June 18, 2004 | Broadcast

Countdown with Keith Olbermann

Walid Phares, a professor from Middle East studies at Florida Atlantic University and MSNBC analyst lending us his insight, tonight.

Dr. Phares, thanks for joining us, again.


OLBERMANN: An American is beheaded in the Saudi Arabia, an al-Qaeda leader is identified as the lead suspect within hours, and within a few more hours, he too is dead. Who, to the average Arab, is the victim and who is the criminal today?

PHARES: Well, it depends. The Arab world is not just one block. Those who were with al-Qaeda, certainly the Saudi regime is going to appear as the criminal because it killed an al-Qaeda leader. Those who are against al-Qaeda and the region supporter, probably of Saudi regime, will feel that al-Qaeda is dragging Saudi Arabia into a war that the Saudis didn’t really want. That is a full-fledged war against al-Qaeda. Today was really dramatic because it showed that al-Qaeda wants to force the Saudis into choosing between al-Qaeda’s objectives and the United States and it failed to do so.

OLBERMANN: The timeline of events, as I suggested, was obviously very rapid. In some quarters, I’m sure, almost too rapid to be believed. What do we think happened today? Were the Saudis close to rescuing Paul Johnson or did they just happened on al-Muqrin as they were dumping the body or does it smell of a set-up of some kind? What happened?

PHARES: Keith, just speculation, what might have happened was the fact that the Saudis were getting close. They were combing the areas where they thought the cell was detaining the victim. But at a time when the cell had a deadline, that is, Friday, and they executed — kill him. At a time when the Saudi security forces reached that area, it was too late and they just met the perpetrators and there was a firefight and finally, they killed the head of al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. But this raises one other issue. They knew more or less where the area was. The Saudi intelligence services have a lot of information on al-Qaeda. The problem in Saudi Arabia is the political decision to go full-fledged against it or not. That’s the issue.

OLBERMANN: Where are relations in that context between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia right now? Earlier this week, we heard the comments with Lisa Myers’ interview with Crown Prince Abdullah blaming one of the earlier attacks on westerners on, quote, “Zionists,” today the suggestion that there is a half heartedness or a partial heartedness to Saudi efforts against al-Qaeda. Where are the relations, now?

PHARES: Look, the Saudis basically have produced an ideology, as everybody knows, basically, that created al-Qaeda. Until about 9/11, many in the Saudi royal family even sympathized this ideology, but after 9/11, it changed, especially after the collapse of the Taliban. Many among the al-Qaeda leadership decided to come to Arabia and then create a Taliban model again. That opened a war between the Saudi state, if you wish, and the clerics, which is a war that we are witnessing today. The problem is that the Saudis will have to make a strategic decision, as of, probably this week or the next weeks to come. If they want to go full-fledged against al-Qaeda, this means they may risk a civil war.

OLBERMANN: The Middle East expert, Dr. Walid Phares. We appreciate your time tonight. Thank you, sir.

PHARES: Thank you.