SPIEGEL Interview with Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal 'America's Credibility Is the Victim of These Leaks'
Part 2: 'Why Should the Taliban Negotiate in the First Place?'
SPIEGEL: You have personally met Osama bin Laden five times, most recently in the summer of 1990. If you were in charge of operations today, where would you look for him?
Turki: That is very easy. He is in the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the early days after 9/11, America searched for him from mountain to mountain, village to village, cave to cave. But then, suddenly, it stopped because it withdrew its assets from Afghanistan to Iraq. We need another campaign to search for him -- led by the United States but including all countries who have a bone to pick with bin Laden. Not just Saudi Arabia, but also Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Spain and Indonesia.
SPIEGEL: Saudi Arabia couldn't do it alone?
Turki: Neither our means, nor America's nor those of any single country are enough for such a campaign. If the will is there to catch him, he can be found like Saddam was found eventually. But this determination is lacking. During his election campaign President Barack Obama promised to concentrate again on searching for terrorists. But now, General David Petraeus' philosophy foresees beating the Taliban militarily to bring them to the negotiating table. No one speaks about bin Laden anymore. This is where the campaign has gone wrong.
SPIEGEL: What difference would capturing bin Laden make?
Turki: Only when bin Laden is eliminated one way or another will the US and the rest of the world be able to declare victory. Once you can declare victory, withdrawing your troops from Afghanistan becomes legitimate.
SPIEGEL: NATO, however, has just recently decided to withdraw in 2014.
Turki: Then why should the Taliban negotiate in the first place? All they have to do is wait.
SPIEGEL: You were head of Saudi Arabia's General Intelligence Directorate for 24 years before stepping down on August 31, 2001. Exactly 11 days later, al-Qaida struck in New York and Washington. Do you blame yourself for not having prevented the attacks?
Turki: Not just me. The whole world should regret not having done more to get these people. Our mistake was to deal with this new type of a terrorist organization the way we had dealt with previous organizations such as Baader Meinhof or the Red Brigades. We used to exchange our information only bilaterally, we did not use the the collaborative approach as we did in the recent case of the Yemen bombs. All this although by May 2001 there were warning signs from all sides that something was going to happen. But even within the US, the FBI and the CIA were not exchanging their information. So, of course, we did not do enough.
SPIEGEL: Where were you on Sept. 11, 2001?
Turki: I was in Jeddah. Then-King Fahd was giving a lunch for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. One of the princes sitting close to me told me he had just got a text message: An airplane had hit one of the Twin Towers. At first I thought: maybe an accident? But when the second plane hit, I obviously wanted to get home to watch CNN.
SPIEGEL: Did you immediately make the connection to bin Laden, to Saudi Arabia?
Turki: No. My inclination at the time was that the attack could have Balkan derivatives. I thought about Bosnia, Kosovo, the American involvement there.
SPIEGEL: But it was your boys instead.
Turki: When the Americans announced their names, my instinct was to accept it as a fact. I had no reason to question the sincerity of that report. I am not a skeptic. I have never doubted that it was bin Laden, nor was the operation too complicated for someone like bin Laden to do it. But, "your boys?" These people were Saudis, but they were trained outside the country. Their life within the Kingdom was relatively eventless. Two of them were teachers, one was unemployed. As I have said before: al-Qaida came out of the hills of Afghanistan, not from the deserts of Saudi Arabia.
SPIEGEL: Still, it is your country which is now most associated with the name of al-Qaida.
Turki: It is a burden that will weigh on us forever. It will be an issue of guilt and regret for the rest of our lives, if not for those of our children and grandchildren.
SPIEGEL: Your Highness, thank you very much for this interview.
Interview conducted by Alexander Smoltczyk and Bernard Zand
- Part 1: 'America's Credibility Is the Victim of These Leaks'
- Part 2: 'Why Should the Taliban Negotiate in the First Place?'