Back when David Cameron was Britain's prime minister, he commissioned an inquiry into revenue streams for extremist groups.
Cameron agreed, reluctantly, to produce the report if the Liberal Democrats supported an extension of British airstrikes on the Islamic State militant group.
They did, and the study was commissioned. Now, nearly 18 months later, that report has become famous. And it's not because of what's in it. At least, not exactly.
Theresa May, who succeeded Cameron as prime minister last year, has refused to say whether the report is done or whether it will ever be released to the public. This has fueled frustration and suspicion. Many people suspect that the research ties Saudi Arabia to terrorist attacks in Britain, a finding that could damage an important alliance.
But May's critics say saving face isn't enough. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has relentlessly pursued the report, challenging May to release the findings. “It is no good Theresa May suppressing a report into the foreign funding of extremist groups,” he said at a speech a few months ago. “We have to get serious about cutting off the funding to these terror networks, including ISIS here and in the Middle East.” ISIS is an alternative acronym for the Islamic State.
Liberal Democrat Tim Farron also urged May to publish the findings. “Theresa May now has a choice. Does she publish that report or keep it hidden?” he said.
Now, a new set of voices has been added to the fracas: Survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. Most of the men who carried out those attacks hailed from Saudi Arabia; many had been exposed to Wahhabism, a fundamentalist strand of Islam that the Saudi kingdom has exported around the world. (The 9/11 Commission Report, put together by a bipartisan U.S. team, “found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization.”)
In a letter, a survivor group called on May to make the report's findings public.
“The UK now has the unique historic opportunity to stop the killing spree of Wahhabism-inspired terrorists by releasing the UK government’s report on terrorism financing in the UK which, according to media reports, places Saudi Arabia at its center of culpability,” the letter's authors write. “The longer Saudi Arabia’s complicity is hidden from sunlight, the longer terrorism will continue. They must be stopped; but who will stop them? We submit that you are uniquely situated to shine the cleansing light of public consciousness.”
Sharon Premoli, one of the signatories, was on the 80th floor of the World Trade Center's North Tower when it was hit Sept. 11, 2001. She rushed to safety. She wants Saudi Arabia to be held accountable for what she sees as its role in the attacks. Premoli has pursued legal action against the kingdom in U.S. courts. She told the Independent newspaper that she has been following the “money trail” and that “we are always led to the source — Saudi Arabia.”
May has refused to budge on the report. Her administration attributes that decision to the “volume of personal information it [the report] contains and for national security reasons.”
But critics — including Green Party leader Caroline Lucas — have accused May's government of making a political calculation. Saudi Arabia is a key strategic and economic ally of Britain, and opponents have suggested that the report could complicate that relationship. The trade between the two countries is worth billions of pounds a year. May's party has sold billions of dollars in arms to the Saudis. She has worked to deepen ties with the Persian Gulf region and visited Saudi Arabia soon after triggering the formal Brexit process.
A leaked report from Germany's federal intelligence service found that several Persian Gulf groups had funded religious schools and radical Salafist preachers in mosques worldwide, calling it a “long-term strategy of influence.” The Henry Jackson Society, a foreign affairs think tank in Britain, says there is a “clear and growing link” between “Islamist organizations in receipt of overseas funds, hate preachers and Jihadist groups promoting violence.” It, too, has called for a public inquiry into Saudi Arabia's role.
Saudi Arabia has called the charges that it funds terrorist groups “categorically false.”