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Arabian Peninsula

Saudi Arabia: The world’s largest oil producer hosts about 7,000 U.S. troops and an airbase, a major grievance for Saudi-born terrorism suspect Osama bin Laden. The Sunni Muslim rulers follow a strict sect called Wahhabism — requiring women to cover up and prohibiting them from driving, for instance — but oil wealth has brought Western influences and friction. Bin Laden was stripped of his Saudi citizenship for opposing the deployment of Western troops in the vicinity of Islam’s holiest shrines during the Persian Gulf War, prompted by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The Oct. 12, 2000 suicide bombing of the destroyer USS Cole in Yemen has been linked to bin Laden followers. In 1994, Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh enlisted veterans of the Afghan-Soviet conflict, some of whom worked with bin Laden in Afghanistan, to crush secessionist communists in the south. Though born in Saudi Arabia, bin Laden is thought to have drawn his intense religious beliefs and disdain for Western ways from the traditions of his father’s native village in Yemen.

Area: Saudi Arabia (756,983 square miles, slightly more than one-fifth the size of the United States); Yemen (203,800 square miles); Kuwait (6,900 square miles).

Population: Saudi Arabia (22.7 million); Kuwait (2 million); Yemen (18 million).

Economy: An expanding population and low oil prices have decreased per-capita income in Saudi Arabia by almost half over the past 25 years, to about $10,000 a year.


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