Rejecting a recent US State Department report which accused Saudi Arabia of severe violations of religious freedom, prominent Islamic leaders on Friday said the United States' own record proved it was in no position to judge others.

"How do the Americans have the right to speak about violation of religious freedoms and human rights in this country or another?" questioned a leading Shia leader, Shaikh Hasan al-Saffar.

He said US support of Israel, the occupation of neighbouring Iraq and the reported mistreatment of Arabs and Muslims in the United States since 2001 had robbed Washington of moral high ground.

Report trashed

Saudi Arabia is home to two of
Islam's holiest shrines  

"With all these American policies and practices does the US State Department expect people to believe its report on religious freedoms?" al-Saffar asked.

The US State Department in a report earlier this week alleged "freedom of religion does not exist" in Saudi Arabia and included the kingdom for the first time on a list of eight countries of particular concern.

The report said religious freedoms were denied to all Saudis except those who adhere to the "state sanctioned Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam".

Salih al-Fawzan, senior Sunni preacher and member of Saudi Arabia's top religious body – the Supreme Association of Ulama – condemned the United States as an ''infidel'' country.

He also defended restrictions against non-Muslim religions in Saudi Arabia. "Prophet Muhammad said there should not be two religions in the Arabian peninsula," al-Fawzan said.

Relations between Riyadh and Washington have been under stress since the September 11 attacks on the United States which were carried out by mainly Saudi hijackers.

The surprise designation of Saudi Arabia as a country of particular concern, alongside Vietnam, Eritrea, Myanmar, China, Cuba, Iran and North Korea, allows for a range of sanctions, though none are expected to be imposed.