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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Saudi-Backed Web Supports Terrorism, Book Asserts

France: 'Forbidden Truth' details kingdom's role in funding Bin Laden and contends geopolitical concerns have influenced U.S. policy.

January 13, 2002|SEBASTIAN ROTELLA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PARIS — An unlikely bestseller has emerged lately in France, dueling head to head with the memoirs of the president's wife, a biography of Victor Hugo and a philosophical treatise on good and evil.

The upstart competitor? An "instant book" written in three weeks and titled "Bin Laden: The Forbidden Truth."

Of course, the book is one of a wave of titles about Osama bin Laden, terrorism, Islam and Afghanistan that has swept France, and the rest of the world's literary marketplace, since Sept. 11.

But "The Forbidden Truth" is not the kind of esoteric analysis that draws French intellectuals like flies. Nor does it feature shootouts or car chases. Instead, authors Jean-Charles Brisard, 32, and Guillaume Dasquie, 35, serve up a dense, conspiracy-minded portrait of Saudi-dominated banks, companies and tycoons, all allegedly interconnected, that they maintain have helped fund Bin Laden's holy war.

The book asserts that Saudi Arabia has played as big a role in the spread of Islamic terrorism as has Afghanistan. But according to the authors, geopolitical concerns--chiefly oil--have led U.S. and European governments to go soft on Saudi rulers and even prompted the Bush administration to negotiate secretly with the Taliban before Sept. 11.

"Our economic development is based on alliances with petro-dictatorships and encourages the latter to promote the most backward ideas," Brisard and Dasquie conclude. "Sooner or later the terrorists will be judged and probably also the states that harbored and supported them. But more uncertain is what should be done to those who inspired and financed them by action, commission or interest."

That controversial stance helps explain the book's appeal in France--a nation of voracious readers and considerable anti-American sentiment.

In many ways, France has been a stalwart ally of the U.S. in the war against terrorism. French government agencies have worked closely with American investigators. President Jacques Chirac was the first head of state to visit President Bush after the September attacks and displayed Rudolph Giuliani-style empathy during a tour of ground zero. According to polls, the French public has supported military action against Afghanistan.

But there have been less friendly gestures too. Although French investigators contributed to the indictment of Frenchman Zacarias Moussaoui in connection with the Sept. 11 hijackings, some Cabinet ministers here responded to the indictment by criticizing the United States' death penalty and the proposed military tribunals.

Brisard, a financial investigator with experience in the law enforcement and intelligence communities, and Dasquie, an investigative journalist specializing in intelligence issues, deny any kinship with snide America-bashers. They see "The Forbidden Truth" as an indictment of the hypocrisy of numerous Western governments that have allegedly ignored persistent ties between the Saudi elite and Bin Laden.

"The U.S. is not the only one," Dasquie said in a recent interview. "The question is why developed countries need to do commercial deals with Saudi Arabia and if those commercial deals are why they must close their eyes about the reality of the Saudi Arabian kingdom. Since the 18th century, Saudi Arabia has been focused on conquering the world."

The book opens with a scoop: Brisard recounts conversations last summer with an FBI counter-terrorism official who complained that his investigation of the Saudi role in supporting Bin Laden's Al Qaeda network was blocked for political reasons.

That agent was John P. O'Neill, formerly the bureau's leading Bin Laden expert, who resigned to become security chief at the World Trade Center--and died in the rubble Sept. 11. Brisard got to know O'Neill and other U.S. investigators in 1997, when the Frenchman was preparing a report on Bin Laden's finances for France's DST intelligence service.

As chronicled in "The Forbidden Truth," O'Neill told Brisard at a dinner in July that he was exasperated by interference from the State Department.

"All the responses, all the keys to dismantling the Osama bin Laden organization are in Saudi Arabia," O'Neill said, according to the book. That helped convince Brisard that U.S anti-terror operations were being hurt by "two conflicting points of view": the FBI and CIA agents "hunting Bin Laden every day" versus diplomats and White House policymakers more concerned about big-picture politics.

The Saudi government has denied allegations that it has bankrolled Islamic extremism in general and Al Qaeda in particular. The kingdom's leaders have declared their determination to track down Saudis involved in terrorism and say Western criticism of the nation amounts to an assault on Islam. Both the monarchy and Bin Laden's family claim to have declared the terrorist leader persona non grata years ago because of his anti-Western violence.

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