Less than five years after 15 Saudis hijacked airliners to hit American targets, citizens of the desert kingdom are being offered scholarships to study aviation in the U.S.
According to the Saudi publication Arab News, majors related to the airline transport industry are eligible, including communications, electrical and computer engineering, computer science, systems analysis, air traffic control and flight safety.
Some of the 9-11 hijackers are known to have been trained at aviation schools in the U.S.
The new program arose from an agreement in April by President Bush and then-Crown Prince Abdullah aimed at improving relations between the two nations.
Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Higher Education and the General Authority of Civil Aviation is offering the scholarships. Applicants can download forms on the ministry's website.
Arab News said applicants for the bachelor's program must have a minimum score of 85 percent in the science section and 90 percent in other sections, such as Quran memorizing.
Scholarships in other fields of study are available to students studying in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, India, China, Australia and New Zealand.
In May, the Arizona Daily Star reported the University of Arizona in Tucson enrolled about 100 new Saudi Arabian students as part of the kingdom's new scholarship program, which will send about 6,000 students to American universities this year after just 1,442 Saudi students had visas to study in the United States in 2004.
As WND reported in February, while U.S. universities welcome the Saudis – especially because Riyadh is paying 100 percent of their tuition and enrollment costs – some critics see potential security problems associated with the tremendous influx of Muslim students from a closed society that virtually invented Wahhabism, the radical brand of Islamism that spawned al-Qaida.
Because of the agreement, as many as 25,000 Saudi students are expected to arrive over the next five years, with all their bills paid by the Saudi government.
In February, WND noted the scholarship program was unrolling quietly, without announcement from the Saudi Embassy or the White House. The White House Press Office declined to comment on the program and Saudi embassy officials did not return calls inquiring about it.