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Saudi cash aids extremism in Europe, says former UK diplomat

Sir William Patey, who served as British ambassador in Riyadh, said Saudi Arabia's support for extremism was 'unhealthy'
Sir William Patey, former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia (far right) joins a panel discussion at parliament on Wednesday (CMEC)

A former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia has said the kingdom has been funding mosques across Europe that promote an "extremist" version of Islam, the Guardian has reported.

Sir William Patey, who served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 2006 to 2010, told an event in parliament on Wednesday that while Saudi Arabia was not directly funding terrorism, it was promoting an ideology that leads to extremism, according to the newspaper.

"It is unhealthy and we need to do something about it," he said at a roundtable debate organised by the Conservative Middle East Council, a campaign group linked to the ruling Conservative Party.

The intervention from the former senior diplomat, who also served as head of the Middle East desk at the Foreign Office, comes after the government released a summary of a Home Office report on Wednesday into the funding of extremism in the UK.

Critics had accused the government of preventing the report's release due to potentially incriminating evidence about the UK's close ally Saudi Arabia - however, the report's summary played down the suggestion that foreign funding was a major factor in UK extremism.

The full classified report is not being published by the Home Office for "national security reasons," though opposition figures including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will have access to the classified document on restricted terms.

Speaking at the CMEC event, Patey said: "The Saudis [have] not quite appreciated the impact their funding of a certain brand of Islam is having in the countries in which they do it – it is not just Britain and Europe."

He added that they are not "funding terrorism" but are "funding something else, which may down the road lead to individuals being radicalised and becoming fodder for terrorism".

'No plan' in Qatar dispute

Patey, who was the UK ambassador to Riyadh from 2006 to 2010 and previously head of the Foreign Office Middle East desk, also used the event to suggest that Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies were not working from any plan or blueprint in their dispute with Qatar.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have imposed a boycott on Qatar since 5 June.

They have imposed sanctions on Doha, including closing its only land border, refusing Qatar access to their airspace and ordering their citizens back from Qatar.

They also presented the emirate with a list of 13 demands with which to comply to end the worst political crisis in the region for years.

"This has all the hallmarks of a policy that has not been thought through. It does not smack of a considered strategy," Patey said.

"It is not a smart move even if you are sympathetic to their vision. It is a short cut to achieve something quickly and I think they miscalculated and I think they did think that with Trump behind them, Qatar would back down.

"They raised these stakes because they thought Qatar would back down in the end, so I think they were a bit surprised."

Qatar denies the charges of extremism and called the demands "unrealistic".

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