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US Lawmakers Call on Saudi Arabia to Stop Funding Promotion of Wahhabism

U.S. lawmakers are calling on Saudi Arabia to stop funding organizations that promote wahhabism, an extreme form of Islam that has been linked to terrorism. A Senate panel held a hearing Thursday on the influence of wahhabism in the United States.

Wahhabism is a form of Islam known for its literal interpretation of the Koran.

Based in Saudi Arabia, wahhabism spread rapidly beginning in the 1970's, when Saudi charities started funding wahhabi schools or madrassas and mosques from Pakistan to the United States. Critics say wahhabism's rigidity has led it to misinterpret and distort Islam.

All 19 hijackers who took part in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States were believed to be followers of wahhabism. Fifteen of them were Saudis.

Senator Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican, chairman of a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee, opened the first of what he says will be a series of hearings on wahhabism. "The problem we are looking at today is the state-sponsored doctrine and funding of an extremist ideology that provides the recruiting grounds, support infrastructure, and monetary life blood of today's international terrorists. The extremist ideology is wahhabism, a major force behind terrorist groups like al-Qaida, a group that according to the F-B-I, is the number one terrorist threat to the United States today," he said.

Senator Kyl called on Saudi Arabia to stop supporting institutions that promote wahhabism.

Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, echoed the appeal. He expressed concern that Muslim clerics are spreading wahhabism in American mosques, prisons and among Muslims in the U.S. military.

Senator Schumer called on the Saudi government to repudiate the extreme fundamentalist Islamic teachings that he says preach hate, violence and intolerance toward moderate muslims, Christians and Jews. "It means stop funding the extremist madrassas, purging the hate-filled textbooks that populate Saudi schools, and putting an end to the extremist wahhabi preaching that takes place in so many of the mosques in Saudi Arabia," he said. "If the Saudis do not end the funding and teaching of extremism, the cycle of terrorist violence racking the globe will get worse."

David Aufhauser, general counsel at the Treasury Department, says such appeals have been made by U.S. officials directly to the Saudi government. He says the Saudis have pledged to cooperate.