Saudi diplomat named in suit
LONDON SUNDAY TELEGRAPH
An American court has issued a summons against the next Saudi ambassador to Britain, saying that in his previous job he helped fund Afghanistan's Taliban regime while it sheltered Osama bin Laden.
The summons has been issued to Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former head of Saudi intelligence, ordering him to respond to a compensation claim for more than $600 million brought by the families of victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The development will cast a shadow over the prince's appointment, which will be announced in Riyadh within the next few days, after a six-week delay.
Uncertainty within the British government over his appointment was resolved only last week.
Yet British Foreign Office officials as of Saturday still refused to confirm that Prince Turki, 57, was even a candidate. Saudi diplomats were equally reticent. The matter was "still being considered," one official said.
The previous Saudi ambassador to Britain, Ghazi Algosaibi, was recalled to Riyadh in September after widespread fury at poems and public comments by him expressing support and sympathy for Palestinian suicide bombers.
The prince, who courted bin Laden during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and maintained close contacts with the Taliban regime, was replaced as the Saudis' head of intelligence two weeks before the September 11 attacks, after he had served almost 25 years in the post.
Earlier this year, he said bin Laden had become "one of the most violent and, I think, one of the cruelest killers in modern history."
The expected appointment of the Oxford-educated Prince Turki is popular with British diplomats, who regard him as an influential figure within the Saudi royal family.
However, the prince's inclusion in what is likely to be a protracted American lawsuit means that he would probably spend his years in London fending off questions that would be embarrassing, or worse.
His summons, issued Oct. 29 but not yet served, follows growing anger in the United States, particularly in Congress, at what many Americans believe is collusion between Saudi Arabia's rulers and Islamic terrorist groups.
The prince, who has made no public comment on the lawsuit, is being ordered to respond to a federal court in Washington, along with two fellow Saudi princes and dozens of other persons, including members of the bin Laden family, banks and charitable organizations. If he does not defend himself he risks incurring damages by default.
A court judgment against him could lead to an order to pay compensation, and his financial assets in many countries, including Britain, would be at risk.
Because the action is a civil rather than a criminal case and because it takes place outside Britain, U.S. lawyers say he would not be shielded by diplomatic immunity. However, the prince cannot be compelled to appear in court, and there is no possibility of extradition.
The issue of the summons is a significant escalation of the legal actions begun in the United States by victims and survivors of the al Qaeda attacks and comes three months after parallel cases were filed in New York and Washington courts.
The first summonses have been served on at least 26 defendants in an action brought by 3,000 victims and their relatives, and an additional 87 summonses have been issued but not yet served. Legal advisers are exploring how best to serve the summons on the prince, who is in Saudi Arabia.
William Riley, an Indiana lawyer involved in processing the summons, said the task would be simpler if the prince takes up his posting to Britain. "We need only deliver the summons to the Saudi Embassy in London."
Once a summons has been officially served, lawyers say, "the clock starts ticking" on the legal process, which could lead to defendants being forced to pay compensation.
Most of Prince Turki's contacts with bin Laden came during the Cold War, when Islamic resistance fighters were seen as allies of the West against communism. He has admitted to a series of meetings with bin Laden inside Afghanistan but says he shared intelligence information with the CIA and later attempted to negotiate bin Laden's arrest and extradition to Saudi Arabia.
The victims' complaint to the court in the District of Columbia, however, charges that Prince Turki, as the head of intelligence, made a deal with the Taliban during a meeting in 1998.
They say he dropped the extradition attempt and pledged Saudi aid to the Taliban in exchange for an agreement that bin Laden would not target the Saudi government. The al Qaeda attacks on U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam came two months later.
Allies of the prince insist that the attempt to extradite bin Laden was wrecked by the United States' missile attack on al Qaeda training camps inside Afghanistan in retaliation for the embassy bombings.
The Saudi royal family is well-known for its generous contributions to charity, which sometimes wind up in the hands of terrorists. Last week the prince came to the defense of his sister, Princess Haifa al-Faisal, the wife of Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, to rebut evidence that some of the money she gave to the wife of another Saudi to help with medical bills ended up indirectly financing al Qaeda terrorists. "Accusations that I contributed funds to terrorists are outrageous and completely irresponsible," she said.
In an interview with CNN in Saudi Arabia, Prince Turki refused to discuss the lawsuit but he said members of the Saudi royal family would not knowingly give money to al Qaeda.
"Al Qaeda is targeting the kingdom [of Saudi Arabia]. Al Qaeda has done terrorist operations in the kingdom. They are declared enemies of the kingdom. No one in their right mind would contribute to that."
Washington Times, 2 Dec 2002, p 1.