Mohammed Al Khilewi: "Saudi Arabia Is Trying to Kill Me"

September, 1998

Mohammed Abdalla Al Khilewi was first secretary at the Saudi Arabian mission to the United Nations in New York when, in May 1994, he issued a declaration on embassy letterhead that declared King Fahd "despotic" and called for a redistribution of the country's wealth and power.1 When his government replied with threats, Mr. Khilewi defected to the United States and was granted political asylum in August 1994.

Born in 1961 in Saudi Arabia, he studied politics at King Saud University in Riyadh and at the prestigious Institute for Diplomatic Studies in Riyadh. His career in the Saudi foreign service began in 1985; he rose rapidly and arrived in New York in 1992. Mr. Khilewi now lives in the New York City area. Mr. Khilewi was interviewed by Daniel Pipes.

See Khilewi's comments on Michael Schwartz.

Defecting to the United States

Middle East Quarterly (MEQ): Why did you defect to the United States?

Mohammed Al Khilewi: I believe that I have a moral, political and religious obligation to fight to correct wrong-doings in my country. Although the Saudi regime has been corrupted since its establishment in 1932, the scope and volume of corruption increased to unprecedented heights when Fahd became king in 1982. During the 1980s, it spent billions of dollars on propaganda to polish the image of the king. In the 1990s, things changed somewhat. With the beginning of the Gulf War, the government could no longer hide the reality of the economic, political and social crisis from its people or the rest of the world because the size of the disaster was too big to hide with its traditional propaganda.

MEQ: Why did you defect when you did in 1994?

Khilewi: By then, the picture had become yet clearer. The economy was collapsing, financial and political corruption had grown, while human rights violations were at an all-time high. In 1994, many nationalists, including myself, thought that continued silence would allow these atrocities to increase. I thought the moment was right to respond to my country's call -- to do my civic duty to oppose the regime and its bad policies. My reading of the Saudi political map in 1994 told me that was the right time to expose the regime and explain the Saudi case to the world with the authority of a Saudi voice that knows the regime from within.

MEQ: What specifically prompted you to defect?

Khilewi: I chose to defect on the evening of May 16, 1994, because of the certain conclusion, based upon my first-hand information from intelligence and diplomatic channels, that the Saudi government was at that time preparing for war with Yemen. It did so to divert attention from domestic problems and direct it instead to the outside. I could not sit by and watch innocent people on both sides be killed for the gain of this corrupt regime.

To divert attention from domestic problems, the Saudi government in 1994 was preparing for a war with Yemen.

MEQ: The next day you sent an open letter of protest to Crown Prince `Abdallah.2 What did it say and what reply did you hope for?

Khilewi: My letter addressed the political, economic, and social situation in Saudi Arabia. I told him that the country would eventually collapse if things did not change drastically. I called for the removal of King Fahd from power and for a move towards democracy so that Saudis -- men and women alike, by the way -- can better participate and contribute to the development of their country.

The letter was addressed to Crown Prince `Abdallah and some religious leaders who claim not to agree with many of the practices of the other members of the royal family; I sent it to them to challenge their credibility before the Saudi people. It came as a wake-up call for this uncivilized group to mend its ways.

MEQ: When you sent the letter, did you expect a personal response?

Khilewi: No, I expected the regime would start a campaign to blackmail me or keep me silent. But I never thought that they would try to kill me and train a kidnap team for this terrorist assignment.

I never thought that the Saudi government would respond to my defection by trying to kill me. The last threat against me was in the winter of 1998.

MEQ: The government of Saudi Arabia has tried to kill you on United States territory?

Khilewi: Yes.

MEQ: In the months following your defection you wore a bullet-proof vest, had bodyguards, and moved from one safe house to another. In fact, a front-page New York Post headline blared out "Kidnap Team Stalks Ex-U.N. Envoy: Saudi Diplomat is Terror Target."3 Are you still worried for your safety?

Khilewi: Yes, I am still concerned about it. The last threat was in the winter of 1998.

MEQ: Have you had help or protection from the U.S. government?

Khilewi: A little. It did not offer much and I did not ask for more. Even though protecting anyone who lives in this country is a job for the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation], I take my own precautions.

MEQ: Soon after your defection, Prince Salman, the governor of Riyadh, reportedly summoned members of your family and threatened them, "Tell your relative we can get him in the United States, we can get him even if he goes to the moon."4 Your comment on this, four years later?

Khilewi: I hope he's wrong. I do know that he would still like to get me; every once in a while undercover Saudi intelligence agents turn up. But these terrorist activities are empty threats because historically a terrorist threat from any dictatorial government never works in the face of legitimate demands. They do nothing except increase my determination to achieve my legitimate goals. Every threat gives me new momentum.

MEQ: Why does the Saudi government threaten you?

Khilewi: The royal family cannot tolerate anyone who publicly disagrees with it. If you criticize them or disagree with their actions, as I do, they immediately start with threats -- which include kidnapping, imprisonment, or blackmailing.

MEQ: Has attempted assassination been the Saudi government's only reaction to your defection?

Khilewi: No, reaction was divided. The majority considered me very dangerous to the future stability of the regime and so threatened my life. In addition, there were four other responses: Efforts to blackmail me with silly accusations that I was working for Israel's Mossad, the Iranians, or the FBI; to ignore me (like the rest of the opposition is ignored) in the expectation that I would give up my opposition efforts after a few weeks; to pay me off with large sums of money; and to open channels of communication with me.

MEQ: Tell us more about the attempts to pay you off.

Khilewi: They offered a huge amount of money. But I made it clear from the beginning that my principles and my person are not for sale.

MEQ: Are you still in touch with the government?

Khilewi: My last communication with it took place in mid-1997.

MEQ: Can you tell us something about the substance of your contacts?

Khilewi: I have been approached by the representatives of the ambassador to the United States, of the foreign minister, the governor of Riyadh, and another two princes. The messages differed one to the other but, in general, the Saudi government does not seek an honest and serious dialogue. Most of their messages unacceptably insist that I stop my public activity before they open a dialogue. I am ready for dialogue but without preconditions.

Opposition Activities

MEQ: On winning political asylum in the United States, you announced an intention to "fight for the right to live under a democratic system" in Saudi Arabia.5 Can you report any successes?

Khilewi: This subject has two aspects, the government and the population. The government, far from making any progress towards democracy, is moving backwards. This results from vacancies in the political arena. The king is sick; the last thing he remembers is the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait eight years ago. The minister of defense is partially paralyzed. The head of the judicial branch is blind. A government staffed by infirm people will never see the light of democracy.

King Fahd is sick; the last thing he remembers is the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait eight years ago.

MEQ: And the other aspect, the people?

Khilewi: I can report many advances towards democracy among the Saudi people in general, and specifically among the intellectuals. During the 1970s and 1980s, the main question was, "Is the government good or bad?" In the 1990s, a general consensus has emerged that the government is indeed bad; the main question now is how to get rid of it. With this, a psychological barrier has been broken. The people strongly wish to participate in their destiny.

Also, they are intensely aware that in 1982, before Fahd took over, the country's treasury had a surplus of $120 billion dollars; now the government has a deficit of $150 billion and the economy is close to collapse. People realize that these huge sums of money did not go for the few shaky bridges that were built.

I can report many advances towards democracy among the Saudi people in general, and specifically among the intellectuals.

MEQ: Surely factors other than corruption help explain this change, though. The price of oil and gas have declined substantially; the Iraq- Iran and Kuwait wars each cost tens and tens of billions.

Khilewi: Yes, they did cost tens of billions and this negatively affected the annual budget. But these are not the main reasons for the depletion of reserves; note that Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates faced similar problems but their economies do not face the same difficulties as ours.

The main Saudi problem is mismanagement and corruption by the royals. We paid $30 billion to arm Iraq, then $60 billion to disarm it. Why? Because of the Saudi government's political and strategic blindness. The current economic crisis directly affects the income of Saudi citizens, many of whom live below the poverty level. That's because the Saudi royal family, led by Fahd and his brothers, awarded bonuses to themselves. I estimate the Sudayri seven6 stole more than $200 billion, which now sits in Swiss and other European banks.

We paid $30 billion to arm Iraq, then $60 billion to disarm it.

MEQ: You have been in contact with the Committee for the Defence of Legitimate Rights (CDLR), an Islamist opposition group based in London; do you endorse its activities?

Khilewi: No, I do not. Since my defection, I made it clear to the CDLR that I do not support everything it does, such as their opinions about the minorities and women. But this hardly matters now, for the CDLR no longer is much of presence.

MEQ: It collapsed when its two top leaders had a falling out, with each publicly accusing the other of being a Saudi spy; any truth to these allegations?

Khilewi: Very much so; at least one of them is correct about the other being a spy. I told some of the founders of CDLR that Saudi spies (from al-Mubahith) had planted agents among them. They did not take me seriously. This falling out took place eighteen months later, confirming my information.

MEQ: Which one of them is the spy?

Khilewi: I am currently organizing my documents and information on the subject and will comment on this subject sometime in the future.

MEQ: Please tell us your thoughts on Usama bin Ladin, the vastly rich Saudi citizen who single-handedly bankrolls some of the most extreme Islamist organizations. Have you been in contact with him?

Khilewi: When Sheikh Bin Ladin and others established groups of Arab mujahadin (fighters) in Afghanistan in the early 1980s, they had a poor reputation in the Arab street due to their being armed and trained by the Central Intelligence Agency, and their being funded by Saudi intelligence. Things changed after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, when the mujahadin turned against corrupt Arab regimes, giving Bin Ladin a good reputation among the Islamic opposition. Today, Bin Ladin has thousands of fighters and tens of thousands of supporters all over the world. He is very strong militarily and financially.

MEQ: What does he seek?

Khilewi: He has two programs. The first is a secret, and I can't comment on it because I myself don't know it. The second is his public program, some parts of which I agree with and others I do not. On this basis of his public speeches and releases, I can say I mainly disagree with Bin Ladin's belief -- shared by some others in the Saudi opposition -- that all our problems stem from America. They conclude we must fight everything that is American.

MEQ: What do you say to this?

Khilewi: I disagree. Even though the U.S. government does put all its eggs in the basket of the Saudi family, ignoring the interests of millions, the Saudi royal family, not the Americans, remains the main cause of most of our problems. The American administration does ignore human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, but the royal family is the one putting thousands of political dissidents and prisoners of conscience behind bars. It is torturing them and stealing the country's wealth. If we get rid of the Sudayris, most of our problems will be solved, so they are the ones we should fight.

MEQ: In 1994 you announced that you are part of an underground network of more than seventy-five dissidents working for democracy in Saudi Arabia, including a ministerial official and five ambassadors.7 Does this network still exist? Has it made progress in the intervening years?

Khilewi: I announced then that I was a member of a political movement whose members share the same goals. It is an elite group that includes diplomats, governmental employees, and others. It is not an organization but a movement, and it is growing larger and gaining experience.

MEQ: Can you point to public signs of its activities?

Khilewi: No, there cannot be any. No political movements, organizations or committees in Saudi Arabia can work publicly. In such a dictatorial environment, all opposition elements must work underground. Thinking freely or expressing one's views is against the law there. For those who dare to speak up about public issues, punishments begin with a few years in jail and a few hundred lashes, then increase, ending with the death penalty.

MEQ: This being the case, how are outsiders to know that dissident activity inside Saudi Arabia is really taking place?

Khilewi: It is difficult but there are ways. Foreigners who work there (diplomats, corporate employees, intelligence agents, and the like) are one source; Saudis in exile would be a more useful source if they had more courage to speak out.

Saudi Intelligence

MEQ: News reports indicated that over several years you made copies of 13,000 official Saudi documents that passed through your office, collected these, and brought with you when you defected. Please describe this archive and its significance.

Khilewi: The documents cover the wrongdoing of the Saudi government politically, economically, and in the area of human rights. This archive is the first documentation of violations by the Saudi government. It includes such matters as building nuclear arms, unlawful intelligence activity, illegal commissions, human rights abuses, and corruption. The archive has already had a strong impact on thinking in the West and the Middle East, with my documents featured on the first pages of serious and credible newspapers in Europe, the United States, and the Middle East.

MEQ: Over four years have passed since your defection; why have you made so little of this archive available?

Khilewi: I have published a reasonable number of documents and will publish more when doing so forwards our national interest. My main purpose in collecting these documents was to make known the government from within and pressure it towards reform. The documents are not to be published just like that, irresponsibly, but must be read in precisely the right way. I am very cautious about publishing the documents because a misreading could have terrible consequences.

MEQ: You have cable traffic showing that the Saudi mission in New York was tasked with gathering information on two groups based in the city, the Jewish Defense League and the Jewish Defense Organization, and that it informed headquarters of having installed surveillance equipment "in their place,"8 which presumably means a wiretap -- a strictly illegal activity. Why would Jewish groups interest Saudi intelligence?

Khilewi: I don't fully understand why, but I do know the following: In June 1994, when I did an interview on this subject with Barbara Walters on "20/20," the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar, appeared on the same program and denied any such spying. However, a few days later, when I spoke to Bandar on the phone, he admitted to such activities and claimed that the two Jewish groups were planning to bomb a Saudi Airline jet. This confirmation from him is now undeniable because I have him on tape.

MEQ: Does Saudi intelligence have agents elsewhere in the United States?

Khilewi: Yes, it has a big budget that allows it to plant agents almost everywhere. You will find them in human rights organizations, in the United Nations, and in Washington, D.C.

MEQ: How about researchers?

Don't believe what you read on the Internet about Saudi Arabia.

Khilewi: A major concern. If politicians and the media are their old target, scholars are the new one. This explains why the government is so active on the Internet, where you find them listed under various committees and organizations. In an effort to know and to control everybody at universities and research centers who researches the country, it sets up seemingly anti-Saudi websites. These serve two purposes: First, as a gatekeeper they make known who's doing what. Second, they spread misinformation, which is made the more plausible by also giving out correct information. I recommend you don't believe what you read on the Internet about Saudi Arabia unless you know who is sponsoring the site and you examine every piece of information.

Support for Terrorism

MEQ: Tell us about Saudi government support for Hamas, in terms of both financial backing and military equipment, including the means to make bombs.

Khilewi: The Saudi support for Hamas consists of money and logistic support. I am not revealing a secret here, by the way. The Saudi government in Riyadh announced its unconditional support for Hamas. And in an interview with Qatari television April 26, 1998, Sheikh Ahmad Yasin, the founder of Hamas, confirmed this by thanking the Saudis for their support.

MEQ: But Prince Bandar tells congressmen and Jewish groups that the Saudi government is against Hamas and that it never funded them. Can you explain this inconsistency?

Khilewi: You should pose this question to Bandar and those who listen to him. There is another issue they should address concerning Israel. In private comments, Bandar tells the Jewish leaders that Saudi Arabia is a friend of Israel; Prince Sultan, his father and the defense minister, says the complete opposite in public. At a press conference in the United Arab Emirates, on June 14, 1998, he announced, "We don't have any enemies in this world except Israel."9 Who should we believe, the son or his father?

MEQ: Do you have evidence of Saudi support for terrorism against Americans?

Khilewi: It gave money to Ramzi Yusuf, the mastermind behind the World Trade Center bombing, right after he traveled to the Philippines from his base in Pakistan.

MEQ: Can you document this?

Khilewi: I am not a criminal investigator and have no proof but I do have confirmed information from a credible source. I know that during his time in the Philippines, Ramzi Yusuf received a large amount of money from a Saudi citizen carrying a Saudi diplomatic passport. (As an aside: in Saudi Arabia three groups can carry a diplomatic passport -- royal family members, diplomats, and intelligence.) The Filipino and American governments have evidence about this mysterious operation but probably are not eager to get at the bottom of it. Still, I hope they do so.

MEQ: Does Saudi support for Hamas and Ramzi Yusuf fit a larger pattern of backing terrorism?

Khilewi: No, although Saudi Arabia has a pattern of backing terrorism, these two are quite different. The relationship with Hamas goes far beyond terrorism, for it is both public and political; in March-April of this year, Sheikh Ahmad Yasin held talks with the highest political authorities in Saudi Arabia and all of the Saudi press covered those meetings on their front pages. In contrast, the relationship with Ramzi Yusuf is secret and goes through Saudi intelligence.


MEQ: What do you know about corrupt practices by Saudi officials in New York and Washington?

Khilewi: Saudi corruption in the United States is extraordinary. No commercial or military deal with Saudi Arabia goes through without some Saudi official taking a commission.

MEQ: Despite Western government efforts to ban their companies from giving commissions to foreign governments to grease deals?

Khilewi: Whatever the law may state, foxes usually go around it! The Saudis are brazen about taking commissions and breaking American law. Examine closely the terms of agreement and you will see that the costs are always at least twice the fair market price. Most of the royal family members take 5 percent of any deal but some princes take more; this is why some Saudis call Bandar, "Mr. 20 Percent."

MEQ: But how does taking 5 or even 20 percent off the top lead to a doubling of prices?

Khilewi: For example, the Saudi government in 1981 paid $5.5 billion to buy five Airborne Warning Control Systems (AWACS). The actual cost of this aircraft was $110 million each, so the total cost should have been $550 million. It's not reasonable that only 10 percent went for hardware and 90 percent for training and maintenance! So you see, I was being conservative when I said double.

You can also see the commissions from another angle. Saudi Arabia is estimated to have spent $235 billion on armaments in the period 1984-94. Look carefully at the deals and you see that the Saudi government demands that about 35 percent of all major contracts be "offset" -- that is, economic benefits equaling 35 percent of the arms contract value must be steered back to the Saudi economy. The foreign companies don't care where the 35 percent goes so long as they get their 65 percent. The Saudi royal family members consider this 35 percent their personal commission. They set up phony companies with a large numbers of ghost employees. I personally know a prince who bought a building for $300,000, then rented it for $7 million per year to a Western company for seven years. I call on them to document where this 35 percent ends up.

In addition, the Saudis break American law in another way -- by illicitly transferring American technology and arms to third countries. For example, it passed the AWACS technology to Iraq as well as hundreds of MK-84 bombs just weeks after getting these from the United States.

If a poor guy steals a chicken to feed his starving family, the Saudis cut off his hand. If a prince steals billions, it's okay.

MEQ: You have accused Saudi diplomats of depositing official funds in New York banks and diverting the interest for personal use. Are they exploiting the Saudi prohibition on interest for their own benefit?

Khilewi: Yes, they are. This is not the only case where the Saudi royal family uses Islam for their gain. If a poor guy steals a chicken to feed his starving family, they cut off his hand. If a prince steals billions, it's okay. Some members of the Saudi royal family see the country as though it were their private property. They treat the Saudi people as their slaves. As the old joke goes, Saudi Arabia is the only family-owned business with membership in the United Nations.

Building the Bomb

MEQ: You revealed documents showing that from 1975 until 1990, the Saudi Arabian government provided some $5 billion to help fund Saddam Husayn's efforts to build an atomic bomb; in addition, that it tried to acquire nuclear weapons from Pakistan and the Soviet Union.10 Does this lead you to the conclusion that it is determined at all costs to acquire a nuclear capability?

Khilewi: Yes, it will pay anything to acquire nuclear capability as long as the cost is just money.

MEQ: What do you mean by "just money"?

Khilewi: They are willing to pay financial costs, not political costs. They don't like to forego power to the army or scientists. So long as the technicians stay out of politics, they don't give a damn if the scientists use nuclear fusion or fission or whether they get it from uranium 235 or plutonium 239. They don't care if they arm nuclear warheads on CSS-2 missiles from China or planes from the United States.

MEQ: Is $5 billion still the correct amount?

Khilewi: At this point and estimating conservatively, I'd say the Saudi government has since 1975 spent at least $7 billion on nuclear armaments. It paid millions of dollars to buy nuclear reactors for what it likes to call "scientific" and "peaceful" uses. It also spent millions of dollars for nuclear research and data collection. But most of the money went to support nuclear programs in other countries -- Iraq and Pakistan.

The Saudi government has since 1975 spent at least $7 billion on nuclear armaments, of which at least $5 billion went to Iraq.

MEQ: Was Iraq the major recipient?

Khilewi: Yes, by far. At least $5 billion of the $7 billion went for nuclear and weapons of mass destruction programs in Iraq. By the way, just weeks after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, King Fahd made a public statement about Saudi support for Iraq during the Iraq-Iran war in which he stated that that amount came to exactly $25,734,469,885.80.11

MEQ: Any likelihood that Pakistan will share nuclear devices with Saudi Arabia?

Khilewi: Before I respond to your question, permit me to explain briefly my views about nuclear armaments. Since 1993, when I was a member of the Saudi delegation to the United Nations Conference on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, it was clear to me that the current system of nuclear proliferation is wrong. The NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] is based on selective proliferation. It has a double standard. I myself am against nuclear proliferation in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iraq as I am against it in America, Israel, and India.

To respond to your question, I am sure that Saudi Arabia will ask Pakistan and will put pressure on them to get it. Pakistan officially announced through Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, its intent not to transfer this technology to any country. However, I think its economic interest will cause it to rethink this issue -- especially after they feel the harsh impact of the newly-imposed economic sanctions. And if the Saudis for some reason fail to get nuclear arms from Pakistan, I expect them to keep trying with others.

MEQ: Do you have a document or new revelation to make at this time?

Khilewi: Yes, I have a document which I give to you in the original Arabic, plus some comments.

U.S. Government Reaction

MEQ: Have you been satisfied with the U.S. government reaction to the information you made available?

Khilewi: No, I am not.

MEQ: What would you like it to do?

Khilewi: It should wake up! Foreign governments and human rights organizations should pressure the Saudi government to increase freedom of speech. Their policies are built on assumptions of Saudi power that have not existed since the 1970s. They should recognize that things change. Policies that ignore the Saudi people make no sense now, for the Saudi people are not long going to tolerate their government. I worry that the West is making the same mistake with my country that they made with the shah's regime in Iran: sticking by a discredited government.

In general, I find strange not the Saudi activities but the European and American silence about them.

The Saudi people are not long going to tolerate their government.

MEQ: To what do you attribute this silence? Khilewi: To political and financial corruption. Some members of Western governments have been involved with the Saudi government in illegal activities. These individuals try close the eyes of their governments about Saudi wrongdoing. You will find that some diplomats defend the Saudi government as if they are representing it rather than their own government!

MEQ: Can you name names?

Khilewi: I can name departments, embassies, and consulates, but I don't think it useful to mention specific names. The important thing is to change policies, not individuals.

For instance, when U.S. Navy Intelligence in 1995 caught Lt. Commander Michael Schwartz passing secret documents and classified computer disks to Saudi intelligence (Istakhbarat) during the period November 1992 to September 1994, it let him off with a slap on the wrist: he lost his rank and his retirement benefits, and was given a "less than honorable" discharge. But he did not spend a day in jail. That's laughable! The State Department treats its people with the same kid gloves.

MEQ: Is corruption the only reason for the gentle treatment Riyadh gets?

Khilewi: No, there is also the fact that the United States has considerable interests in Saudi Arabia. The attempt to achieve those goals leads U.S. officials to be misguided and misled by Prince Bandar.

MEQ: Prince Bandar is an important figure?

Khilewi: Very much so; he has tremendous influence over the way American policymakers see Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is like a black hole, with little known about it, in part because of Bandar's efforts.

MEQ: Can you think of any ambassador in Washington who wielded as much influence as Prince Bandar?

Khilewi: Yes, I'd draw an analogy between him and Ardeshir Zahedi, the shah of Iran's last ambassador. Both represent corrupt governments, both have almost unlimited power in Washington, especially the State Department and some congressional committees. Zahedi misled Americans to believe in the stability of his father-in-law, the shah; Bandar misleads them about the stability of his uncle. The incorrect estimations by American policymakers during the time of the shah and now with Saudi Arabia are distinctly similar.

The incorrect estimations by American policymakers during the time of the shah and now with Saudi Arabia are distinctly similar.

MEQ: Have you had the same reception from all agencies of the U.S. government?

Khilewi: No, they differ from one to another. The poorest reaction to my defection came from the State Department, the best from the Justice Department. The White House and Congress stood somewhere in between. This reflects the general position of these agencies, not just regarding my case, but regarding the whole Saudi file.

MEQ: Tell us about the State Department.

Khilewi: The State Department's only shy criticism of the corrupted Saudi monarchy is found in the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, a document that Congress requires it publish. Otherwise, it plays a generally useless role, having nothing to say about democracy and human rights in Saudi Arabia. But we Saudis expect little from the State Department, being aware that it did not even protect its own citizens in the country; how can we expect it to help us?

MEQ: What do you mean, it does not protect its own citizens?

Khilewi: The State Department did not even raise an eyebrow when hundreds of Americans working in Saudi Arabia have lost their life's savings or been detained and tortured during Fahd's era. In fact, it does not even protect its own employees. When Ambassador Raymond E. Mabus, Jr. tried to protect U.S. citizens and requested clarification about the farcical Saudi investigation of the November 1995 Riyadh bombing, Saudi intelligence sent agents, disguised as religious police, to publicly embarrass his wife by humiliating her on several occasions. They forced her to cover head, prevented her from wearing slacks in public, and one time they threatened to lash her with a bamboo stick on the buttocks. The State Department responded not with alarm about protecting Uncle Sam's rep in Riyadh but with soothing words about quietly cooling down the situation.

Then there's Wyche Fowler, the current U.S. ambassador to Riyadh, who does not even try to protect his citizens or bother to investigate corruption at American offices in Saudi Arabia. Instead, he spends his time corresponding with his twenty-four-year old female Scottish pen pal.

MEQ: How about the Justice Department?

Khilewi: It is much better. Louis J. Freeh, director of the FBI, is the only American official in recent years publicly to criticize the Saudi government for not cooperating with the American investigation of the bombings. Had the Saudis been dealing with the State Department, its ploys would undoubtedly have worked; but this time they faced the FBI. The American investigators realize that the Saudi government is hiding evidence about the Riyadh bombing and then the Dhahran bombing of June 1996. The Saudi government is not just misleading the Americans, but it is even hiding the facts about those mysterious incidents. Personally, I suspect it is protecting members of the royal family who were involved in the bombings.

MEQ: Really? But didn't the Saudi authorities convict four individuals in the Riyadh bombing incident?

Khilewi: Yes, they brought a few kids in front of a video camera to confess to a crime they did not commit. The suspects confessed just to be spared more of the terrible tortures they had endured, such as the pulling- out of fingernails, cigarettes burns, and the smashing of testicles.

MEQ: How do you propose that the U.S. government pursue your allegation?

Khilewi: The families of the victims, who have my deepest sympathies, have every right to a serious, independent investigation. Saudi and American investigators should equally participate in the investigation; and they should keep the media informed of major developments.

MEQ: How can the U.S. government demand to participate in the investigation of a crime on foreign soil?

Khilewi: The State Department argument that Saudi sovereignty precludes American participation in the investigation is ludicrous. How can one talk about Saudi sovereignty when American military offices occupy the entire third floor of the Saudi defense ministry, when thousands of American soldiers are based in the heart of Saudi Arabia with their tanks and missiles, and when American pilots fly in the Saudi skies more easily than in American ones? Who are they fooling?


MEQ: Four years have gone by since your defection; have you achieved the goals you had originally set out to achieve?

Khilewi: I did not achieve all my goals, but I am satisfied with what I have done until now.

MEQ: Please describe what that is.

Khilewi: I succeeded in most of my short-term goals. I helped expose the Saudi regime to the whole world. I expressed the Saudi people's hopes and demands. I slowed down the corruption and the human rights violations. At least the government now knows that the world is watching and that the Saudi people are not going to keep silent forever.

I also offered another opinion about the situation in Saudi Arabia, different from what was familiar to the American public. It is up to Americans to believe it or not, and to take up this humanitarian cause to help my people.

MEQ: And your long-term goals?

Khilewi: To bring democracy to my country. This is not something I expect to achieve in a few years. My purpose is to bring the culture and the soul of democracy to my country, peacefully if possible and forcefully if necessary. It doesn't matter, however, if the democracy we achieve is in the French, the American, or the Bedouin mold.

  1. The Guardian, May 24, 1994.
  2. As well as another letter to the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, `Abd al-`Aziz bin Baz; text of the latter in Anders Jerichow, The Saudi File: People, Power, Politics (New York: St. Martin's, 1998), pp. 54-57.
  3. The New York Post, Aug. 1, 1994.
  4. The Sunday Times, June 12, 1994.
  5. The Sunday Times, Aug. 28, 1994.
  6. Financial Times, Aug. 11, 1994.
  7. Seven full brothers, including Fahd, whose mother, Hasa bint Ahmad, came from the Sudayri family; they act as a bloc among their many half-brothers.
  8. The Sunday Times, June 12, 1994.
  9. Asharq al-Awsat, June 15, 1998.
  10. The Sunday Times, July 24, 1994.
  11. The newsletter of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia, Washington, D.C., Feb. 1991.