IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Reality TV, Saudi Arabian style

On Saudi TV, two young al-Qaida recruits offer a rare, unflattering, behind-the-scenes glimpse of the terror network.  They claim al-Qaida recruiters trick young men into joining and then blackmail them to stay. But as NBC's Lisa Myers reports,  other messages on Saudi TV remain troubling.

A new program on government-owned Saudi TV stars members of a deadly al-Qaida cell who are responsible for attacks killing more than 70 — some of them Americans. In so-called "confessions," two men provide a rare glimpse into how al-Qaida allegedly lures recruits and manages foot soldiers.

"They attract young people first who do not have enough knowledge in religious matters and are not mature enough to differentiate between right or wrong," says one of the men, Abdulrahman al-Roshoud.

"They join a cell without even knowing it sometimes," echoes the other, Khalid al-Farraj.

Another man says he went to Afghanistan after 9/11 and was sent back by al-Qaida to fight inside Saudi Arabia. He and others say, at first, potential recruits are given small assignments.

"My work began with the use of my name to rent a house and buy a car," says al-Roshoud.

He claims rental papers are then used to blackmail the recruits, who are told they can't leave.

"The members of the cells would then tell him — either you carry on with us or you will find yourself in danger of being arrested or killed," says al-Farraj.

Foot soldiers are allegedly divided among military, administrative and document-forging operations. The men claim outside contact is severely limited as a form of brainwashing.

In an Internet message obtained by NBC News, the new leader of al-Qaida in Saudi Arabia charges the captured men were forced by the Saudi government to lie, saying, "such confessions only emerge in the dark rooms of torture."

However, a Saudi government spokesman insists the confessions are voluntary.

"We want our public to know what the experience was they went through so they can immunize the public from recruitment attempts from this deviant group," says spokesman Adel al-Jubair.

Yet there are still questions about how serious the Saudis are. In recent months, government-owned Saudi TV also has aired comments by religious scholars that fuel the very extremism the Saudis claim to oppose. In August, one cleric — Memri Here — blamed Jews for the 9/11 attacks, saying, "It is a mistake to ignore the possibility that the Zionist hands used some people who were planted into one of the stages of this plan."

Another imam recently condoned a prayer for the total destruction of Jews and Christians, saying, "Cursing the oppressing Jews and the oppressing and plundering Christians, and the prayer that Allah will annihilate them, is permitted."

Critics call that Saudi doubletalk. But Saudi officials say the comments of a few imams do not reflect their aggressive policy to crush al-Qaida.