Saudi journalist who interviewed bin Laden resigns

Filed on May 16, 2010

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - A prominent Saudi journalist who conducted several interviews with Osama bin Laden and once tried to persuade him to reconcile with the Saudi royal family resigned Sunday as editor of the nation’s leading newspaper.

Several Arab news websites said Jamal Khashoggi was fired because of articles in Al-Watan criticizing Saudi Arabia’s conservative application of Islam and the religious police who enforce adherence to it. But the newspaper said Khashoggi resigned to pursue other personal plans.

The journalist could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Khashoggi interviewed and traveled with bin Laden at times between 1987 and 1995, including in Afghanistan where he wrote about the battle against the Soviets.

In the early 1990s, he also tried to persuade bin Laden to reconcile with the Saudi royal family and return home from his base in Sudan, but the al-Qaida leader refused. Bin Laden first fell out with the Saudi leadership over the presence of U.S. troops on Saudi soil during the 1991 Gulf War and was stripped of his citizenship in 1994 after governments in Algeria, Egypt and Yemen accused him of financing subversion there.

Some news websites said recent articles in Al-Watan angered authorities. One article, on Thursday, criticized the Salafi Islamic thought that dominates ultraconservative Saudi Arabia, which segregates the sexes and where judicial and religious authorities interpret religious texts literally.

Khashoggi also once served as an adviser to the former Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Turki al-Faisal.

Also Sunday, liberal Saudi writer Mihklaf bin Daham al-Shimeri said police questioned him Sunday for allegedly criticizing senior clerics.

Al-Shimeri, who publishes columns in various Saudi dailies and websites, said in a statement that police in the eastern town of al-Khobar later released him on bail after charging him with “inciting the public.”

Al-Shimeri is known for his sharp criticism of the conservative Saudi religious establishment.

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