Journal Essay

Combating Extremism: A Brief Overview of Saudi Arabia's Approach

Abdullah F. Ansary

Summer 2008, Volume XV, Number 2

Dr. Ansary currently serves as a senior fellow of the Homeland Security Policy Institute (HSPI) of The George Washington University.*

Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries where the fight against terrorism and extremism has yielded real success. This success cannot be explained only by the effectiveness of its security measures, but also by its softer approach in tackling radical ideologies.1 Although religious fanaticism and extremism are as old as human society itself, they have reached unprecedented levels in the kingdom in recent years, resulting in loss of life and damage to property.2 After September 11, 2001, Saudi Arabia embarked on a very aggressive counterterrorism campaign: arresting thousands of people, questioning thousands of suspects, dismantling al-Qaeda cells and killing or capturing their leaders, seizing large caches of arms, extraditing suspects from other countries, and establishing joint task forces with global partners, including the United States. The Riyadh compound bombing in May 2003, however, created a turning point in Saudi Arabia’s fight against extremism.3 Following that attack,4 the Saudi government realized that existing security measures were insufficient and recognized the essential role of radical ideology in motivating terrorists and justifying terror. The Saudi government recrafted its strategy to take on the radical ideologies that foster violent extremism. As a leader in the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia is committed to demonstrating serious determination and responsible leadership in eliminating the mentality of extremism and violence that perverts the Islamic religion.5


Fighting radical religious beliefs and extremist ideology in the kingdom is no easy task. Many of those who write on radicalization among Muslims confuse the true values of the Islamic faith and mentality with extremism. They ignore the fact that for Muslims, especially in Saudi Arabia, Islam is the basis and context of their thoughts, feelings and behavior.6 It touches every aspect of their lives: it inspires them, guides them in their relationship with rulers and officials, provides a framework for everyday actions, and leads them to improve their personal behavior and to raise their moral values and ethical standards.

In Islam, politics and government are viewed as constituting a single sphere of the religion. Among the concepts that govern the relationship between the ruler and the ruled, and Muslims and non-Muslims, are these: duties of hearing and obedience (al-sam wa al-taa), the pledge of allegiance (al-bayah), loyalty to Muslims and prohibition of allegiance to non-Muslims regarded as enemies (al-wala wa al-bara), the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice (al-amr bi al-maruf wa al-nahy an al-munkar), assisting the nonbelievers against the believers (almudhaharah), the concept of judgment (al-hakimiyyah), and the obligation of applying the Shariah (God’s Law), and jihad in Islam.7 In order to avoid making mistakes that can damage the image of Islam and distort its provisions, these and other concepts must be understood properly according to the correct interpretation in Islam.8 The adoption of narrow, erroneous or extremist interpretations of these concepts, the text of the Holy Book (Quran) or the Prophet’s Traditions (Sunnah) have been used to justify a widespread campaign of violence against governments and civilians in the name of Islam.

In the process of formulating its national strategy against terrorism, the Saudi government has confronted the dark side of religious practice — a small group that advocates hatred and encourages terrorism. Youth constitute the majority of this group, as they are targeted for radicalization and recruitment to commit violence in the name of Islamic jihad.9 The vast majority of this group accept the radical political and theological doctrine of takfir, the practice of declaring that an individual or a group previously considered Muslims are kuffar (plural kaffir), or nonbelievers in God.10

The development of extremism in Saudi Arabia goes back decades. Al-Sahwah al-Islamiyyah (Islamic Awakening), which rose in 1968, started as a nonviolent, symbolic, apolitical movement that confined its activities to individual acts, such as listening to tapes of the Quran. There were no lectures or religious assemblies, or clerics making speeches and giving lectures about current affairs. Later some religious figures started moving into the public realm, giving lectures and producing tapes of their ideas.11 These religious figures were influenced by extremist religious and political thinking imported from outside religous figures and movements. Members of these external movements, who were persecuted in their own countries, found refuge in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s and started to spread their ideology throughout the Saudi population, which was accustomed to accepting whatever was presented to it in the name of Islam. These figures took the lead in Islamic studies in Saudi public schools and universities and had an influence on many of the young generation who were close to them. In this way, they created a group of followers and students who spread these views to others.12 They found an audience and, in some instances, abused this religious revival by politicizing it to justify their agenda.13

Before its transformation into violence, extremism had been spreading to Saudi youth through secret meetings, camps and trips exploiting the confidence accorded to those of faith. Most of these young men had been living in circumstances that facilitated increased isolation from mainstream society: reading selected books, listening to selected tapes, and hearing from selected individuals who indoctrinated them with radical ideology.14 Members of this group, who believe in al-Qaeda’s extreme views, share the common ground of being superficial and simplistic. Muslim scholars stand in bewilderment of the weak understanding and lack of real knowledge of shariah among youth who are consumed by religious devotion.15

The theological basis of takfir adopted by some of these religious figures and movements may be rooted in the alkhawarij movement, a Muslim sect that rejected the authority of the fourth caliph, Ali Bin Abi Talib. The Neo-Khawarij of our time (as many Islamic thinkers term them) advocate challenging their rulers, viewing them as abusers of wealth and power who do not rule according to the Quran. Today’s extremists adopted Al-Khawarij theology based on the concept of al-hakimiyyah, the rule of Allah.16 Their beliefs are based on narrow interpretations of the Quran and Hadith, and they lack any knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence. This has led to such ideologies as takfir and a version of jihad dominated by violence and terrorism. Jihad in Afghanistan in the early 1980s was also a key factor that helped many of those who nurtured this deviant thinking to encourage extremism through the younger generation who participated in jihad at that time. Extremists took advantage of the jihad atmosphere at that time to develop close ties with the young in order to convince them of these beliefs and take advantage of those who lacked proper knowledge of shariah.17

Following the first Gulf War, extremists shifted their focus to fighting the growing U.S. presence in the Middle East, particularly in Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s most holy sites. Extremists began to commit takfir against the Saudi government, accusing Saudi leaders of being non-Muslims. A few prominent religious scholars in Saudi Arabia began to voice their opposition to the stationing of U.S. troops in the kingdom and to the threat that their presence posed. Their lectures were recorded on audiotapes and transcribed into brochures that were distributed to youth all over the kingdom.18 Though the Council of Senior Ulama in Saudi Arabia issued a fatwa (religious edict) permitting the arrival of non-Muslim troops in Saudi Arabia during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, al-Qaeda vociferously opposed the stationing of U.S. troops and accused the Saudi rulers of betrayal and treason. Many al-Qaeda members described a systematic campaign in al-Qaeda camps to undermine Muslim governments, especially that of Saudi Arabia, through lectures and religious programs.19 After returning from Afghanistan imbued with radical ideology, members of al-Qaeda began to radicalize and recruit Saudi citizens to wage war against the government.20 They portrayed themselves as the saviors of the nation, freedom fighters who wanted to liberate the country from occupation by infidels.21

The presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia, the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent blockade became some of the grievances listed by al-Qaeda to justify its violent campaign. Politically, al-Qaeda opposes the Saudi royal family and perceives it as religiously and politically corrupt and hypocritical in its professed religious beliefs and its claims to be the guardian of Islamic holy places. Al-Qaeda members view the Saudi government’s social, economic and political advances as being driven by non-Islamic or Western values that lead Saudi society away from the true practice of the faith of Islam.22

Their views extend to other Muslim countries, accusing their rulers of being infidels who govern by other means than instruction from Allah (al-hukm bi ghayr ma anzala allah).23 Al-Qaeda’s message to its followers has developed over time. It first prioritized the obligation to expel the infidels from the Arabian Peninsula. Its goal then became toppling the infidel governments in the Muslim world, which evolved into restoring the rule of the caliphate under sacred Islamic law starting from Mecca. Finally it mixed these goals with that of accomplishing what the Prophet referred to as “repairing what people had vitiated.”24

Analysis shows that, today, al-Qaeda and other extremist groups use similar methods to those of the 1980s to radicalize and recruit young alienated Saudi men and women. In this process, al-Qaeda relies heavily on its religious and media committees for radicalization and recruitment. The Religious Committee justifies terrorism within the theological parameters of alQaeda’s model of Islam, and reinforces the significance of their organization.25 Although influenced by contemporary reform movements around the Islamic world, al-Qaeda has moved towards a more unique identity and has declared these other groups to be kuffar, or non-believers.26 The work of the Religious Committee played a key role in affirming and consolidating takfir ideology, providing a religious cover for violence in the name of Islam and twisting Islamic law through false claims. It has maligned the image of Islam and corrupted the moral and ethical code of the Islamic faith by adopting misinterpretations of the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet, and citing verses in the Quran in isolation to justify violence against non-Muslim civilians, Muslim governments, and Muslims labeled as apostates or hypocrites. The committee resolves any ideological debate by fabricating fatwas without proper reading or understanding of the Islamic principles involved.27 The action of the Media Committee builds upon the justification of the attacks by the Religious Committee to produce propaganda designed to radicalize and recruit vulnerable youth to support the al-Qaeda organization and its objectives.28

Extremists primarily target the children of inattentive or separated parents, unemployed or corrupt individuals and, most important, those who recently repented and turned to God or those who live in dysfunctional families.29 The majority of their targets are uneducated, and few have academic degrees.30 For many, ties with friends or relatives foster the process of joining terrorist cells. Targets of radicalization congregate in rest houses, eat meals together, debate religion, politics and jihad, listen to audio tapes from radical religious leaders, and view video tapes about Muslim grievances in Palestine, Chechnya and Afghanistan. They discuss ways to support the jihad campaign in these countries with the goal of expelling the infidels from the Arabian Peninsula.31 Conspiracy theories about Muslim nations being occupied and colonized by the West through carefully executed plans always dominate these discussions.32

Another method of radicalization and recruitment emerged with text messages and telephone calls from relatives and friends discussing and analyzing jihad. Such communications set the stage for meetings with radical leaders, who then try to convince individuals to join cells.33 In this process, al-Qaeda and other extremist groups use a variety of audiotapes, videotapes, books, notes and magazines, all of which carry radical ideology designed to recruit new members. Many books and audiotapes are smuggled into Saudi Arabia. Others are produced internally and distributed secretly. Fiery sermons, poems and passionate Islamic songs (nasheed) are used, due to their potential for fueling the feelings of young people and making them more responsive to radical ideology.34 Various jihad stories — false tales of a successful jihad campaign in Saudi Arabia and interpretations of inspirational dreams (ruyah) — are employed as motivation and justification for jihad.35 Misused religious texts about jihad in the name of God, the attainment of paradise, and the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in the Arabian Peninsula, or what they usually refer to as the “Holy Land,” are some of the tools used to inflame the youths’ emotions and passions. Once indoctrinated, the next step is to transfer words into action by planning, managing and executing violence in the name of Islam.36

Extremists also have led an intensive campaign to marginalize senior Saudi ulama and to diminish their image in the eyes of the society, calling them derogatory names: “Council of Senior Agents” and the “authority sheikhs,” instead of the “Honorable Mufti,” “the Honorable office and position.” In addition, extremists have cursed the senior ulama and called them infidels, especially those who have spoken out against terrorism and suicide attacks.37 They have instructed their followers not to listen to senior Saudi scholars, whom they call hypocrites. This has resulted in ignorance of several crucial subjects, such as jihad, al-wala wa al-bara and takfir, among al-Qaeda’s followers.38

The Internet is one of the most important resources used by al-Qaeda and other extremists groups to spread deviant ideologies like the takfir and jihad doctrines to Saudi youth. The al-Qaeda Media Committee produces montages of audio and video materials with fiery Islamic songs and poems about jihad. These materials are then distributed to the community over the Internet and in videotape format. The committee also produces fabricated reports and stories, especially regarding the achievements of their cells and the terrorist operations in the kingdom. They distribute takfir brochures, and in their forums and mail groups, they alter fatwas declared by the kingdom’s senior ulama.39 Other members follow Western media and gather any policy statements regarding Islam, especially those unfounded policy analyses that lay out plans to occupy Saudi Arabia or seize control of oil fields. They analyze, publish and distribute these and similar reports among enthusiastic youngsters.40 Other unqualified members issue fatwas over the Internet: fatwas on takfir, apostasy and blasphemy of Muslims, and the authorization to shed Muslim blood, especially that of security officers.41 Other sympathizers have become advocates of al-Qaeda’s radical message and have helped the organization by spreading it through audiotapes and leaflets that incite hatred against Islamic scholars and the Saudi government. They also contribute on the Internet in chat rooms and Internet forums.42

In chat rooms, youths share audio, video and written materials, and discuss religious and political topics such as the infidelity of the Saudi state. They visit radical websites that contain perverse books, articles, notes, misleading fatwas, private interviews with radical clerics who legitimize takfir and violence, and audio and video materials taped before and after the execution of terrorist acts with the primary purpose of drawing young audiences into the spiral of takfir and violence.43 Among the materials is an extensive collection of books, notes, and audio and video tapes circulated by hand and over the Internet that authorize rebellion against Muslim rulers (khuruj ala al-hakim) and declare them kuffar. Such materials include Saeed Abdul Ghani’s book Ahl Al-Sunnah Faith in Loyalty and Disassociation Doctrine and the literature of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, who has expressed deep hatred of the kingdom and its religious scholars. Among his notable books are Clear Evidence of the Infidel Nature of the Saudi State, About the Saudi Council of Senior Ulama Fatwa of Killing Mujahideen Al Ulyah, Working with Infidel Governments, and About the Saudi Mufti Fatwa on Matrydom Operations.44 Other materials circulated through radical websites include “Research on the Rule of Killing Security (Mabahith) Officers” and “Pledge to Them Your Death,”45 as well as numerous audiotapes such as “Get Ready for Jihad,” “No to the Jihad of the Infidels But Yes to the Jihad and Assassination of the Rulers of this Country,” and “The Weapons, the Weapons.” These and other materials endorse the killing of security forces and permit aiding and concealing terrorists. In addition, there are numerous books and videotapes on how to make explosives and other deadly materials such as found in the book How to Make Poisons the Easy Way and others that incite hatred and violence.46

Extremists usually take the initiative to radicalize and recruit new members. However, because of the vast amount of material available on the Internet, it is apparent that “self-radicalization” has augmented the traditional process and quickly become commonplace. In some cases, an inversion of the usual process occurs when youths volunteer to join terrorist organizations. Finally, there are intensive recruitment programs to prepare women for jihad, especially after the campaign by the Saudi government to round up al-Qaeda members. The spread of radical ideology among women is attributed to female Internet forums and mail groups supervised by al-Qaeda sympathizers.47 Mothers, sisters and spouses, many of whom were either persuaded or coerced by their husbands or relatives, are among those who have adopted radical views. However, many have refused such pressures and have been helpful to the authorities.48

As a result of this extremist ideology, many youths have radically departed from the social, religious and political thinking of Islam. They condemn many of the practices of Muslims, including those of their own families. Signs of radicalization among these youths include radical negative changes in behavior, such as lying to parents; breaking family ties over television ownership; not eating in their parents’ house because they believe the money they earn is haram (forbidden); burning and tearing up their family’s Western-style clothes; destroying Quranic or lecture audiotapes from certain ulama or imams because they were speaking out against what they describe as al-mujahideen (strugglers) inside the Arabian Peninsula;49 leaving Friday prayers and sermons because of their hatred of a sheikh (khateeb) who speaks harshly against the mujahedeen; destroying their school certificates for being haram;50 refusing to pray in the two holy mosques because of decoration or adornment on the walls and ceilings;51 or calling for the excommunication of their parents or the entire society.52 They also call for the excommunication of the entire society for the practices of Muslims in other Islamic countries.53 Such individuals become not only enemies to their parents, but also to the entire community. In effect, these individuals become time bombs.54

Those who choose to join al-Qaeda and terrorist cells live in heavily guarded places, isolated from their families and the outside world, without access to senior al-Qaeda members. Their leaders legitimize the ignoring of obligatory prayers and use Friday prayers to broadcast messages over the Internet and in chat rooms. Recruits are encouraged to steal their parents’ property (e.g., cars and money) to help fellow members in the cell.55 They sometimes dress and act like women in order to hide from security forces. They are expected to rent houses and use women and children as cover for weapons caches.56 In addition, they commit crimes such as forgery of official documents and passports, robbery and eventually assassinations, bombings and suicide missions.57 Senior operatives impose media isolation on their cell members and confiscate religious materials that present views opposing their extremist position, keeping recruits ignorant of local or international events.58 Senior operatives isolate them from their parents, cursing them and calling them infidels until the initiates hate them.59 This behavior illustrates the high level of ignorance about jihad principles in those who commit violence in the name of Islam. Those who commit suicide terrorism do so without proper knowledge of their cause or legitimate scholarly referents, perhaps unaware of the sanctity of human life in Islam.

These extremists are not motivated solely by the adoption of a religious ideology, takfir. A number of external conflicts and grievances helped generate significant public support for these extreme views, principally the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This conflict is seen by many as a part of a larger conspiracy between the United States and Israel to seize control of the third-holiest Muslim mosque, Al-Haram Al-Sharif in Jerusalem.60 Most Saudis view movements like Hamas more as freedom fighters than terrorists. In fact, the Saudi government regards armed struggle for self-determination and independence against foreign occupation as legitimate according to the UN Charter and various resolutions.61 Additionally, the continuing occupation and lack of meaningful progress in the Arab-Israeli peace process frustrates many Saudis, as does the Israeli government’s approach to the situation. The Israeli campaign against the Palestinians is seen by many as brutal and as having been carried out with Washington’s backing.62

Russian atrocities against Muslims in Chechnya and the atrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo motivated Muslim militants to join jihad movements. In addition, the U.S. war in Afghanistan, and the American invasion and occupation of Iraq are being used by extremists to foment terror. Moreover, “the officially sanctioned use of torture and degrading and humiliating forms of punishment in Abu-Ghraib prison have only served to inflame anti-American and Western feelings.”63 These feelings serve as a recruitment tool for radical groups,64 and accelerate the growing tendency toward self-radicalization and self-recruitment. Moreover, some Western media, by painting a negative image of Islam and in presenting Islam as synonymous with terrorism, have exacerbated Muslims hostility to the West in ways that aid extremists. The Danish cartoons denigrating the Prophet Muhammad65 as well as bizarre comments by lawmakers and officials (such as threats to attack Islamic holy sites)66 have not improved the situation. Furthermore, the potential rise of a nuclear Iran and the fear of the spread of Shia beliefs and power in the region also drive radical ideology among Sunni Muslims in Saudi Arabia.67


In their fight against extremism, Saudi authorities have adopted two strategies: the “Security Strategy,” implemented by all Saudi security forces with the cooperation of members of the community, and the “Advocacy and Advisory Strategy,” implemented through counseling programs and dialogue, advisory and advocacy campaigns. The advisory strategy is defined by two approaches: prevention, draining the sources of extremism through correcting the flawed understanding of shariah, and treatment, using frank dialogue, bridge-building and confrontation, to encourage those who sympathize with terrorists to recant. The latter approach uses all means of communication, including the Internet, to discuss ideas, find solutions and convince extremists to follow the right path.68

The Saudi government has realized that focusing on the elimination of terrorists, rather than on their radical ideology in general, was misguided and counterproductive. The government was presented with the immediate necessity of confronting extremism by waging a campaign within the kingdom against the groups it terms deviants — those who corrupt the Islamic faith and pervert Islam to preach violence.69 The primary Saudi strategy is to confront thoughts with thoughts, and to confront the appeal of extremist takfir ideology by presenting the true interpretation of shariah principles and by promoting the true values of the Islamic faith and the importance of tolerance.70 In order to combat radical ideology, government officials adopted a series of “soft” counterterrorism measures aimed at undermining extremist views and disrupting the activities of those who promote violent extremism: a counseling program, a tranquility campaign, a religious-authority campaign, a media campaign, a national solidarity campaign against terrorism, the development of public education, the monitoring of preaching, the review of sponsored publications, national-dialogue conventions, control of charities, Internet filtering, anti-terrorism legislation and increased international cooperation.

Counseling Program

Founded by Assistant Interior Minister HRH Prince Muhammad bin Nayef,71 the Ministry of the Interior has been implementing an intense religious reeducation, rehabilitation and Counseling Program (al-Munasahah) for security prisoners who sympathize with or provide support to extremists. The program is not part of the criminal-investigation process.72 Instead, its goal is to encourage security prisoners to renounce their radical ideology by providing them with psychological and sociological counseling and by engaging them in intensive religious dialogue.73 Security prisoners fall into three categories: those who planned, facilitated or participated in terrorist acts; sympathizers who did not aid terrorists but only sympathized with them and perhaps spoke publicly in support of them; and those who have been deceived and are passive and uncooperative with the authorities, but may have provided only limited services to terrorists who they believe are on the true path of jihad.74 It has been determined that 10 percent of the security prisoners are hardcore militants with entrenched deviant beliefs. The rest are followers and sympathizers.75

The Counseling Program, offered mainly to prisoners who have not been directly involved in terrorist acts, is administered by the Advisory Committee in the Ministry of the Interior, which meets periodically to discuss all subjects related to its work. The committee is composed of four subcommittees: religious, psychosocial, security and media.76 Members of these subcommittees are stationed throughout various districts in the kingdom.

The Psychological and Social Subcommittee includes more than 30 psychiatrists and psychologists, who evaluate the prisoner’s psycho-social and financial status in order to determine what kind of support the prisoner and his family may need. Psychologists and psychiatrists meet with the detainees to prepare them for the advisory sessions, explain the program to them, and make sure that the detainee is psychologically and mentally fit to engage in dialogue. They also continue to monitor the detainee and evaluate his progress during his interview with the Religious Subcommittee members, and help him understand himself and the restiveness in his personality in order to facilitate his return to appropriate thinking and behavior. If medication or other psychological treatment is necessary to solve a prisoner’s problems, subcommittee members will facilitate the process. During the advisory sessions, members of the subcommittee provide the detainee with interpersonal communication skills to ensure that he will not revert to radical views. They also assess the detainee’s financial and psychological needs in order to alleviate psychological pressure, gain the confidence of his family, and provide decent care for him and his family after his release. During his detention, the subcommittee facilitates family visits, housing, and transportation, and provides prisoners with all the privacy they need with their spouses. After release, the subcommittee assists them further with healthcare needs and employment. The subcommittee also provides them the opportunity to finish their education while incarcerated.77

The Religious Subcommittee is composed of more than 160 Muslim clerics, scholars and university professors (this figure fluctuates according to program needs).78 After the psychological and social assessments, counselors engage the prisoners in conversations about their views on several concepts, such as assisting and aiding non-Muslims, the takfir doctrine, judgment according to man-made laws (as opposed to divine law), jihad in Iraq, suicide operations and martyrs, the excommunication of governments and societies (and its gravity), and expelling the polytheists from the Arabian Peninsula. They may also discuss the doctrine of altatarrus (killing innocent Muslim prisoners of war by placing them at the front of the enemy lines as cover), degrees of disavowing of the abominable (inkar al-munkar), the right approach in dealing with contemporary Islamic issues, repentance and return to the truth (tawbah), dhimmi rights and obligations in Islamic society, and the sanctity of human blood in Islam. The goal is to correct prisoners’ flawed understanding of these concepts based on shariah texts from the Quran and sunnah and from the work of religious scholars, in order to enhance their understanding of these sensitive topics.79

During each session, a committee of two or more counselors and a psychologist meet with prisoners individually or collectively, depending on their case status, without looking at their records.80 The Religious Subcommittee holds individual meetings with the detainee for several sessions and engages him in dialogue over any controversial issues that may arise.81 Detainees engage in debates and present their arguments in one-on-one dialogue with the scholars in their search for the truth.82 The subcommittee also holds several six-week religious courses, for 2025 inmates per class, which are focused on issues that concern them.83 Prisoners who participate in this program must pass an exam before being released. The core aims of the subcomittee are to help prisoners correct their flawed understanding of shariah; respond to their doubts; and remind them of the danger of dissent and the importance of repentance and community cohesion, the preservation of the country’s values, and the necessity of consulting people of knowledge and respecting others’ opinions.84

The Security Subcommittee performs risk assessments, makes release recommendations and monitors arrangements after the release. The subcommittee has members inside prisons who follow detainees’ behavior and conversations. When the Religious Subcommittee recommends a prisoner for release, the recommendation goes to the Security Subcommittee for examination. Based on its monitoring and data collection, the subcommittee reaches a decision and shares it with the Religious Subcommittee to evaluate the authenticity of the detainee’s progress.85 It is worth mentioning that those who have committed terrorist acts or who are under investigation are not eligible for release,86 as they constitute a threat to national security and are subject to the criminal justice system. However, these prisoners can also take part in and benefit from the Counseling Program in the hope that they might profit from a religious point of view.87 All detainees returned from Guantanamo were also subject to this program.88 Release is granted to those who are proven to have responded effectively to the program, realized their previous errors, denounced their previous radical ideology, are no longer considered security threats, and who are proven to have the religious, spiritual and ethical values to prevent themselves from backsliding. Qualified detainees are released after their families become aware of their situation. The program advises family members of the importance of proper care and the best way to implement it.89 Finally, the Media Subcommittee supports the Religious Subcommittee with the educational materials used in their program.90 Since its inception in 2004, the Religious Subcommittee has conducted 5,000 meetings, and roughly 3,200 prisoners have participated in the Counseling Program.91

In recent years, experts have noted the positive influence of the program as indicated by prisoners’ changing behaviors and their recognition of their mistakes and violations of Islamic principles.92 In addition, many family members have expressed their joy and admiration of the Counseling Program. Experts report major changes for the better in the behavior of prisoners’ relatives.93 On March 15, 2007, Sheikh Al-Sadlan, a member of the Counseling Program, announced that 90 percent of prisoners who had been through the program had recanted their deviant views. Some of the participants requested not to be returned to a certain group of prison cells, fearing that others would dictate radical views to them. Several hundred of these prisoners have been released.94 Other security prisoners who sympathize with or provide support to extremists have begun to write their reviews and retreat from their previous radical and deviant thoughts.95 However, there might be untruthful people among those who claim they are changing their minds as a result of this dialogue, and there must be an effort to measure the true success of the program. On April 8, 2007, Muhammad Al-Nujimi, another member of the Counseling Program, announced that only nine of the 700 released, following the announcement of their rejection of radical and deviant views, have returned to their previous ideologies (see Charts 1 and 2). Dr. Al-Nujimi viewed the small number of recidivists as a positive sign that the program is working.96

Recently, Dr. Al-Nujimi stated that 1,500 of the 3,200 prisoners who have been subject to the Counseling Program have renounced their former radical beliefs and have been released. Most of the rest are still undergoing their program requirements.97 The Ministry of the Interior is now expanding the scope of the Counseling Program activity to reach all youth in the kingdom (see Chart 3).98

Tranquility Campaign

The Internet has become the main battleground in the struggle against al-Qaeda ideology. To counter it, the Saudi government has endorsed an independent project called the Tranquility (al-Sakinah) Campaign, which was initiated four years ago by a small group of volunteers. It has since grown to more than 66 volunteers, including 11 women, composed of religious and academic scholars, psychiatrists, sociologists and other specialists equipped with Internet skills. The volunteers visit extremists’ websites, chat rooms and forums to engage in online dialogue in order to curb the spread of radicalization and recruitment over the Internet. The campaign consists of several specialized sections. The Scientific Section is composed of religious and academic scholars, psychiatrists and sociologists who engage in dialogue with extremists. The Psycho-Social Section is composed of psychiatrists and sociologists who study the psychological and social dimensions of the fanatical and extremist groups. This section also provides advice to families and individuals who suffer from the problem of extremism or ideological deviation.99 The Monitoring Section monitors all Internet forums, websites, chatrooms and other materials circulated over the Internet. The Publishing Section is responsible for the dissemination of fatwas, opinions, advice and tapes in locations such as Internet forums, chat rooms and electronic news groups. There are other sections, including the Design Section, the Service-Site Section, the Public-Relations Section and the Supervision and Planning Section.100

In contrast to those who are fully absorbed in deviant thinking and harder to convince because they do not accept debate over their radical beliefs, the Tranquility Campaign focuses heavily on those who merely admire the work of extremists and al-Qaeda and their radical ideology, most of whom are between the ages of 16 and 25. Although this group is fertile ground for deviant thought lacking a proper understanding of shariah principles, they are more open to change and proper guidance and thus more resistant to extremist approaches.101 Recently, however, the campaign called upon Ayman Al-Zawahiri and other al-Qaeda leaders to engage in a dialogue with the Tranquility Campaign scholars over their radical views of several major Islamic concepts.102

The first step initiated by the campaign was visiting al-Qaeda websites such as alsahab, Sawt al-Jihad and al-Fajr (alQaeda’s multimedia production arm) and other extremist websites that were spreading takfir ideology, in order to identify the most active ones. The campaign then conducted an extensive study of each site to determine main characteristics, ideas, principles and strategies used in mobilization and recruitment. It is important to realize that part of the radicalization and recruitment process is maintaining the loyalty of the individuals targeted by these messages by isolating them from their own societies, especially from religious scholars (whom they view as infidels without legitimate claims to authority). Therefore, part of the campaign’s strategy was devoted to developing a psychological and sociological approach for starting dialogues with their targets. The campaign volunteers then visited these targeted sites, such as al-Qaeda forums, and raised particular issues in order to start a round of discussions. From there, volunteers could draw people whom they sensed held extremist views into side dialogues. Campaign volunteers did not demand that the participants renounce their views completely.

Instead, the dialogue focused mainly on controversial questions about the shariah position, in order to correct the participants’ understanding of these main shariah concepts and cause them to question the extremist beliefs that they held so deeply. Currently, the Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs monitors and defines the policy and activity of the campaign in an advisory role.

In January 2008, the Tranquility Campaign announced that it had convinced some 877 individuals (722 male and 155 female) to reject their radical ideology across more than 1,500 extremists websites.103 Early in March 2007, the Tranquility Campaign announced that some 690 individuals from Saudi Arabia and several countries around the world had “recanted their takfir and deviant views” after engaging in an online dialogue with the volunteer members of the Tranquility Campaign (see Chart 4). These include a number of high-ranking al-Qaeda members. The head of the public-relations office of the Tranquility Campaign, Khalid Al-Mushawwah, stated that since the campaign was launched three years ago, its members have engaged in a dialogue with 1,566-1,600 people who have advocated extremist and deviant views through Internet forums and instant messaging. Al-Mushawwah stated that 70 percent of those engaged in the online dialogue were from the Gulf states, and 20 percent consisted of people from other Arab countries and individuals from Western countries who had been targets of terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda (see Charts 5 and 6).104

Al-Mushawwah asserted that the campaign is running hundreds of hours of varied awareness material between open and closed dialogues and broadcasting a variety of sound clips, dialogues and fatwas totalling over 40,000, with some in English. The campaign covers 600 Internet sites and forums.105 Those who repented their radical ideology and recanted their radical views are subjected to numerous studies by the research section to determine how people transition from normal, peaceful lives to radical and violent ones.106

In addition, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs is sponsoring a growing number of Saudi women preachers, who deliver regular lectures in mosques, preach about Islam, and engage in direct dialogue with other females who have adopted radical ideology and believe in takfir and violence.107 The Tranquility Campaign estimates that 60 percent of al-Qaeda websites are operated by al-Qaeda female members. The female volunteers conducted dialogues with more than 200 women who hold extremist convictions and have already succeeded in persuading 150 of them to renounce them.108 There are some clear signs of success in the campaign. A female member of the al-Qaeda organization who went by the name of “Umm Osama” recanted her radical views following conversations with a representative of the Tranquility Campaign. She stated:

We began to talk with [al-Sakinah representatives], and it was their ideas that were of the highest priority for us. These [people] raised in me, and in many other women I know, serious doubts and questions regarding the beliefs that we held so deeply. . . .After many discussions we found — or at least I found — that the religious rules


that had been dictated to us [by our commanders] were mistaken. . . . Alongside the focus on this [Military Campaign], there must also be a focus on the ideological conflict, [through] dialogue and the spreading of correct Shariah knowledge and views.109

It is worth mentioning that al-Qaeda issued several statements over the Internet cautioning their followers not to engage in dialogues with members of the Tranquility Campaign, an indication that it is having a positive impact on the members of this group.110

In addition, the Tranquility Campaign established a global Arabic-English website aimed at fighting extremist and deviant ideology, explaining the shariah position on controversial questions such as takfir, alwalaa wa al-baraa and spreading correct views regarding Islam. The Tranquility Campaign has an ongoing project to publish educational materials related to the campaign’s activities over the Internet, such as audio and video clips, books, studies, articles and fatwas by senior ulama.111 It will have an audio and digital library containing books and research studies on controversial subjects and a video library containing interviews with those who recanted their radical views. The site is also developing interactive forums to discuss issues related to controversial Islamic concepts.112 It is worth mentioning that several successful attempts have been made by members of al-Qaeda to hack into the Tranquility Campaign’s computers, to upload viruses, and to steal members’ files, another good indication of the influence of the campaign on extremists. The damage caused by the extremists was addressed immediately.113

The Tranquility Campaign efforts are assisted by other initiatives. For example, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs has established the Media Preaching Commission, composed of scholars and members of the media, to monitor extreme ideology and violations of established principles in Islam and accepted educational standards inside or outside the kingdom.114 In addition, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs has established a confidential hotline, which receives thousands of calls from families who discuss the suspect behavior of their children at home or the conduct of their friends, and share their concerns about their loved ones who are affected by religious extremism. By examining the books they read and the audio and video tapes they listen to, and through attitudes and behaviors that reveal deviant thoughts, the hotline staff address these concerns and check whether the loved ones in question carry radical ideology.115 All efforts are being made to guide parents on how to deal with children who sympathize with those who adopt radical ideology.116 Other hotlines are used to engage in a direct dialogue and consultation with those who need advice and counsel.117

The Religious Authority Campaign

Saudi Arabia’s religious establishment is a critical asset in the kingdom’s war against radical ideology. Senior religious and legal figures have issued public condemnations of terrorism in both moral and religious terms. On several occasions between 1996 and 2006, the Council of Senior Ulama, the highest institution in the official religious establishment of Saudi Arabia, stressed that acts of subversion, bombing, killing and destruction of property are serious crimes that require deterrent legal punishment in accordance with shariah.118 In June 2004, the Saudi Council issued a fatwa condemning acts of terrorism, stating that these acts disrupt the security of the country, shed innocent blood, terrorize peaceful people and destroy property. The fatwa called upon citizens and residents to provide authorities with information regarding those who plan or prepare to carry out terrorist acts.119

In addition, during its sixteenth session, held January 5-10, 2002, the Islamic Fiqh Council of the Muslim World League in Mecca stressed the fact that extremism, violence and terrorism have no connection whatsoever with Islam. In fact, the council argued, they are manifestations of perilous acts with dangerous consequences, and call for aggression and iniquity against the individual.120 Moreover, the Islamic Summit Conference held December 7-8, 2005, emphasized the need to condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, rejected any justification for it, and declared its solidarity with member states that have been victims of terrorism, stating the necessity to criminalize all terrorist practices and all forms of their support, financing and instigation.121

Furthermore, in a direct warning against fighting abroad in the name of jihad, the Saudi mufti, Sheikh Abdulaziz Aal Al-Sheikh, issued a fatwa on October 1, 2007, prohibiting Saudi youth from traveling abroad to engage in jihad.122 In his fatwa, he stated,

Setting forth to wage jihad without authorization by the ruler is a serious transgression; young Saudis who do so are being misled by suspicious elements from both the East and the West, who are exploiting them in order to accomplish their own aims, and who are actually causing serious damage to Saudi Arabia, Islam, and the Muslims.123


The interior minister, Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz, urged Saudi clerics to strengthen their ideological efforts to stop young Saudis from traveling to engage in jihad in Iraq and to “refute the falsehoods and tell people the truth about Islam.”124

The Council of Senior Ulama has launched an official website for fatwas. The site ( aims at providing quick access to fatwas issued by authorized scholars on an official website, and at enabling Muslims to ask questions on various topics and get replies from the Council of Senior Ulama.125 The site is also meant to tackle the propagation of terrorist ideologies through religious platforms. The site will act as a guide to Muslims and against the fatwas issued by terrorist groups.126 The move is also an attempt to ensure that fatwas issued by authorized scholars are given prominence and to avoid confusion and fatwa chaos by Muslim scholars or unqualified scholars issuing rulings that clash with the true interpretation of shariah.127

The move is in line with the Saudi government campaign against individuals who issue fatwas without in-depth knowledge of Islam. In his statement marking the opening of the Muslim World League’s nineteenth conference, on Islamic jurisprudence, King Abdullah appealed to all participants to speak out against what he called muftis who have “gone astray,” inciting hatred, murder, suicide operations and deviation. He termed such muftis “satellite and Internet sheikhs,” who attribute lies to God. Their activities are among the greatest sins, even worse than idolatry, the monarch added. King Abdullah concluded: “Some of these muftis issue fatwas quicker than the blink of an eye and do not annul them even after they are proven wrong.”128

Media Campaign

The Saudi media campaign is very effective in the kingdom’s fight against radical ideology. Saudi Public TV and other sponsored channels broadcast a five-part series titled “Jihad Experiences, the Deceit,” which featured terrorists’ confessions and repentant terrorists’ testimonies of how al-Qaeda organizes, trains and recruits. The series also featured Muslim scholars rebutting al-Qaeda’s propaganda from an Islamic perspective.129 Also broadcast were interviews with well-known Saudi scholars who recanted their earlier fatwas that supported terrorist attacks and urged terrorist suspects to surrender.130 The interviews were also published in a book, The Reviews 131.addition, other Saudi channels sponsored documentaries such as “The Truth” on the “Al-Washm Bombing,” focusing on the female child (Wijdan) who was killed instantly in the explosion, and the program entitled “Confessions from Inside the Cell,” which features the confessions of terrorists. There are other programs such as the “event” and Dialogue Forum, which delivers a moderate message, especially to extremists, and reports such phenomena as “The Return of Perception,” which aired on Al-Majd Saudi Channel on September 2005. This show featured Ahmad Abdullah Al-Shaie, a young Saudi who describes himself as a victim, claiming that he was brainwashed into going to and fighting in Iraq, which had an impact on people who want to fight there.132 Moreover, members of the Saudi Council of Senior Ulama and other senior religious and legal figures have been active in media efforts since late 2001, issuing public condemnations of terrorism in moral and religious terms.133 Most of the official academic websites on Islam are now allocating parts of their websites to address radical and deviant thought.134

National Solidarity Campaign

In February 2005, the kingdom carried out a national awareness campaign entitled “The National Solidarity Campaign Against Terrorism,” conducted over several weeks as part of a “strategy to combat extremism and present the true values of the Islamic faith and the importance of tolerance and moderation.”135 The campaign started on the occasion of the International Conference for Combating Terrorism in the Kingdom.136 It featured posters and electronic signs in the entrances to public places and streets bearing anti-terrorism slogans on the human costs of terrorism.137 Similar messages have been broadcast on television and radio and at sporting events. Schools, mosques and even the screens of automated teller machines were saturated with the same messages.138 Several ministries and government bodies participated in this campaign by organizing symposiums, exhibitions, lectures, workshops, art exhibitions and poetry competitions, as well as distributing millions of publications, brochures, pamphlets, magazines, tapes, CDs and photographs to combat extremism and promote centrism and moderation.139

In 2007, the Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs launched a program identified as a Shielding Campaign (al-Tahseen) against terrorism. While previous efforts focused on dealing with a problem after it occurred, the current campaign aims at safeguarding the youth against radical ideology and deviant thoughts by using every source available to the ministry, such as sermons and mosque activities and general education curricula and advocacy. In addition, the public relations department of the ministry is working on issuing a series of books entitled the Shielding Series. On October 11, 2007, the department issued its first release. The book includes the transcript of the meeting and the dialogue that took place between Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz and Saudi imams and preachers. The dialogue provides a detailed outline of how to address radical ideology and deviant thinking.140

Development of Public Education

There have been several accusations that Saudi schools and textbooks encourage hatred, intolerance and violence.141 The Saudi authorities dispute these allegations but recognize the need for reform of the kingdom’s religious-studies curriculum.142 The Ministry of Education has conducted an audit of school textbooks and curricula to ensure that teachers do not espouse intolerance and extremism. The government has a program in place to continue to remove any element that is radical and inconsistent with traditional Islam.143 It is worth noting that most of the material found in Saudi textbooks, especially in shariah studies, is carefully selected. However, many scholars see the problem as coming from teachers who adopt radical ideology and try to influence their students by bypassing the selected curriculum and suggesting alternative books that might carry radical views.144 To address this issue, the Ministry of Education is providing special training programs to promote religious tolerance for male and female Islamic-studies teachers.145 Several teachers were fired or subjected to punitive action for failure to abide by government instructions to avoid inciting hatred against other religions.

Moreover, the Ministry of the Interior developed a plan (to include lectures and seminars) to portray extremism as a deviant form of Islam to students in schools and universities.146 Furthermore, as part of the National Solidarity Campaign Against Terrorism, the Ministry of Education sponsored lectures at public schools to promote moderation, tolerance and peace, and to point out the dangers of extremism. In May 2007, Saudi public schools carried out an awareness campaign as part of the ministry’s strategy to combat extremism.147 Saudi Arabia also increased scholarship and exchange programs for students and educators.148 Finally, reforming the educational system and raising the standards of schools and universities remain the biggest challenges Saudi Arabia faces today.149 On February 12, 2007, the Council of Ministers approved a six-year, SR9 billion ($2.3 billion) project to develop Saudi Arabia’s public education. It includes upgrading curricula and improving the educational atmosphere and teacher training.150

Monitoring Religious Preaching

Imams who preach intolerance or hate toward others are dismissed, punished, or retrained. On May 27, 2003, in an effort to vet domestic clerics in order to eliminate the radical extremists among them, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs fired 353 imams, khateeb and muezzin, and placed on suspension 1,367 others, who were ordered to join a multi-year enlightenment program devoted to educating imams and monitoring religious preaching.151 In addition, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs started an initiative to impose electronic monitoring of all mosques in Saudi Arabia using the Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The project allows the Ministry to monitor day-to-day activities in any mosque, including prayers and ceremonies, with great accuracy. The project started by covering all mosques in the capital; it will cover all of the mosques in the kingdom by mid-2008.152 Moreover, there are initiatives to conduct a review of all government-sponsored religious materials to insure that they are free from any extreme views. Saudi embassies have suspended the distribution of several religious materials.153 The Ministry of Islamic Affairs has a program to review and redeploy Islamic-heritage books and to print books relating to contemporary issues.154

National Dialogue Conventions

On April 7, 2003, the kingdom established the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue in an effort to combat extremism and promote moderate culture among various sections of society, with the aim of consolidating national unity and promoting moral principles such as respect for others, tolerance, moderation, freedom of expression, and public interest. The center seeks to accomplish several objectives, such as presenting the true image of Islam inside and outside the country based on moderation; tackling social, cultural, political, economic and educational problems; and strengthening the role of civil society while ensuring justice, equality and freedom of expression. Roughly every six months since 2003, Saudi Arabia has held a national dialogue conference with all sectors of Saudi society to discuss major issues:

  • “National Unity and the Role of Ulama in Cementing It, and International Relations and Agreements and Their Effect on National Unity” (July 15-18, 2003, Riyadh)
  • “Extremism and Moderation: A Comprehensive Approach” (Dec. 27, 2003, Jan. 1, 2004, Mecca)


  • “To Build and Enhance a Culture of Dialogue in the Saudi Society” (June 12-14, 2004, Al-Madinah)


  • “The Problems and Expectations of Young People” (Dec. 7-9, 2004, Dhahran)


  • “The National Vision for Dealing with World Cultures” (June 13-15, 2005, Riyadh)


  • “Education: Reality and Ways of Development" (Nov. 28-30, 2006, Riyadh)155


The second national meeting, in particular, attracted a large number of ulama and specialists in a variety of fields, including educators, sociologists, psychologists and economists. Several working papers were presented. The recommendations made by participants included a call for the rejection of fatwas handed down by individuals on matters of national interest — such as peace and war — arguing that such vital subjects must be left to qualified official bodies. They also called for efforts to be made to cultivate a spirit of tolerance and moderation among members of the new generation. They called on relevant authorities to monitor negative tendencies among children and students. The participants also called for readmitting into society those who decide to give up violence and return to a peaceful, normal life.156 On October 3, 2007, he also called for expanding the basis of national dialogue and promoting tolerance. King Abdullah announced the convening of the Seventh National Dialogue Conference in Al-Qaseem Province, which will address unemployment and labor-market issues.157 In addition, the Saudi Human Rights Commission is launching a program to educate the public and government officials about human rights and promote a human-rights culture in all government bodies.158

Legal Measures to Combat Radical Ideology

In addition to the previous soft approaches, the kingdom took several legal measures to tackle the spread of radical ideology, especially over the Internet, and to cut extremist funding.159 For example, in order to ensure that charitable donations are actually used for the purposes designated and not for radical and extremist activities, it has issued numerous decrees and created new institutions designed to “tighten the noose” on Islamic charities and control their work.160 Saudi Arabia and the United States took joint steps to designate several organizations as financiers of terrorism and blocked the accounts of several charity branches. They also established joint task forces aimed at combating the financing of terrorsim and conducting joint operations in the fight against terrorism.161

The Council of Ministers Resolution No. 163 of March 4, 1997, introduced Internet service to Saudi Arabia. The resolution identifiedthe King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology as the primary supervisory institute for this service and permitted the exclusion of sites that are incompatible with shariah and national regulations. The same resolution established a security committee composed of members from different security authorities and other governmental institutions to deal with all Internet sites subject to blocking. King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology receives requests from the security committee and other security authorities to block specific sites.162 Saudi authorities have officially announced that they block access to nearly 400,000 websites, with the aim of protecting citizens from offensive content and content that violates the principles of Islam and social norms, including radical religious sites.163 Recently, in a similar context, the United Kingdom’s home secretary announced plans to tackle websites that promote “violent jihadism.”164 However, these efforts remain controversial due to the negative effects they might have on freedom of expression.

The assistant to the head of the Saudi National Intelligence Agency (SNIA), Prince Abdulaziz bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz, asserted that there are nearly 17,000 extremist Internet sites that carry radical ideologies, with an annual increase of 9,000 websites165 that “move away from original Islam in order to legitimize violence,”166 (see Chart 7). Furthermore, Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, the head of SNIA, stated recently that the agency, in its efforts to prevent extremism and future acts of terrorist violence, has made outreach efforts to 14 “Western website hosting companies” to reduce the activities of more than 5,400 websites used by al-Qaeda. Prince Muqrin asserted that the control of extremist websites might have prevented serious terrorist attacks, including the London bombing incidents of July 7, 2005. In addition, the SNIA launched a campaign “to teach citizens how to monitor the Internet,” as a new effort to get Saudis to help authorities tackle extremism.167

Finally, as mentioned above, extremists and terrorists groups are using hundreds of websites as tools to spread their radical messages. In addition, terrorists are using the Internet for recruiting and training. In fact, the Internet has become a “virtual training camp” where terrorists can find training manuals and information on how to build explosives.168 To tackle the use of the Internet as a base for radicalization, training and recruiting, the Saudi Council of Ministers approved, on April 13, 2007, the Law to Fight Cyber-Crime. Article 7(1) of the cyber-crime law imposes a maximum of ten years imprisonment and/or a fine of a maximum of 5 million Saudi riyals ($1.3 million) for anyone who creates a website for a terrorist organization over the Internet or on any computer device, propagates it to facilitate communication with the leaders of these organizations, promotes the organizations’ radical views, or propagates information on how to make explosives.169 Punishment may increase if the above offenses are committed through an organized gang or while holding public office, or if the offender had previous convictions on his record.170 The law also puts into place a mechanism that provides leniency to encourage cooperation with law enforcement, to prevent the commission of further offenses, and to facilitate the identification of the other guilty persons.171 Many experts in Saudi Arabia are calling upon the international community to take effective measures and sponsor a treaty that would criminalize the use of communications technology to spread terrorist ideologies. In their final statement, researchers and specialists at the Information Technology and National Security Conference asked the United Nations to press member states for the “introduction of new laws to criminalize the use of communications technology to spread terrorist ideologies that concern all countries.”172 They further recommended the establishment of an international committee to monitor the spread of extremism.173

Increased International Cooperation

Saudi Arabia’s success in its campaign against radical ideology is having an impact on extremist thinking. For example, as a result of the ideological and organizational reviews conducted by well-known Saudi scholars — who recanted their earlier fatwas in support of terrorists — and other al-Qaeda sympathizers — who wrote reviews retreating from previous radical and deviant thoughts — similar steps have been undertaken by foreign terrorist theologians who have started to recant their extremism. Saudi scholars are also drawing on lessons learned from previous experiences, such as the doctrinal revisions of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and Algerian militant groups. For example, it has been reported that the founder of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Imam Al-Sharif, known as “Dr. Fadl,” has written a book in prison providing a remarkable recantation and review of his previous doctrines, which provided a theological basis in Islam for terrorist violence. Dr. Fadl — the author of Foundations of Preparation for Holy War, considered to be the “Extremist Jihad Bible” — has also recently issued a fatwa condemning killing on the basis of nationality and skin color and the targeting of women and children in the name of Islam.174

In addition, the Saudi government is supporting regional and international initiatives in combating radical ideology and is sharing its experience with other countries as a model to build upon in combating extremism. For example, British security chiefs are using the Saudi approach of having Islamic theologians and clerics explain the Shariah position on controversial questions and convert extremists to more moderate beliefs. Senior officials from MI5 have been meeting with Saudi officials to develop a similar counter-radicalization strategy for their country. British officials are impressed by the Saudi model of a “soft” approach in dealing with extremism. Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw stated, “The Saudis are doing a great deal to deal with terrorism and the cause of terrorism.”175

Moreover, several Saudi religious scholars have been involved as founders and co-founders of several Islamic counseling programs in Britain. The fruits of that cooperation were unveiled in an important grass-roots effort directed against radicalization in the UK, the Radical Middle Way Program,176 “an initiative aimed at articulating a mainstream understanding of Islam that is dynamic and relevant, particularly to young British Muslims.”177 Furthermore, in 2007, Major-General Douglas Stone, the commander of U.S. detention facilities in Iraq, introduced religious-education programs for detainees that are modeled on the Counseling Program in Saudi Arabia. Similarly, the U.S. counseling program employs Muslim clerics to rebut extremist views and offers job programs for captives, literacy efforts, and case reviews and potential early release from prison to those who demonstrate a willingness to change.178


It is essential to develop anti-terrorism measures and to maximize the effort to combat the ideology of radical extremism. As long as such ideology is alive, there is no guarantee that terrorists will not strike again. As part of the soft approach, the Saudi government has achieved significant milestones in its effort to combat extremism. However, it is recommended that Saudis create an independent commission to evaluate many of the programs that have been conducted so far, to highlight measurable progress and to determine the benchmarks that these programs have met. The government’s strategy in fighting terrorism must go hand in hand with efforts to speed up the process of political reform in the country, widening popular participation in the political process, improving communication channels of both the government and the public, creating effective communication among branches of government, continuing the efforts in overhauling the Saudi educational system, and boosting the role of women in the society. Moreover, more people-to-people and government-to-government exchanges are needed to enhance knowledge and develop ideas to combat extremism. The key to success in this war of ideas is to deliver the right message using authentic sources. Therefore, greater civic engagement of Muslim scholars and communities will further any state’s effort in this regard. Finally, it is important to realize that Saudi Arabia and other states will have great difficulty curbing the ideological appeal of al-Qaeda and other extremists without finding a just solution to major regional conflicts.


*The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.


1 Anton La Guardia, “Saudis Tackle Terrorists with the Gentle Art of Persuasion,” Telegraph Online (April 25, 2006),

2 King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue, Fighting Fanaticism and Extremism, Second National Meeting, at (last visited November 12, 2007).

3 Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, Initiatives and Actions Taken by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to Combat Terrorism (December 2006), at KSA%20WOT%20Report%20Dec06.pdf.

4 On May 12, 2003, suicide bombers attacked three residential compounds for foreign workers in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The 35 dead included 9 attackers, 7 other Saudis, 9 U.S. citizens, and one citizen each from the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the Philippines; over 200 were wounded. It was the first major attack on nonmilitary U.S. targets in Saudi Arabia since the end of the first Gulf War. Saudi authorities arrested 11 al-Qaeda suspects on May 28. See Office of the Historian: Bureau of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State, Significant Terrorist Incidents, 1961-2003: A Brief Chronology (March 2004), at ho/pubs/fs/5902.htm.

5 Land Forces Symposium, Public Statement by Prince Turki Al-Faisal, Saudi Ambassador to the United States (Georgia, February 28, 2006), at

6 Compare Mitchell D. Silber and Arvin Bhatt, Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat (The New York City Police Department, August 2007),

7 “Confronting Extremism Move to the Internet and the Significant Role Played by the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs…,” Al-Riyadh Online, Issue No. 13631, October 19, 2005, http://

8 “Concept Explained, Al-Wala’ wa Al-Bara’ Loyalty and Disavowal,” Islam Online, July 25, 2005,

9 See Ali Al-Qahtani, “85 Percent of the Security Prisoners Are in Their Mid 20s,” Al-Watan Online, November 21, 2005,

10 See Abdullah Al-Oraifig, “Followers of Bin Ladin and Mulla Omar Recanted Their Radical Views,” Al- Riyadh Online, Nov. 1, 2005,; David B. Ottaway, “Saudi Effort Draws on Radical Clerics to Combat Lure of Al-Qaeda,” The Washington Post, May 7, 2006,

11 See Mishari Al-Zaydi, “An Interview with Sheikh Abdul-Mohsen Bin Nasser Al-Obeikan,” Al-Sharq Al- Awsat Online, May 24, 2005,; Abdulwahab Al-Faisal, “30 Individuals Recanted, A Dialogue with Dr. Abdul-Salam Al-Sihaimi,” Al-Madinah Online, Issue No. 147507, June 5, 2005,

12 Abdulwahab Al-Faisal, supra note 11.

13 “Ida’at: Turki Al-Dakheel Dialogue with Dr. Muhammad Al-Nijaimi,” Al-Arabiya Net, April 28, 2006,

14 Abdulwahab Al-Faisal, supra note 11.

15 See “Takferieon: 90 Percent of Them Have Known Solid Religious Beliefs," Al-Watan Online, Issue 1879, November 21, 2005,; Khalid Al-Mushawwah, “A One Month Dialogue with a Previous Takfiri,” Al-Watan Online, Issue No. 2100, June 30, 2006, http://

16 Abdulwahab Al-Faisal, supra note 11.

17 See “Ida’at: Turki Al-Dakheel Dialogue with Dr. Muhammad Al-Nijaimi,” supra note 13; Mishari Al-Zaydi, supra note 11.

18 Uriya Shavit, “Al-Qaeda’s Saudi Origins,” Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2006, article/999.

19 “Previous Saudi Jihadi Regretted Commending September 11 Attacks,” Al-Arabiya Net, September 9, 2006,

20 “Confessions of a Repentant Takfiri,” Al-Jazirah Online, Issue No. 11236, Apr. 2003,

21 “Al-Riyadh Discusses the Secrets of Terrorists Cells (5),” Al-Riyadh Online, Issue No. 13634, October 22, 2005,

22 Christopher Boucek, “Extremist Reeducation and Rehabilitation in Saudi Arabia,” Terrorism Monitor, August 16, 2007,

23 Khalid Al-Mushawwah, supra note 15.

24 Abdullah Al-Kiaid, “Cells and Organization Scandals,” Al-Riyadh Online, Issue No. 13642, October 30, 2005,

25 Sean N. Kalic, Combating a Modern Hydra: Al-Qaeda and the Global War on Terrorism (Combat Studies Institute Press, 2005), pp. 125-126.

26 “Manufacturing Death: The Dimension of Religious Speech of Al-Qaeda,” Al-Arabiya Net, October 23, 2006,

27 Khalid Al-Mushawwah, supra note 15.

28 Sean N. Kalic, supra note 25.

29 See “Several Officials Praise the Achievements of the Kingdom in the Fight against Extremism,” Al-Jazirah Online, Issue No. 12435, October 15, 2006,; “Al- Riyadh Discusses the Secrets of Terrorists Cells (6),” Al-Riyadh Online, Issue No. 13635, October 23, 2005,

30 Abdullah Al-Ghamdi, “Al-Sakin’ah (Tranquility) Campaign Returns 478 Individuals to the Right Path,” Okaz Newspaper Online, Issue No. 1900, August 30, 2006,

31 “Al-Riyadh Discusses the Secrets of Terrorists Cells (5),” supra note 21.

32 “Al-Riyadh Discusses the Secrets of Terrorists Cells (3),” Al-Riyadh Online, Issue No. 13632, October 20, 2005,

33 “Al-Riyadh Discusses the Secrets of Terrorists Cells (5),” supra note 21.

34 Khalid Al-Mushawwah, supra note 15.

35 “Al-Riyadh Discusses the Secrets of Terrorists Cells (3),” supra note 32.

36 “Dialogue Strikes Extremism and Takfir Ideology and Bring Youths Back Home,” Al-Riyadh Online, Issue No. 13630, October 18, 2005,

37 See “Al-Riyadh Discusses the Secrets of Terrorists Cells (4),” Al-Riyadh Online, Issue No. 13633, October 21, 2005,; “Al-Riyadh Discusses the Secrets of Terrorists Cells (5),” supra note 21.

38 Khalid Al-Mushawwah, supra note 15.

39 “Al-Riyadh Discusses the Secrets of Terrorists Cells (5),” supra note 21.

40 “Al-Riyadh Discusses the Secrets of Terrorists Cells (4),” supra note 37.

41 Bandar Al-Nasi, “Radical Ideology Shrunk within a Year of Its Circulation,” Al-Riyadh Online, Issue No. 13773, March 10, 2006,

42 Mamdooh Al-Mutari, “Repentant Takfiri: I Thought of Killing Well-Known Figures…,” Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Newspaper Online, Issue No. 9307, May 24, 2004, details.asp?section=4&issue=9307&article=235274.

43 Waheeb Al-Wahibi, “My Experience with Security Detainees in Saudi Prisons: Interview with Dr. Adel A. Abdul-Jabbar,” Saaid Net, October 2005, at

44 His notable books also include: Ibn Baz and Ibn Uthaymeen (Two Senior Ulamas) and Their Positions Regarding the Saudi State; Do Sheikhs Like Sheikh Ibn Baz Leave the Nation in Delusion? Working with the Infidel Governments; and About the Saudi Mufti Fatwa on Martyrdom Operations.

45 “Al-Riyadh Discusses the Secrets of Terrorists Cells (5),” supra note 21.

46 “Confessions of a Repentant Takfiri,” supra note 20.

47 “A Previous Woman Leader in Al-Qaeda: Al-Sakin’ah (Tranquility) Campaign Changed My Views,” Al- Arabiya Net, February 20, 2005, at

48 Halima Muzaffar, “Saud Al-Musaibeeh: Raising Women is One of Our Social Tragedies…Terrorists Used it in a Distorted Way,” Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Newspaper Online, Issue No. 10036, May 21, 2006, http://

49 See “Dialogue Strikes Extremism and Takfir Ideology and Brings Youth Back Home,” supra note 36; Abdullah Al-Ki’aid, supra note 24.

50 “Al-Riyadh Discusses the Secrets of Terrorists Cells (5),” supra note 21.

51 Abdulwahab Al-Faisal, supra note 11.

52 “Several Officials Praise the Achievements of the Kingdom in the Fight Against Extremism,” supra note 29.

53 Abdulwahab Al-Faisal, supra note 11.

54 “Several Officials Praise the Achievements of the Kingdom in the Fight against Extremism,” supra note 29.

55 “Al-Riyadh Discusses the Secrets of Terrorists Cells (5),” supra note 21.

56 “Dialogue Strikes Extremism and Takfir Ideology and Brings Youth Back Home,” supra note 36; “Al- Riyadh Discusses the Secrets of Terrorists Cells (4),” supra note 37.

57 Waheeb Al-Wahibi, supra note 43.

58 “Al-Riyadh Discusses the Secrets of Terrorists Cells (4),” supra note 37; “Al-Riyadh Discusses the Secrets of Terrorists Cells (5),” supra note 21.

59 “Al-Riyadh Discusses the Secrets of Terrorists Cells (5),” supra note 21.

60 “Ida’at: Turki Al-Dakheel Dialogue with Dr. Muhammad Al-Nijaimi,” supra note 13.

61 See Ahmed Moussa, “Ministers Coordinate Anti-Terrorism Action,” Al-Ahram Weekly Online, February 6, 2002,; “The Council of Arab Interior Ministers Stresses the Arab Cooperation in Fighting Terrorism and Drying its Sources of Finance,” Ain Al-Yaqeen, February 10, 2006,; M A Shaikh, Arab Secularists Detect Trap in New Arab Anti-Terrorism Accord, Muslimedia, May 16-31, 1998,

62 Anthony H. Cordesman, Saudi Arabia Enters the Twenty-first Century (Praeger Publishers, 2003), p. 164.

63 Julia Preston, “Officials See Risk in the Release of Images of Iraq Prisoner Abuse,” The New York Times, August 12, 2005,

64 See “Dialogue Strikes Extremism and Takfir Ideology and Brings Youth Back Home,” supra note 36; “Al- Watan Publishes the Dialogue Text between Takfiri and Propagators,” Al-Watan Online, Issue No. 1392, July 22, 2004,

65 “Al-Qaeda Will Use Cartoon Row,” BBC News Online, February 20, 2006, europe/4732016.stm.

66 “Tancredo: If They Nuke Us, Bomb Mecca,” The Associated Press, July 18, 2005, http://,2933,162795,00.html.

67 Anthony H. Cordesman, supra note 62.

68 Saud Al-Musaibeeh, “Breaking of the Barrier of Fear,” Al-Hayat Online, Issue No. 15630, February 9, 2006,

69 The Department of The Treasury, Testimony of Daniel L. Glaser, Deputy Assistant Secretary Office of Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes U.S. Department of the Treasury Before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, November 8, 2005,

70 See Saud Al-Musaibeeh, “Breaking of the Barrier of Fear,” supra note 68; “Saudi Must Wage Battle of Minds with Al-Qaeda: Analysts,” AFP, December 1, 2007, ALeqM5iniS7xXfVK8pOWUkJr1GQ12PaBQw.

71 Saud Al-Musaibeeh, “The Interior Ministry Succeeded in Combining Tough Security Measures and Logical Strategy,” Al-Riyadh Online, Issue No. 13913, July 28, 2006, coverage.php?articleid=459.

72 Abdullah Al-Oraifig, supra note 10.

73 See “Al-Munasah’ah Campaign Held its Periodical Meeting with the Participation of the Ulama and Other Specialists,” Al-Jazirah Newspaper Online, October 12, 2006,; Khalid Al-Zaidan, “Mystery Surrounds the Recruitment and Planning…It Stresses the importance of the Recruitment of Young Groups,” Al-Riyadh Online, Issue No. 13635, October 23, 2005, http://

74 Abdullah Al-Oraifig, supra note 10.

75 Muhammad Al-Ghunaim, “The Release of 700 Held on Security Charges after They Recanted Their Radical Beliefs,” Al-Riyadh Online, Issue No. 13989, October 12, 2006, article193709.html.

76 See “Prince Mohammed bin Nayef Gives the Kingdom Vision on the Roots of terrorism and Ways to Combat It,” Al-Riyadh Online, Issue No. 13376, February 6, 2005, section.main.html; Saud Al-Musaibeeh, “Breaking of the Barrier of Fear,” supra note 68; Christopher Boucek, supra note 22.

77 Muhammad Al-Ghunaim, supra note 75.

78 Turki Al-Suhail, “Tendency to Globalize a Saudi Program Succeeded in Correcting Al-Qaeda Members’ Ideology,” Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Online, Issue No. 10480, August 8, 2007, details.asp?section=4&article=431602&issue=10480.

79 See Waheeb Al-Wahibi, supra note 43; “Confronting Extremism Move to the Internet and the Significant Role Played by the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs…,” supra note 7.

80 Y. Yehoshua, “The Counseling Program for Saudi Security Prisoners,” MEMRI, Inquiry and Analysis, Series — No. 260, January 18, 2006,

81 Ali Al-Qahtani, “Saudi Security Success in the Fight Against Terrorism: World Countries Testimony,” Al- Watan Online, Issue No. 2185, September 23, 2006,

82 Waheeb Al-Wahibi, supra note 43.

83 See Saud Al-Musaybih, Two Years on the Al-Munasah’ah Campaign, Dr. Saud Al-Musaybih Website, Feb. 9, 2006,; Waheeb Al-Wahibi, supra note 43.

84 Waheeb Al-Wahibi, supra note 43.

85 Abdullah Al-Oraifig, supra note 10.

86 Ali Al-Qahtani, supra note 81.

87 Abdullah Al-Oraifig, supra note 10.

88 Salman Al-Aqili, “Intensive Programs to Rehabilitate Returning Guantanamo Detainees,” Al-Yaum Online, Issue No. 12075, July 7, 2006,

89 Ali Al-Qahtani, supra note 81.

90 See Saud Al-Musaibeeh, “Breaking of the Barrier of Fear,” supra note 68; Christopher Boucek, supra note 22.

91 See Ali Al-Qahtani, “Radicals Backed Away from the Slogan: Expel the Polytheists from the Arabian Peninsula,” Al-Watan Online, Issue No. 2613, November 25, 2007, newsdetail.asp?issueno=2613&id=30423; Report: Saudi Frees 1,500 Extremists Who Changed Course, ABC News, November 25, 2007,

92 Ali Al-Qahtani, supra note 81.

93 Waheeb Al-Wahibi, supra note 43.

94 Saudi authorities say that about 500 youths have completed the program and been freed since it began in 2004. They remain under close surveillance. None has been found to be re-involved in terrorism so far. See Tariq Nawfal, “Ninety Percent of Those Prisoners Recanted Their Radical Views,” Al-Watan Online, Issue No. 2358, March 15, 2007,; Muhammad Al-Ghunaim, supra note 75; Ahmed Ghallab, “From the 700 Released, Nine Returned to Their Radical Views,” Okaz Newspaper Online, Issue No. 2122, Apr. 9, 2007, 20070409/Con20070409101909.htm; “Saudi Arabia’s Plan to Stop Suicide Attacks,” Times Online, April 25, 2006,

95 “Takferieon in Saudi Prisons Began to Write Their Reviews,” Al-Arabiya Net, June 20, 2007, http://

96 See “Nine of Seven Hundred Released Returned to their Radical Ideologies,” Okaz Online, Issue No. 2122, April 9, 2007,

97 See Ali Al-Qahtani, supra note 91; “Report: Saudi Frees 1,500 Extremists Who Changed Course,” supra note 91.

98 Saud Al-Musaibeeh, “Breaking of the Barrier of Fear,” supra note 68.

99 Yasir Al-Maarik, “Al-Mushawwah to Al-Jazirah: 877 Recanted their Radical Views and 1500 of Takfiri Websites Have Been Monitored,” Al-Jazirah Newspaper Online, Issue No. 12879, January 2, 2008, http://

100 “Al-Sakinah (Tranquility) Campaign: 541 Recanted Their Radical Views,” International Islamic Charity Organization, Issue No. 193, May 2006,

101 Najah Al-Osaimi, “Al-Sakin’ah (Tranquility) Campaign Continue Its Effort to Change the Radical View of Extremists,” Al-Riyadh Online, Issue No. 9786, September 13, 2005, (January 10, 2008).

102 Yasir Al-Maarik, supra note 99.

103 Ibid.

104 “Forty Specialists to Counter Takfirist Doctrine and 690 of Them Recanted Their Views,” Al-Jazirah Newspaper Online, Issue No. 12574, March 3, 2007,

105 Lutfi Abdullatif, “Al-Sakin’ah (Tranquility) Campaign First Direct Confrontation with Al-Qaeda on the Internet,” Al-Madinah Online, Issue No. 16326, January 8, 2008, index.aspx?Issueid=2587&pubid=5&CatID=51&articleid=1039101; “Al-Watan Publishes the Dialogue Text between Takfiri and a Propagator,” supra note 64.

106Abdullah Al-Ghamdi, supra note 30.

107 “Women Engage in a Dialogue with Other Women to Change Their Radical Views,” Al-Arabiah Net, July 16, 2005,

108 See Yasir Al-Maarik, supra note 99; “Al-Sakinah Campaign Female Volunteers Succeeded in Persuading 100 Female to Recant Their Radical Views,” Al-Arabiyah Net, March 3, 2007, Articles/2007/03/03/32239.htm; “Al-Sakinah Campaign Female Volunteers Succeeded in Persuading 100 Female to Recant Their Radical Views,” Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Online, Issue No. 10322, March 3, 2007, http://

109 “Online Conversation Between an Al-Sakinah Representative and an Extremist,” Al-Watan Online, Issue No. 1392, July 22, 2004,, Text Translated by Y. Yehoshua, supra note 80.

110 Muhammad Al-Ghunaim, “Radical Organization Recognizes the Impact of the Al-Sakinah (Tranquility) Campaign on Its Members,” Al-Riyadh Online, Issue No. 13470, May 11, 2005, 2005/05/11/article63575_s.html.

111 See Al-Sakina Campaign Official Website, at (last visited November 8, 2007); “Al-Sakin’ah Campaign Will Launch the Largest Website in Countering Terrorism and Radicalism,” Al-Riyadh Online, Issue No. 13985, October 6, 2006, article192820.html; Intellectual Review Official Website, (last visted November 11, 2007).

112 Muhammad Al-Ghunaim, “Al-Sakinah (Tranquility) Campaign Launch to Fight Terrorism and Extremism,” Al-Riyadh Online, Issue No. 2200, October 8, 2006,

113 Sulaiman Al-Aqili, “Extremists Attack the Computers of Al-Sakin’ah (Tranquility) Campaign Aimed at Dismantling Extremism,” Al-Sakina Campaign Official Website, (last visited January 10, 2008).

114 “Al-Sakinah (Tranquility) Campaign Convinced 100 Extremists to Recant their Radical Views,” Al-Yaum Online, Issue No.11917, January 30, 2006,

115 Najah Al-Osaimi, supra note 101.

116 Ali Al-Arag, “Electronic Campaign to Monitor Terrorists and Family Hotline to Detect Children’s Deviant Thought,” Al-Watan Online, Issue No. 1382, July 12, 2004, first_page/first_page09.htm.

117 “Dialogue Kept 800 Individuals from Adopting Radical Ideology,” Islam Today Online, February 7, 2005,

118 The Council of Senior Ulama Fatwa is available at Display.asp?id=2&f=takfeer001&bookid=9&mid=1 (last visited December 10, 2007).

119 See Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, Press Release: Saudi Religious Body Issues Fatwa against Terrorism and Urging Public to Report Suspects, June 7, 2004, PressDetail.asp?cIndex=217; Statement of the Senior ’Ulama (Scholars) in Saudi Arabia on the Bombing Incidents, Al-Sakinah Campaign Official Website, June 7, 2004, (last visited Dec. 10, 2007).

120 The Islamic Fiqh Council Fatwa is available at the Muslim World League official website, http:// (last visited December 10, 2007).

121 The Islamic Summit Conference Fatwa is available at (last visited December 10, 2007).

122 “Saudi Cleric Issues Warning over Saudi Militants,” Reuters, Oct. 1, 2007, middleeastCrisis/idUSL01171648.

123 The Mufti’s Fatwa was published in Al-Watan Online, Issue No. 2559, October 2, 2007, http://; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Online, Issue No. 10535, October 2, 2007, details.asp?section=3&article=439518&issue=10535; “Saudi Mufti Issues Fatwa Prohibiting Saudi Youth from Engaging in Jihad Abroad,” The Middle East Media Research Institute, (MEMRI), Special Dispatch Series No. 1731, October 3, 2007,

124 “Saudi Clerics Urged to Do More to Fight Militancy,” Reuters, December 1, 2007, http://

125 See “Saudi Launches Official Fatwa Web Site,” Middle East Times, October 7 2007, http://; “Saudi Launches Official Fatwa Web Site,”, October 7, 2007,

126 “Saudi Arabia Launches New Fatwa Website to Tackle Extremist Ideologies,” AHN Media Corp., October 7, 2007,

127 A fatwa is a religious-legal opinion or judgment undertaken by a qualified jurist on issues relevant to the Islamic sharia. A jurist must satisfy a number of qualifications and requisite legal training to issue fatwas. These qualifications include a commanding knowledge of the Arabic language to be able to draw accurate interpretation from the Quran and sunnah and to derive the rules (ahkam) of the sharia from its sources (e.g., Quran and sunnah); a detailed knowledge of Quranic injunctions (ayat al-ahkam), narratives and parables, events surrounding their revelation, and the abrogating and the abrogated (al-nasikh wa al-mansukh); a detailed knowledge of sunnah, and the ability to distinguish between authentic and unauthentic; a detailed knowledge of the consensus ijma of the Companions of the Prophet, their successors and the rules and procedures for reasoning by analogy (qiyas); a commanding knowledge of the Islamic Jurisprudence (usul alfiqh) and knowledge of the various branches of fiqh and in particular the official school of Islamic law for his/ her country; an understanding of the objectives of the sharia in reflection of public interest, and lengthy experience and practice implementing fatwa in different circumstances. It is important to note that religious texts and scholars have warned of the dangers of issuing fatwas by those who lack the required knowledge. A fatwa issued by unqualified persons is a grave sin and not recognized by qualified jurists nor the majority of the Muslim community as legitimate juristic opinions. It is also the duty of the person seeking a fatwa to approach only jurists who are qualified to issue fatwas. See Yahya ibn Sharaf al-Nawawi, Adab al-fatwa wa al-mufti wa al-mustafti [The Etiquettes and Qualifications of Issuing Islamic-Judgment] 1/19 - 1/30, (Damascus: Dar al- Fikr, 1988). See also “Official Fatwa Site,” Telegraph Online, October 7, 2007,

128 Saudi King Slams Extremist Muftis, Press TV, November 7, 2007, Detail.aspx?id=30172&sectionid=351020205.

129 See “TV Seminar Offers an Overview of the Series Titled Jihad Experiences,” Al-Riyadh Online, Issue No. 13700, December 27, 2005,; “TV Broadcasts a Five Part Series Titled Jihad Experiences, the Deceit…,” Al-Riyadh Online, Issue No. 13672, November 25, 2005,; Press Release, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) Online, (December 11, 2005), at

130 “The Republication of the Al-Khalidi, Al-Khudair, Al-Fahd Recantations,” Al-Yaum Online, Issue No. 11345, July 7, 2004,

131 See “The Ministry of Islamic Affairs Publishes the Reviews Book,” Al-Riyadh Online, Issue No. 13026, February 19, 2004,; “More than One Million and Seventy-Five Thousand Books, Magazines and Brochures to Confront Radicalization and Terrorism,” Al-Watan Online, Issue No. 2163, September 1, 2006, http://

132 Waheeb Al-Wahibi, supra note 43; “Ex-Fighter in Iraq Tells His Story,” Crossroad Arabia, September 16, 2007,

133 See “Declaration of the Saudi Supreme Ulama Council,” Contemporary Jurisprudence Research Journal,July - Sept. 1996 pp. 254 -258; Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, Statement by H.E. Shaikh Salih bin Muhammad Al-Luheidan, Chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council, Sept. 14, 2001, ~kurzman/terror.htm; Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia To the United Nation, Statement by HRH Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector General before the High Level Plenary Meeting of the 60th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, New York, September 15, 2005, sau050915eng.pdf.

134 “Islamic Websites Issued Statements Condemning Terrorist Acts,” Al-Riyadh Online, Issue No. 14212, May 23, 2007,

135 Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, Press Conference on National Campaign against Extremism, March 7, 2005,

136 Counter-Terrorism International Conference, Riyadh, February 5 - 8, 2005, official website, http:// (last visited November 12, 2007).

137 See Christopher Boucek, “Saudi Security and the Islamist Insurgency,” Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitaor, January 26, 2006,; The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, HRH Prince Muhammad Bin Naief Presented the Kingdom Vision on the Root of Terrorism and How to Fight It, February 6, 2005,

138 “The Republication of the Al-Khalidi, Al-Khudair, Al-Fahd Recantations,” supra note 130.

139 Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, Press Conference on National Campaign against Extremism, supra note 135.

140 See Hamid Al-Iqbali, “Minister of Islamic Affairs: A Campaign to Strengthen Youth against Takfir Ideology,” Okaz Online, Issue No. 2377, December 20, 2007, Con20071220160890.htm; “The Ministry of Islamic Affairs Launches Its Strengthening Campaign against Terrorism,” Al-Riyadh Online, Issue No. 14361, October 19, 2007, article287794.html.

141 Center for Religious Freedom of Freedom House and Institute for Gulf Affairs, Saudi Arabia’s Curriculum of Intolerance with Excerpts from Saudi Ministry of Education Textbooks for Islamic Studies, May, 2006,

142 Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, Press Release: Islamic Affairs Minister Urges Revision of Kingdom’s Textbooks, April 9, 2003, at

143 See Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, Transcript of Prince Turki’s Remarks at American University, January 19, 2007,; Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, Transcript of Prince Turki’s Remarks at Salt Lake City CoC Luncheon, January 12, 2007,

144 Abdulwahab Al-Faisal, supra note 11.


145 See Christina Bellantoni, “Islamic Groups Hit Curriculum at Saudi School,” The Washington Times, August 2 2004,; Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, Counter-Terrorism International Conference, Riyadh, February 5 - 8, 2005, http://

146 See Mariam Al Hakeem, “Saudi Arabia’s Anti-Terrorism Campaign to Target Students,” Gulf News, November 22, 2006,; Huda Al-Salih, “Interview with Dr.Abdul Rahman Alhdelk,” Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Online, Jan. 11, 2007, http://

147 See “Saudi Schools Enter Crucial Round in the Fight against Terrorism,” Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Online, Issue No. 10387, May 7, 2007, details.asp?section=43&article=418106&issue=10387; “Together Against Terrorism,” Al-Yaum Online, Issue No. 11568, February 15, 2005,

148 Ministry of Higher Education Official Website, (last visited November 12, 2007).

149 Samar Fatany, “Education Reform Is the Pathway to the Future,” Arab News, October 2, 2007, http://

150 See “The Saudi Council of Ministers Agrees on the Minutes of the Special Committee for King Abdullah Ibn Abdulaziz Project for the Development of Public Education,” Ain Al-Yaqeen, February 16, 2007, http://; “An Ambitious Education Project,” The Saudi Gazette, April 6, 2007,

151 See “Interview by Wolf Blitzer with Adel Al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States,” CNN Late Edition, May 18, 2003,; Jameel Al- Thiyabi, “The Ministry of Islamic Affairs Suspended 1710 Imams, Khateeb, and Muezzin,” Al-Hayat Online, May 28, 2005,

152 Fawaz Al-Maimoni, “Saudi Arabia: Electronic Surveillance over Saudi Mosques,” Al-Hayat Online, April 24, 2006,

153 There are two committees that review all of its sponsored religious publications: one in the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and the other in the Ministry of Information.

154 “Al-Sakinah (Tranquility) Campaign Convinced 100 Extremists to Recant their Radical Views,” supra note

155 King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue, official website, (last visited November 12, 2007).

156 King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue, supra note 2.

157 See “The Custodian of the Two Holly Mosques Calls for Widening the Base for Dialogue in the Kingdom,” Al-Riyadh Online, Issue No. 14345, October 2, 2007, article284230.html; “The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Stressed on the Importance of Expanding the Circle of Dialogue,” Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Online, Issue No. 10536, October 3, 2007, http://

158 “Preparations to Launch a Program to Spread Human Rights Awareness in Saudi Arabia,” Al-Yaum Online, Issue No. 12402, May 30, 2007,

159 The Saudi government maintained the adoption of resolute measures to prosecute the perpetrators of terrorist acts and instituted legal and judicial proceedings against them in accordance with the Islamic sharia. In addition, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks have drawn attention to new terrorism and its global export and the connection between terrorism and other terrorist related crimes such as drug offenses, corruption, and illicit firearms trafficking that led to the enactment of new law related to terrorism financing, money laundering and drug trafficking laws. Saudi Arabia has also become a party to a number of international, regional and bilateral counterterrorism and extradition agreements in accordance with Islamic law, which is the basis of its system of governance. See United Nations Security Council, Report of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Submitted Pursuant to Paragraph 6 of Security Council Resolution 1373 (2001) Concerning Counter-Terrorism, (Doc. No. S/2001/1294, December 27, 2001),

160 Alfred B. Prados and Christopher M. Blanchard, Saudi Arabia: Terrorist Financing Issues, CRS Report for Congress, March 1, 2005,

161 See Federal Bureau of Investigation, Testimony of Thomas J. Harrington, Deputy Assistant Director, Counterterrorism Division, FBI before the House Committee on International Relations/Subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia, March 24, 2004, 032404middleeast.htm; Anthony H. Cordesman, The Prospects for Stability in Saudi Arabia in 2004 [Part I], Saudi US Relation Information Services, February 23, 2004,; U.S. Department of State, International Security, U.S., Saudi Arabia Act Jointly to Block Terror, March 11, 2002, U.S._Saudi_Arabia_Act_Jointly_to_Block_Terror_Funds.html.

162 See Nayiroz Bakr, “Internet Media in Saudi Arabia: Sudden Shift from Media Control to Infinite Space without Border,” Al-Watan Online, Issue No. 1326, May 17, 2004,; King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology Official Website, saudi-Internet/local-information/service-orgnization-ar.htm, (last visited January 1, 2008).

163 Press release, Reporters without Borders, Mar. 26, 2004,

164 Philip Johnston, “Tackling ‘Terror Svengalis’ on Web a Priority,” Telegraph Online, January 18, 2008,

165 Raid Qusti, “Experts Recommend Special Laws to Combat Terror,” Arab News, December 5, 2007, www.arabnews.compage=1&section=0&article=104300&d=5&m=12&y=2007&pix=kingdom.jpg&category=Kingdom.

166 “Report: Saudis Probe National Security and Technology,” Middle East Times, December 1, 2007, http://

167 See “Security Chief Asks Saudis to Monitor Internet Use,” Reuters, November 24, 2007, http://; Raid Qusti, “Kingdom to Restructure Intelligence Operations,” Arab News, November 25, 2007, ?page=1&section=0&article=103970&d=25&m=11&y=2007&pix=kingdom.jpg&category=Kingdo; Muhammad Almelfi, and Muhammad Ahalili, “Prince Muqrin: Efforts with 14 Companies to Stop Hosting Extremists Sites,” Al-Watan Online, Issue No. 2613, November 25, 2007, newsdetail.asp?issueno=2613&id=30420.

168 NETworked Radicalization: A Counter-Strategy, The Homeland Security Policy Institute (HSPI) and Critical Incident Analysis Group (CIAG), May 3, 2007, NETworked%20Radicalization_A%20Counter%20Strategy.pdf.

169 See Law to Counter Cyber Crime, Council of Ministers Decision, Art. 7, March 26, 2007; “Law to Counter Cyber crime…,” Al-Riyadh Online, Issue No. 14173, April 14, 2007, 04/14/article241549.html.

170 Ibid, Art. 8.

171 Ibid, Art. 11.

172 “Saudi Forum Urges Global Cyber-Terrorism Ban,” Saudi in Focus, December 5, 2007, http://

173 Raid Qusti, “Experts Recommend Special Laws to Combat Terror,” supra note 165.

174 See Mustafa Al-Minshawi, “Egyptian Islamic Jihad Organization Issues a Review of the Organization Theological Basis,” BBC Arabic News Online, Nov. 18, 2007, newsid_7100000/7100286.stm; Ian Black, “Violence Won’t Work: How Author of Jihadists ‘Bible’ Stirred up a Storm,” The Guardian Online, July 27, 2007,,,2135869,00.html.

175 Anton La Guardia, supra note 1.

176 The Radical Middle Way Project, official website, (last visited November 1, 2007).

177 “NETworked Radicalization: A Counter-Strategy,” supra note 168.

178 See Simon Montlake, “U.S. Tries Rehab for Religious Extremists,” The Christian Science Monitor, October 9, 2007,; “Bloggers’ Roundtable With Gen. Douglas M. Stone,” The Washington Post, September 18, 2007, content/article/2007/09/18/AR2007091801969_pf.html; Anderson Cooper, Live from Baghdad; Petraeus’ Testimony; Insurgent Allies; Saudi Terrorists; Dangerous Duty, CNN Online, September 10, 2007, at http://