Mohammed Al Khilewi: "Saudi Arabia Is Trying to Kill Me"
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
The incorrect estimations by American policymakers during the
time of the shah and now with Saudi Arabia are distinctly
MEQ: Have you had the same reception from all agencies of the U.S.
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
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.
- The Guardian, May 24, 1994.
- 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.
- The New York Post, Aug. 1, 1994.
- The Sunday Times, June 12, 1994.
- The Sunday Times, Aug. 28, 1994.
- Financial Times, Aug. 11, 1994.
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.
- The Sunday Times, June 12, 1994.
- Asharq al-Awsat, June 15, 1998.
- The Sunday Times, July 24, 1994.
- The newsletter of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia, Washington, D.C., Feb. 1991.