused of insulting Islam.
Liberal voices in Pakistan are now facing a frightening new frontier, as the pressure to suppress blasphemy and free speech increases. Many will now be forced to think twice about any sort of opinion in the public or on social media. Will it be okay to critique Islamic extremism? Can you post a picture of food during Ramzan fasting hours?  Will passing a joke about a cleric be enough to have you arrested or even killed? The answer to these seemingly-ordinary questions will determine the outline and conception of free expression in Pakistan for years to come.

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Manipulation of history for ‘social engineering’

Ram Puniyani
 
The agenda of Hindu nationalism is to polarize the communities along religious lines and to subjugate the lower castes within its gambit.  The first major target of this politics was to demonize the Muslim kings as foreigners, aggressors, who tried to convert the non Muslims, and due to whom the caste differences came up.  Their second obsession has been to glorify Aryans and uphold Hindu mythology as history. Lately newer forays are being made to promote Brahmanical values through their icons as well as to instill new icons to co-opt Dalits and OBCs.
 
Misinterpretation of history
One recalls that to instill Brahmanical norms BJP President Amit Shah greeted the people with a tweet on the occasion of Onam saying that this festival marks the birth of Vaman, the fifth avatar of Vishnu (September 2016). At the same time RSS mouth piece Kesari carried an article which said that there is no reference or description in mythology books which can support the story that Mahabali was pushed to the netherworld by Vamana. According to their version there is no mention of Mahabali’s annual homecoming in the Malayalam month of Chingam.
This is very much in contrast to the common understanding that Onam, a harvest festival is celebrated to mark the popular King Mahabali’s visit. Pongal has assumed a syncretic dimension in Kerala while the RSS effort is to give it an upper caste tilt by revoking Vishnu Avatar Vaman, who tried to push Mahabali into netherworld.  There is yet another dimension to the use of history in contemporary times by the RSS combine. In their newly renovated BJP office in UP there is a portrait resembling the Rajput king Maha Rana Pratap, but in reality the portrait is that of an eleventh century king Suhel Dev. Maharaja Suheldev, is a little-known king, whom both Pasi and Bhar communities own. Over a period of time how has Suhel Dev come to find a place amongst BJP icons? In Baharaich in UP Amit Shah had unveiled a statue of Suheldev and launched a book about him. He is being presented as a National hero who fought for independence. A train has also been started in his name, Suheldev Express.
 
BJP’s distortion of facts
To add to this UP Chief Minister Adiyanath Yogi, has announced (June 2017) that Suhel Dev’s statues will be installed in the Ambedkar Park along with existing statutes of Chatrapati Shahu, Jotirao Phule, Ambedkar, Kanshiram and Mayawati. The park built by the Mayawati Government will now have the statues of icons of other castes as well.  While Mayawati had overdone the installing of statues, still this was an attempt to give Dalit identity an honorable place in public memory.  The present move comes with propagating a version of History which suits Hindu nationalism. For instance it is being propagated that Suhel Dev took on Salar Mahmood (Ghazi Miyan), a nephew of Mahmood Ghazni, who had come to the region to settle, seeing its beautiful environment.
As per Prof Badri Narayan (Fascinating Hindutva, Sage) the popular narrative is that Suhel Dev, was tyrannical against Muslims and Dalits. On insistence from the local people Salar Mahmood took on Suhel Dev and in the battle both the kings died. The dargah of Ghazi Miyan is visited by both communities as it is believed that prayers here will help the afflicted get rid of disease, with a bath in the lake a cure for leprosy!
In contrast, the story being popularized by RSS affiliates is that Ghazi Miyan was a foreign aggressor and Suhel Dev, to protect the Hindu religion, engaged with him in a battle, losing his life in defense of the Hindu religion. There was a mention of this king in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech (August 2016). He hailed Suhel Dev as a king who protected cows and also used cattle in warfare by placing these in front of his army.
 
Vengeful divide & rule
Here again the popular narrative that spoke of communal amity and harmony arising from the popularity of Ghazi Miyan’s tomb for all has been shifted to a pro-Hindutva angle in the framework of Hindu versus Muslim.
In case of Suhel Dev there is a twofold strategy, on the one hand to present him as a Hindu icon against Islam and secondly, to add to him on the icon of Pasi-Rajbhar communities for electoral and social goals. The goal is to create icons from each sub caste from among Dalits, irrespective of whether they contributed to Dalit uplift or not. This is to divide Dalit unity. This also adds a king to the number of icons they are trying to bring up.  We need to remember that kings presided over a system of society based on hierarchy, in contrast to the icons whose statues have been placed in Ambedkar Park. These icons had done something to liberate the Dalit community from caste slavery, to add to their struggles for equality in society. Kings are being brought forward mainly for identity politics.
Since history is so important to this nationalism, they will go to any extent to glorify the Hindu kings. The political system of kingdoms is not something which we can uphold today. Still for sectarian nationalism the political structure and values of feudal times, the period of kingdoms is what they want to restore. To take matters forward Rajasthan’s education minister Vasudev Devnani states that in the Haldighati battle, it was Rana Pratap who won. So far what was happening was giving an interpretation of events; now with likes of Devnani even the events can be mauled to suit subjective political goals!
 
Eric Hobsbawm correctly stated that ‘history is to nationalism what poppy is to an opium addict!’

Comment

Ram Puniyani
 
The agenda of Hindu nationalism is to polarize the communities along religious lines and to subjugate the lower castes within its gambit.  The first major target of this politics was to demonize the Muslim kings as foreigners, aggressors, who tried to convert the non Muslims, and due to whom the caste differences came up.  Their second obsession has been to glorify Aryans and uphold Hindu mythology as history. Lately newer forays are being made to promote Brahmanical values through their icons as well as to instill new icons to co-opt Dalits and OBCs.
 
Misinterpretation of history
One recalls that to instill Brahmanical norms BJP President Amit Shah greeted the people with a tweet on the occasion of Onam saying that this festival marks the birth of Vaman, the fifth avatar of Vishnu (September 2016). At the same time RSS mouth piece Kesari carried an article which said that there is no reference or description in mythology books which can support the story that Mahabali was pushed to the netherworld by Vamana. According to their version there is no mention of Mahabali’s annual homecoming in the Malayalam month of Chingam.
This is very much in contrast to the common understanding that Onam, a harvest festival is celebrated to mark the popular King Mahabali’s visit. Pongal has assumed a syncretic dimension in Kerala while the RSS effort is to give it an upper caste tilt by revoking Vishnu Avatar Vaman, who tried to push Mahabali into netherworld.  There is yet another dimension to the use of history in contemporary times by the RSS combine. In their newly renovated BJP office in UP there is a portrait resembling the Rajput king Maha Rana Pratap, but in reality the portrait is that of an eleventh century king Suhel Dev. Maharaja Suheldev, is a little-known king, whom both Pasi and Bhar communities own. Over a period of time how has Suhel Dev come to find a place amongst BJP icons? In Baharaich in UP Amit Shah had unveiled a statue of Suheldev and launched a book about him. He is being presented as a National hero who fought for independence. A train has also been started in his name, Suheldev Express.
 
BJP’s distortion of facts
To add to this UP Chief Minister Adiyanath Yogi, has announced (June 2017) that Suhel Dev’s statues will be installed in the Ambedkar Park along with existing statutes of Chatrapati Shahu, Jotirao Phule, Ambedkar, Kanshiram and Mayawati. The park built by the Mayawati Government will now have the statues of icons of other castes as well.  While Mayawati had overdone the installing of statues, still this was an attempt to give Dalit identity an honorable place in public memory.  The present move comes with propagating a version of History which suits Hindu nationalism. For instance it is being propagated that Suhel Dev took on Salar Mahmood (Ghazi Miyan), a nephew of Mahmood Ghazni, who had come to the region to settle, seeing its beautiful environment.
As per Prof Badri Narayan (Fascinating Hindutva, Sage) the popular narrative is that Suhel Dev, was tyrannical against Muslims and Dalits. On insistence from the local people Salar Mahmood took on Suhel Dev and in the battle both the kings died. The dargah of Ghazi Miyan is visited by both communities as it is believed that prayers here will help the afflicted get rid of disease, with a bath in the lake a cure for leprosy!
In contrast, the story being popularized by RSS affiliates is that Ghazi Miyan was a foreign aggressor and Suhel Dev, to protect the Hindu religion, engaged with him in a battle, losing his life in defense of the Hindu religion. There was a mention of this king in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech (August 2016). He hailed Suhel Dev as a king who protected cows and also used cattle in warfare by placing these in front of his army.
 
Vengeful divide & rule
Here again the popular narrative that spoke of communal amity and harmony arising from the popularity of Ghazi Miyan’s tomb for all has been shifted to a pro-Hindutva angle in the framework of Hindu versus Muslim.
In case of Suhel Dev there is a twofold strategy, on the one hand to present him as a Hindu icon against Islam and secondly, to add to him on the icon of Pasi-Rajbhar communities for electoral and social goals. The goal is to create icons from each sub caste from among Dalits, irrespective of whether they contributed to Dalit uplift or not. This is to divide Dalit unity. This also adds a king to the number of icons they are trying to bring up.  We need to remember that kings presided over a system of society based on hierarchy, in contrast to the icons whose statues have been placed in Ambedkar Park. These icons had done something to liberate the Dalit community from caste slavery, to add to their struggles for equality in society. Kings are being brought forward mainly for identity politics.
Since history is so important to this nationalism, they will go to any extent to glorify the Hindu kings. The political system of kingdoms is not something which we can uphold today. Still for sectarian nationalism the political structure and values of feudal times, the period of kingdoms is what they want to restore. To take matters forward Rajasthan’s education minister Vasudev Devnani states that in the Haldighati battle, it was Rana Pratap who won. So far what was happening was giving an interpretation of events; now with likes of Devnani even the events can be mauled to suit subjective political goals!
 
Eric Hobsbawm correctly stated that ‘history is to nationalism what poppy is to an opium addict!’

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Riyadh kept secret of its students in U.S. joining ISIS
Whitney Webb in Washington D.C
Mint Press
 
Saudi citizens have studied in the U.S. for years - but a new report states that approximately 400 of them have left the country after arrival to join terrorist groups like ISIS. There is evidence that both Saudi and U.S. officials knew of this issue for some time, but refused to do anything about it.
A newly released investigative report from the Institute for Gulf Affairs (IGA) based in Washington, D.C. details what they have referred to as “one of the biggest terrorist threats against the United States homeland.”
The report “From American College Campuses to ISIS: How Hundreds of Saudis joined ISIS in the U.S.” describes how Saudi nationals living in the U.S. have left to join internationally-recognized terrorist groups like Daesh (ISIS) and al-Nusra in large numbers – a fact that was known to top Saudi government officials but was intentionally never shared with the U.S. government.
 
Saudi govt. knew it
The investigation found that approximately 400 Saudi and Kuwaiti citizens who were living in the United States – most of whom were studying abroad on Saudi government-issued scholarships – later left to join terrorist groups. Many of them are U.S.-Saudi dual citizens who were born in the U.S. while their parents studied abroad.
The figures given in the report assert that Saudi nationals comprise the largest number of U.S. residents who have left to join terrorist groups fighting in nations like Syria and Iraq. In general, Saudi citizens constitute the largest foreign nationality within Daesh and the group itself is known to receive large amounts of funding from prominent Daudis, as well as the Saudi government itself.
Saudi government officials actively colluded to hide this information from U.S. authorities, as well as obfuscated the ties that some of its citizens had to radical groups prior to their entrance into the United States. The report names several Saudi officials who knew of such Saudis living in the U.S., including Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.
It also notes that the Saudi government possesses “one of the most sophisticated systems” for tracking the movements of its citizens between countries, including mandatory fingerprint verification for all citizens who receive government services. The government has been known to deny services to citizens for offenses as minor as unpaid traffic tickets. Clearly, the Saudi Interior Ministry was aware of Saudi students living in the U.S. and elsewhere who abandoned their scholarships to take up arms with Daesh and similar groups.
 
Some US agents were bribed
But in addition to the silence from Saudi Arabia concerning the issue, several U.S. officials – who were informed well in advance by the IGA of the growing number of Saudi nationals within the U.S. who had joined Daesh’s ranks – failed to act on the information once informed.  The report states that the FBI failed to notice the trend of Saudi nationals leaving the U.S. to join terrorist groups, a failure that the report’s author Ali al-Ahmed told MintPress News was likely due to negligence.
In April 2014, the report notes that IGA representatives met with two FBI special agents, as well as Obama administration official George Slim, to share information regarding the troubling phenomenon.  However, Slim and the agents became unreachable following the meeting.
The close personal relationship of former CIA Director John Brennan to the Saudi monarchy, as well as the fact that former FBI director Louis Freeh was paid nearly $1 million to represent a Saudi official in an international corruption case, were cited as possible reasons for the Obama administration’s lack of interest in pursuing the issue. Neither the FBI nor the White House ever shared the information with the State Department, which was unaware of the issue until IGA contacted them in May prior to the report’s release.
One example of the U.S. State Department’s apparent lack of knowledge regarding the connections Saudi nationals have to terrorist groups was its issuance of a visa to Saudi cleric Saad al-Durihim in 2016. al-Durihim is an open supporter of Daesh and al-Nusra who once urged Daesh to massacre Shiite women and children in Iraq and called for the U.S. to fall prey to Saudi Wahhabists.
 
US security ignored
Despite al-Durihim’s ties to the two groups, he was allowed entrance to the United States in December 2016 to attend his son’s graduation ceremony at Shawnee State University in Ohio. His son, Yaser al-Durihim, was permitted to study in the U.S., despite his father’s ties to extremist groups.
Ultimately, the report warns that the lack of vetting for Saudi nationals entering the U.S. presents a threat to U.S. security, given the trends it details.
If Saudi nationals who leave the U.S. end up joining Daesh and returning to the U.S. – a real possibility, given the near non-existent vetting and the dual citizenship of many of these individuals – Daesh’s presence in the United States would certainly increase. But with the U.S. government’s refusal to recognize the Saudi government as a major sponsor of global terror, the U.S.’ “special relationship” with Saudi Arabia may once again continue to take priority over national security.

Comment

Whitney Webb in Washington D.C
Mint Press
 
Saudi citizens have studied in the U.S. for years - but a new report states that approximately 400 of them have left the country after arrival to join terrorist groups like ISIS. There is evidence that both Saudi and U.S. officials knew of this issue for some time, but refused to do anything about it.
A newly released investigative report from the Institute for Gulf Affairs (IGA) based in Washington, D.C. details what they have referred to as “one of the biggest terrorist threats against the United States homeland.”
The report “From American College Campuses to ISIS: How Hundreds of Saudis joined ISIS in the U.S.” describes how Saudi nationals living in the U.S. have left to join internationally-recognized terrorist groups like Daesh (ISIS) and al-Nusra in large numbers – a fact that was known to top Saudi government officials but was intentionally never shared with the U.S. government.
 
Saudi govt. knew it
The investigation found that approximately 400 Saudi and Kuwaiti citizens who were living in the United States – most of whom were studying abroad on Saudi government-issued scholarships – later left to join terrorist groups. Many of them are U.S.-Saudi dual citizens who were born in the U.S. while their parents studied abroad.
The figures given in the report assert that Saudi nationals comprise the largest number of U.S. residents who have left to join terrorist groups fighting in nations like Syria and Iraq. In general, Saudi citizens constitute the largest foreign nationality within Daesh and the group itself is known to receive large amounts of funding from prominent Daudis, as well as the Saudi government itself.
Saudi government officials actively colluded to hide this information from U.S. authorities, as well as obfuscated the ties that some of its citizens had to radical groups prior to their entrance into the United States. The report names several Saudi officials who knew of such Saudis living in the U.S., including Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.
It also notes that the Saudi government possesses “one of the most sophisticated systems” for tracking the movements of its citizens between countries, including mandatory fingerprint verification for all citizens who receive government services. The government has been known to deny services to citizens for offenses as minor as unpaid traffic tickets. Clearly, the Saudi Interior Ministry was aware of Saudi students living in the U.S. and elsewhere who abandoned their scholarships to take up arms with Daesh and similar groups.
 
Some US agents were bribed
But in addition to the silence from Saudi Arabia concerning the issue, several U.S. officials – who were informed well in advance by the IGA of the growing number of Saudi nationals within the U.S. who had joined Daesh’s ranks – failed to act on the information once informed.  The report states that the FBI failed to notice the trend of Saudi nationals leaving the U.S. to join terrorist groups, a failure that the report’s author Ali al-Ahmed told MintPress News was likely due to negligence.
In April 2014, the report notes that IGA representatives met with two FBI special agents, as well as Obama administration official George Slim, to share information regarding the troubling phenomenon.  However, Slim and the agents became unreachable following the meeting.
The close personal relationship of former CIA Director John Brennan to the Saudi monarchy, as well as the fact that former FBI director Louis Freeh was paid nearly $1 million to represent a Saudi official in an international corruption case, were cited as possible reasons for the Obama administration’s lack of interest in pursuing the issue. Neither the FBI nor the White House ever shared the information with the State Department, which was unaware of the issue until IGA contacted them in May prior to the report’s release.
One example of the U.S. State Department’s apparent lack of knowledge regarding the connections Saudi nationals have to terrorist groups was its issuance of a visa to Saudi cleric Saad al-Durihim in 2016. al-Durihim is an open supporter of Daesh and al-Nusra who once urged Daesh to massacre Shiite women and children in Iraq and called for the U.S. to fall prey to Saudi Wahhabists.
 
US security ignored
Despite al-Durihim’s ties to the two groups, he was allowed entrance to the United States in December 2016 to attend his son’s graduation ceremony at Shawnee State University in Ohio. His son, Yaser al-Durihim, was permitted to study in the U.S., despite his father’s ties to extremist groups.
Ultimately, the report warns that the lack of vetting for Saudi nationals entering the U.S. presents a threat to U.S. security, given the trends it details.
If Saudi nationals who leave the U.S. end up joining Daesh and returning to the U.S. – a real possibility, given the near non-existent vetting and the dual citizenship of many of these individuals – Daesh’s presence in the United States would certainly increase. But with the U.S. government’s refusal to recognize the Saudi government as a major sponsor of global terror, the U.S.’ “special relationship” with Saudi Arabia may once again continue to take priority over national security.

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