A statement released by the Saudi Embassy in London was evidently in response to claims made by a former head of Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, MI6, suggesting that the Sunni-ruled kingdom may be turning a blind eye to funding going to the Sunni jihadists.
The statement said Saudi Arabia “wishes to emphasize, once again, that it does not and has not supported, financially, morally or through any other means, the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Islamic caliphate nor has the kingdom supported any other terrorist network.”
“Despite having clarified this issue on numerous occasions, several inaccurate, misleading and distorted allegations, made by certain media outlets in the U.K., require us to do so again,” it continued.
The statement did not identify the offending reports, but British media outlets this week covered a speech by former MI6 chief Richard Dearlove, in which he pointed to Saudi Arabia as a likely source of funding.
Addressing the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based security think-tank, Dearlove said the Monday that the Saudis were “deeply attracted to any militancy that can effectively challenge Shia-dom.”
(ISIS’ two main enemies right now are Iraq’s Shi’ite-dominated government and the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who belongs to the Shi’ite Allawite sect.)
“How much Saudi and Qatari money – now I’m not suggesting direct government funding, but I am suggesting maybe a blind eye being turned – is being channeled towards ISIS, and reaching it?” Dearlove asked.
“For ISIS to be able to surge into the Sunni areas of Iraq in the way that it has done recently has to be the consequence of substantial and sustained funding,” he said. “Such things simply do not happen spontaneously.”
Dearlove recalled an encounter he had, before 9/11, with Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, formerly the head of intelligence and also a former ambassador to Washington.
He recalled Bandar telling him, “the time is not far off, Richard, in the Middle East when it will be literally, ‘God help the Shia.’ More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.”
In Tuesday’s statement, the Saudi government said false allegations about its funding for jihadists persisted despite the embassy’s “multiple direct cooperative attempts to provide reliable and factual information.”
It went on to say that Saudi Arabia has provided support only to the “moderate opposition” fighting to oust the Assad regime in Syria.
“In Syria specifically Saudi Arabia has repeatedly identified the provision of support to forces of moderation as the most effective manner to stunt the growth of such extremism.”
“We believe it is the lack of international involvement that has paved the way for terrorist affiliated networks to breed within Syria,” the statement said.
It concluded by urging British and international media to investigate ISIS’ funding sources, and to “report the situation in the region objectively and fairly and to verify allegations before reporting them as fact.”
In a speech on the same day, marking the start of Ramadan, Saudi King Abdullah alluded to ISIS as nothing more than “a handful of terrorists” whose aim was to sow discord among Muslims.
“We will not allow a handful of terrorists, using Islam for personal aims, to terrify Muslims,” Abdullah said. “We hereby declare that we will continue to confront and fight all forms of this menace that does not relate to Islam by any means.”
Last month Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shi’ite-dominated government accused Saudi Arabia of supporting the jihadists. The kingdom denied the charge, in turn accusing Maliki of marginalizing Iraq’s Sunni minority.