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memri
September 15, 2005 No.
241

Are Saudi Summer Camps Encouraging Terrorism?

During the summer of 2005, the Saudi media started reexamining the activities at Saudi summer camps. Intellectuals and columnists in the Saudi press claimed that terrorists and extremists were using the camps to spread their views and to recruit youth. As evidence, they presented cases of terrorists attending the camps as both campers and counselors.

Other columnists argued that such accusations were completely baseless, and that the camps played a vital and positive role in keeping the youth busy during the summer. Top Saudi officials emphasized the camps' role in condemningextremism and terrorism. For example, Jeddah GovernorPrince Mish'al bin Majed said, during the opening of the sixth youth camp under his sponsorship, that the camps played a significant role in condemning extremism and terrorism, and that they clarified the true essence of Islam. [1] Saudi Education Minister 'Abdallah bin Saleh bin 'Ubeid said, "The Education Ministry will reexamine the situation of the summer centers in order to make the best of them." [2] His deputy, Dr. Sa'id bin Muhammad Al-Malis, stressed that "the education minister will demand accountability with regard to any deviation from the program." [3]

One example of terrorist involvement in the summer camps was a letter by Saudi terrorist and camp supervisor 'Isa bin Sa'd Aal 'Oshan to campers at Saudi summer camps, in which he called upon them to participate in terror operations in Saudi Arabia. In response, a letter appeared on the Internet (www.saaid.net) on behalf of campers rejecting his call.

Saudi Terrorist in Letter to Campers: You Must Carry Out Attacks in Saudi Arabia

Wanted Saudi terrorist 'Isa bin Sa'd Aal 'Oshan, a member of Al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia who was killed by Saudi security forces in July 2004, was for several years supervisor of a summer youth camp. In the June 2004 issue of the Al-Qaeda online monthly Sawt Al-Jihad, he published"an open letter to the youths in the summer camps," encouraging them to participate in terror operations in Saudi Arabia. According to author and Saudi expert on Islamist groups 'Abdallah ibn Bajjad, 'Oshan's letter "is an example of the use that the terrorist groups make of the summer camps." [4]

In his letter, 'Oshan wrote: "In years gone by, Allah designated me as supervisor in one of the summer camps, and for several years I was among the youths in the summer camps. Since I know many of them, and know their honest intentions, their zeal for the religion, and their concern for Islam, now is an opportunity for me to send a letter to every youth who is now attending or will in future attend the summer camps. My letter was also [directed] to my brothers the supervisors, and to the ones in charge of the summer camps...

"Oh summer camp youths, is your mind at ease at the fact that the enemies who are murdering your brothers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine are safe in our land, without batting an eyelid? The infidel Paul Marshal [Johnson, Jr.], who was captured by our brothers the Jihad warriors, worked on the Apache helicopters in whose fire the Muslims always burned, and which made the children of Falluja orphans, the women in Qandahar widows, and the Muslims in Ramadi and Ba'quba cripples... The infidel [Johnson] fought Islam [by working on Apaches], and as a result the Muslims suffered destruction and abuse – but we are ignoring this Crusader's occupation and the tears of the orphans and the sighs of the bereaved.

"Are you not awakening, oh youth of Islam, and rising up from your sleep? For this is, by Allah, a Crusader war against the [Muslim] nation. If you do not take the stand that Allah commanded you to take by means of Jihad and fighting the enemies, you will only see more humiliation, contempt, submission, and baseness of various kinds that do not suit you, youths of Islam.

"Beware of thinking that Jihad has its own men and that you have no connection to it... Know that Jihad today is aimed at warding off the aggressive enemy who is spreading corruption in the religion [of Islam] and in this world. [Know too] that the ulama have issued a fatwa according to which [Jihad] is an obligation for everyone who can carry it out, and that [Jihad] is a duty for every person, and he need not ask permission to wage it from a parent, from a loan-giver, or from a [slave]master [5] ...

"Know that the goal of the Crusader enemy is not [only] to eliminate the Jihad fighters or the Al-Qaeda organization, and that his goal is not to conquer Iraq and Afghanistan. Not at all. His goal is much broader and more comprehensive, as the blessed Sheikh Osama bin Laden said: 'Today in Baghdad and tomorrow in Riyadh.' You must know that the goal of the enemy is as Allah said: ' Never will the Jews or the Christians be satisfied with you unless you follow their form of religion ' [Koran 2:120].

"Are you not awakening, oh youth of Islam, in order to help your religion, out of zeal for your [Muslim] nation? Are the worshippers of the cross more zealous about their religion than you, to the point where they come as fighters bearing the cross on our land [Saudi Arabia]... Do you not smell the scent of Paradise and the scent of the Shahids who have left this world, fulfilled their duty to their religion and their nation, and sacrificed their lives for the sake of Allah in order to defend the [Muslim] nation and to fight the cross and its agents?

"Oh youth of Islam, pay no attention to those who warn you away from Jihad by saying that the war must not be brought to the countries of Islam, for they seek to distract and deceive you. The one that has broken forth to the Arabian Peninsula in the war raging today is America, which has brought the masses of its soldiers to the land of Muhammad [i.e. Saudi Arabia] and has gone forth from it in order to invade and destroy the lands of Islam – Afghanistan and Iraq. The ones who have transformed the land into an arena of war are the traitorous leaders, who turned the land into a safe base for the army of the cross and its commanders.

"Do not consent to this humiliation of your religion, and fight them in your land, expel them from it, and learn a lesson from the deeds of your brothers, who attacked the engineering team of the Apache helicopter in Riyadh, killed an engineer, and captured another man whom they afterwards killed." [6]

Response to Letter: We Recognize the Importance of Jihad, but This Is Not the Way to Wage It

The Islamist website www.saaid.netposted a response in the names of youths who had attended summer camps. It acknowledged the importance of Jihad and martyrdom, but rejected the call to fight in Saudi Arabia, and called on 'Oshanto retract his call. The letter read:

"We all think that Jihad and martyrdom are a duty of the nation, the source of its power, and the wellspring of its strength and stability. But... it is inconceivable to us that the sacrifice will be [in the framework of an operation] against some of our brothers the security personnel, or by means of murdering dozens of Muslims [merely] to take revenge on some polytheists. [Likewise,] we do not think that our Jihad can be waged by violating the pacts of the Muslims [with the foreigners]...

"The operations that you call on us to carry out include weighty matters, grave issues, and difficult trials. They contain a declaration that the country is heretical, [a call] to implement the laws of takfir [accusing other Muslims of heresy] against its leaders, and a call to rebel, to violate the pacts and conventions [with the infidels, and to cause] bloodshed. In the framework of these, there will necessarily be murder of Muslims... and there will be battles with the Muslim security forces...

"These weighty issues require [the agreement] of a large group of ulama [and demand] discussions and in-depth examination by several Shari'a committees, which will clarify [the religious ruling] and decide [on the matter].

"How is it possible to deal with these weighty issues without appealing at all to one of the ulama, and to settle instead for [some] junior [ulama] who are less esteemed...

"It is not right [to allow] the pain emanating from the reality of our Muslim brothers to make us carry out operations [that will only] further increase this pain and deepen the wound. This is exactly what is happening with these operations. They have caused the deaths of Americans, British, and others, and at the same time [they have caused] the murder of a similar or greater number of Muslims who were protective shields, security personnel, guards of buildings, and passersby. [They have also caused] the destruction of buildings and property belonging to Muslims, and the violation of many pacts with the infidels. As a result of this, the image of Islam and the image of Jihad have been distorted, and pressure has been applied against all Jihad movements across the world...

"We ask Brother 'Isa [Aal 'Oshan] to retract [his call], and to examine these operations and their advantages and disadvantages. He must know that the public of the [Muslim] nation, its ulama, and its intellectuals disagrees with him, and that they also have the same [religious] zeal and the same genuine feeling as him, and perhaps even more than him..." [7]

The Terrorists Are Using the Camps to Spread Their Views – Therefore, the Camps Must Be Abolished

Some Saudi columnists demanded that the summer camps be abolished, and argued that extremist elements and terror organizations were exploiting them in order to spread extremist views and to encourage the youth to carry out terror operations. In his column in the Saudi daily Al-Jazeerah, 'Abdallah bin Bakhit wrote:"...Almost everyone agrees that the summer camps are one of the youth activities that have been exploited the most by the terrorists and the extremists, in order to produce youth who are willing to kill themselves, or to propagandize for the murderers. When we look objectively at the activity in the summer camps, we find no strategic justification for insisting on holding this type of activity, which has dubious results.

"The question of holding or not holding summer camps must be decided in accordance with how necessary they are. [But] as long as there are doubts about them – and we have no time now for trial and error – we must abolish them until our war on terror is over, or even abolish them permanently. Summer camps have never been a necessary stage in a person's life, and they are not a divine decree... [Likewise,] we have not seen [it written] in Education Ministry documents that summer camps are something essential that cannot be avoided...

"The desire to continue the summer camps hides behind a single question that keeps recurring – and this has become a question of life or death. [This question is:] What will we do with the youths? Where will they spend their free time? As if the [Saudi] kingdom is the only country dealing with a problem whose name is youth, and with another grave problem whose name is women. As if we are the only nation that Allah put to the test of these two human issues – youth and women...

"Before we look for a solution to our problems in the summer camps, we must examine why they are important, who these people who insist on holding them are, and why they are fighting to continue them..." [8]

'Abdallah Abu Al-Samah wrote in a similar vein in his column in the Saudi daily 'Ukaz: "I had hoped that those responsible would halt the activity of the summer camps for a year or two, in order to reexamine and discuss their makeup, their administration, and their goals... It is impossible to spread extremist thought and recruit the youth to the preliminary [terrorist] cells better and more appropriately than amongst the tens of thousands of youth who join the summer camps. [In these camps] the preachers of extremism, who infiltrate the youths, can attract their hearts and recruit dozens, even hundreds, of them to their murderous ideology that is destroying the security of the homeland and the world.

"If you look at the activity in these camps, and at the Jeddah camp for example, you will discover that everyone is focusing on subjects connected to da'wa [propagating Islam]. All the lectures deal with it. Allah be praised, our government makes sure to equip our youth with a sufficient measure of the Shari'a sciences in all areas of life by means of the school curricula, and the youth has no need beyond this. It is expected that in these camps, they will provide the youth with many opportunities to acquire useful skills and entertaining and amusing hobbies – [while in fact] in these camps, they frighten the youth... and make them suspicious of, and hate, the other, and modern culture." [9]

'Abdallah ibn Bajjad, author and Saudi expert on Islamist groups, said: "The summer camps do not directly produce terrorists, but some of the ideas presented in them prepare the atmosphere for the creation of terrorists... Another issue is the Islamic songs that are rife with preaching, Jihad, extremism, and zeal, and also the focus on the tragedies of the Muslims [worldwide] and on the obligation to help them. These things constitute an infrastructure for easily recruiting the campers [for terrorist groups]." [10]

The Summer Camps Spread the Culture of Death and the Muslim Brotherhood Ideology

Columnist for the Saudi daily 'Ukaz Muhammad Al-Fawzan protested the focus on the subject of death in the summer camps: "We are not against summer centers that help fill the boys' and girls' leisure time, but we demand a change to the program of some of the [centers]. [This program is] based on arousing the emotions by means of a focus on the culture of death, and frightening the youth about it in a way that causes him to minimize [the value of] life and to seek killing and destruction...

"May Allah bless the efforts of the brothers who supervise the camps in this homeland. We are not against them, but we expect them to take part in building a moderate personality that believes in its Lord, is involved in the issues of its nation, and is a partner in serving all of humanity, far from ideological and religious extremism. [Similarly, we expect the camps] to accustom the youth to dialogue, communication, and logical thought." [11]

Dr. Ibrahim Al-Mutlaq, lecturer at the Imam Muhammad bin Saud University, claimed that the summer camps spread the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, and that in order to know whether they were disseminating terrorism, there was a need for a reexamination of the movement's ideology. In an article in the Saudi daily Al-Jazeerah, he wrote: "The summer camps are not sources of terrorism. They are only incubators for the inculcation of the Muslim Brotherhood ideology. Throughout the past century, the summer centers have been an important focus, and a meeting place for spreading and inculcating the Muslim Brotherhood ideology by means of cultural competitions and the distribution of pamphlets and essays by such [Muslim Brotherhood] ideological leaders as Sayyid Qutb and his ilk... [12]

"Do the summer camps support and inculcate terrorism? The answer lies [in the question of] whether the Muslim Brotherhood ideology inculcates the issue of takfir,and supports this approach.

"If the answer is no, then the summer camps are not a source and incubator of terrorism. But if the answer is yes, then the summer camps are a focus of inculcating terrorism." [13]

The Camps Are Not an Incubator for Extremism; Terrorist Elements Do Not Act Openly

The accusations against the summer camps were rejected by others, who argued that these camps were playing a positive role in occupying youths' leisure hours. They stated that the terror organizations were not active in the camps because they did not recognize the legitimacy of the government institutions.

Council of Senior Ulama member Sheikh 'Abdallah bin Muhammad Al-Mutlaq said that the camps were one of the most important means of protecting youth, and that the camp supervisors were known for their integrity and kept far away from moral corruption and extremism. According to him, the writers who criticized the camps had never visited them, and were unaware of their advantages and of how they occupy young people's leisure time with varied programs. [14]

'Awd Muhammad Al-Qarni, who is in charge of the Jeddah camp, said: "Have you asked the Interior Ministry or other bodies that are concerned with these camps? Are the terrorists among those who came out of the camps? And does the Interior Ministry – which is well aware of the country's situation – say that the camps are one of the sources of terrorism?... The camps constitute an outlet for the public, which finds in them da'wa, cultural activity, and [good] use of leisure time. These are matters that are not suspect, and there is no danger in them." [15]

Khaled bin 'Abdallah Aal Hussein wrote in a column for the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh titled "The Summer Camps are Not an Incubator for Terrorism": "Some of those who launched an attack on [the summer camps] described their activities in a very bad way. This reached the point where some of them invented positions, activities, and programs that are [ostensibly] presented in these educational centers... How wretched these people are. They don't know, or they ignore the fact, that the public is aware of what is going on in the [summer camp] activities. The media coverage, the presence of those in charge, and the decision makers – and even the call by the supervisors to the general public to attend them and benefit from them – all constitute overpowering proof that the public is aware of what is going on in the camps...

"If those [who oppose the camps] have no clear goals, why do they raise accusation after accusation against these educational centers, claiming that they are an 'incubator of terrorism' [just] because some terrorists spent a few days at these and other centers? They know that [these terrorists] do not constitute any significant percentage of the blessed numbers of the participants..." [16]

Fahd bin Sa'ad Al-Juhani, dean of students at Umm Al-Qura University, and former summer-camp supervisor, argued that the terror elements were not openly active at all in Saudiinstitutional education, and that therefore they could not affect the youth. In an article in the Saudi daily Al-Madina,he wrote: "Out of lengthy experience in supervising some of these varied summer centers... [I know] that the summer activities in general are realizing desirable educational and social goals. They are of tremendous benefit with regard to filling up the time of youths and families, in a useful and entertaining way...

"I hope that the critics [of the summer camps] will visit some of them, so that their decisions and assumptions will be the result of observation and experience – otherwise, their words will be like statements without proof.

"Hamud Abu Taleb wrote in Al-Watan an article burning with the heat of this summer, in which he accused the summer camps, or some of them, of spreading extremist ideology and creating an incubator for terrorists. This was without a doubt a weighty conclusion, that demanded the presentation of open and logical [proofs]... [In his article, Abu-Taleb] relied on one story of a single man in an investigative article, in which it was noted that one day he had seen one of the men wanted [by Saudi security] in one of the summer camps. [Abu Taleb] was like someone rejoicing at the big fish he had caught, who builds serious incidents and conclusions on it...

"A person who has deviated in his views from the [righteous] path does not recognize the legitimacy of the [Saudi] educational institutions, or of the other governmental educational and guidance bodies, let alone of the summer camps... How can someone [i.e., the campers] be influenced by the invisible?

"Let us permit our children and our brothers to act openly under supervision, and we will all try to participate in developing our programs and activities in order to advance with the time and its needs, and in order to benefit the homeland and the citizen by them. This would be preferable by far than casting doubts and raising accusations." [17]

* Y. Yehoshua is Director of Research at MEMRI.


[1] Al-Madina (Saudi Arabia), July 18, 2005.

[2] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 6, 2005.

[3] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), June 26, 2005.

[4] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (Saudi Arabia), June 19, 2005.

[5] The ulama's decision that a slave's waging Jihad does not require the consent of his master dates from the period when slavery was accepted.

[6] Sawt Al-Jihad, Issue No. 19, July 2004.

[7] http://saaid.net/Anshatah/mr/23.htm

[8] Al-Jazeerah (Saudi Arabia), July 11, 2005.

[9] 'Ukaz (Saudi Arabia), July 27, 2005.

[10] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), June 19, 2005.

[11] 'Ukaz (Saudi Arabia), July 4, 2005.

[12] Sayyid Qutb (b. 1906), a prominent Muslim Brotherhood ideologue, was executed in 1966 in Egypt for plotting to assassinate Egyptian president Gamal Abd Al-Nasser.

[13] Al-Jazeerah (Saudi Arabia), July 26, 2005.

[14] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 29, 2005.

[15] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), July 29, 2005.

[16] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), July 3, 2005.

[17] Al-Madina (Saudi Arabia), July 5, 2005. Al-Juhani is referring to an article by Hamud Abu Taleb that was published in the Saudi daily Al-Watan on June 24, 2005. In the article, Abu Taleb noted, based on an item from the London daily Al-Hayat, that the terrorist Mansour Al-Thabiti, who had murdered a Saudi officer, had attended a summer camp. Abu Taleb commented: "Who permitted the weak of character and those with minimal knowledge of jurisprudence to carry out their activity at a summer camp, such as the activity of which Mansour Al-Thabiti was a victim?... We are in a serious crisis, and it is difficult to remain optimistic about its end, as there are those amongst us who publicly justify the destruction. I am referring to all those who defend to the death the continuation of the centers and of the incubator activities of the bearers of bombs and machine guns."