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Abdullah: Al Qaeda is 'madness and evil'

King tells ABC Saudi Arabia progressing on women's rights

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(CNN) -- King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia called the threat of al Qaeda in his country "madness and evil," and vowed to ABC's Barbara Walters that his nation would "eliminate this scourge" of terrorism.

In his first interview since becoming king following the July 31 death of his half-brother King Fahd, Abdullah vowed continued support of the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

Abdullah also defended women's rights, predicting women in the Muslim nation will drive in the future. He also discussed oil prices, relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States, and the potential for peace in the Middle East.

The interview will air Friday on the ABC News program "20/20" at 10 p.m. ET and "Nightline" at 11:35 p.m. ET.

The 82-year-old leader condemned the threat of terrorism, which hangs over Saudi Arabia, and said his country has "withdrawn support for institutions that we found to be extremist," including schools.

"Madness and evil. It is the work of the devil," Abdullah said, describing al Qaeda, which is led by exiled Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden. "Such acts cannot be perpetrated by any individual who has a sense of decency or humanity or justice or faith."

"I have stated ... that we will fight the terrorists and those who support them or condone their actions for 10, 20 or 30 years if we have to, until we eliminate this scourge."

Although 15 of the 19 terrorists in the September 11, 2001 attacks were Saudis, the Bush administration has remained staunchly behind the kingdom, calling the Saudi government a key ally in the war against terror.

Abdullah said the Saudi government was "shocked" by the hijackers' attacks.

Not long after Abdullah became king, Saudi security forces raided seven suspected al Qaeda hideouts and killed a man described as the leader of al Qaeda on the Arab Peninsula.

Shortly after the raids, the U.S. State Department cited "specific and credible" threats against American facilities in Saudi Arabia, prompting the agency to close its embassy and consulates there.

Al Qaeda has targeted Americans in the kingdom.

In December 2004, a Saudi-based al Qaeda group claimed responsibility for a raid on the U.S. consulate in Jeddah by armed gunmen, which left four terrorists and five non-American consular employees dead.

Also, American contractor Paul Johnson was kidnapped and beheaded by al Qaeda operatives in June 2004.

Al Qaeda also was blamed for bombings that killed 23 Westerners at a Riyadh residential compound and 17 people near the capital's diplomatic quarter in 2003.

King: Women's rights need more time

Noting that he was following through on a 2002 promise he made to Walters to be interviewed by a woman, the king said he would support other reforms. Women in Saudi Arabia cannot vote, and need permission to attend universities, travel or have surgery.

"But it will require a little bit of time," he said. "Our people are just now beginning to open up to the world, and I believe that with the passing of days in the future everything is possible."

Asked about the tripling in the price of crude oil in the past 10 years, Abdullah said although his country profits, "the damage to other countries is tremendous, and we don't believe that the prices should be at these levels."

He said scientists have told him that Saudi oil reserves are sufficient for at least the next 70 years. According to the Oil and Gas Journal, Saudi Arabia has one-fourth of the world's proven crude oil reserves -- 261 billion barrels.

While Abdullah said Saudi Arabia considers America an ally, he acknowledged that many Saudi citizens disagree with the U.S. administration's stance on Palestinian issues and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

On prospects for peace in the Middle East, Abdullah said, "If you look at democracy in the United States, you will see that it took many, many, many years to develop."

"We are now moving in the direction that serves our faith and our country."

Abdullah denied his nation has had any role in the violence in Iraq.

"They have asked us in the past to try to play a role in what is happening in Iraq, and we have remained neutral in spite of the injustices that we see currently going on," Abdullah said.

Asked about Iran and its nuclear program, the king called that nation "a friendly country," and said he hoped it will not become an obstacle to peace in Iraq.

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