Rich Lowry

The Saudi royal family can only be thinking, "What good is protection money if it doesn't protect you?"

The al-Qaida attack during the weekend in Riyadh is the latest sign that the kingdom's corrupt deal with Islamic extremists has broken down. The Saudis have been the foremost funders of extremism and terrorism abroad, with the implicit understanding that Osama bin Laden and Co. would "behave," i.e., practice their murderous mayhem only against the infidels. The bloodshed on Saudi soil now shows that the royal family's policy, in the words of Talleyrand, was worse than a crime, it was a mistake.

Whether the House of Saud responds by turning decisively against the extremists will help determine the long-term success of the U.S. war on terror, and whether the royal family survives or meets an unsightly end in "chop-chop square" (the site of public beheadings). There would be poetic justice in the Saudis getting consumed by the forces of hatred they have done so much to stoke and to appease, but a Taliban-style regime in Riyadh would be a catastrophe.

All that is necessary to know the priorities of the royal family is this: The murder of 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11 wasn't enough to get them to do anything serious to stop their support for Islamic extremism overseas. And that support is not in doubt. In congressional testimony, David Aufhauser, a top-level Treasury Department official, has called Saudi Arabia "the epicenter" of terrorist financing. It was only the bombings in Riyadh this May that moved the Saudis, creating, in the words of Aufhauser, "a sea change."

But even a sea change hasn't been enough. According to Aufhauser, Saudi cooperation on financing issues even since May has been "halting, lacking all initiative ... and sometimes insincere." Typical of the Saudi two-step -- announce great changes, but don't implement them -- was a new initiative to crack down on terrorist-tainted Saudi charities. The Saudis announced it with all the PR fanfare they could muster last year, but didn't take any steps to make it happen until pushed by U.S. officials.

The Saudi attitude is: Why do anything about terrorist money-flows when you can lie instead? The slick Saudi spokesman Adel al-Jubeir lives by that ethic. Not so long ago he said, "We have not found a direct link or support from the Saudi charities to terrorist groups." But the Saudi-funded International Islamic Relief Organization, the Benevolence International Foundation and many other groups have all been implicated in terrorist financing.

Rich Lowry

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years .
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