LONDON — The State Department on Friday denounced as “reprehensible” the remarks of an Indian religious scholar recently awarded a lucrative prize in Saudi Arabia, including his claims that the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington were an “inside job.”
At a news conference in Saudi Arabia on Thursday, Secretary of State John F. Kerry was asked about the award that Saudi King Salman presented last weekend to Zakir Naik — one of five winners of the King Faisal International Prize, which comes with a 24-karat gold medal and $200,000.
Kerry, who had just come from a meeting with the king, said he was unaware of the award and declined to comment.
But State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki sent a statement Friday harshly critical of Naik.
“The views he expressed in the past on Jews and 9/11 are reprehensible,” she said.
Naik is founder of Peace TV Channel, which specializes in comparative religious topics and purports to have an audience exceeding 100 million among English-speaking Muslims around the world.
The prize from the King Faisal Foundation, whose board members are all relatives of the late king, cited Naik’s “service to Islam.”
The Indian cleric has made a string of controversial comments over the years, causing Britain to bar him from entering the country.
In a 2008 broadcast on Peace TV, Naik suggested that President George W. Bush, not al-
Qaeda, was responsible for flying hijacked planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
“Even a fool will know that this was an inside job,” he said at the time.
Fifteen of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were born in Saudi Arabia.
On another occasion, Naik branded the United States the “biggest terrorist” around.
“If he is terrorizing America the terrorist, the biggest terrorist, I am with him,” he said.
He also has said that the Koran permits men to have sex with female “slaves,” that apostates should be killed and that “the Jews” control America.
But Psaki did not say anything about the decision by the Saudi king to present the award last weekend.
Instead, she noted that Saudi Arabia is an ally of the United States in the campaign against the Islamic State.
“Saudi Arabia is a key partner in the Coalition to counter ISIL and has been leading efforts to delegitimize the group’s twisted ideology,” she said, using an acronym for the group.
Saudi Arabia is often seen as straddling two world views: backing efforts to combat Islamist extremists in Syria and Iraq even as it follows a strict brand of Islam that had provided the ideological foundations for militant groups and other anti-Western factions.