Counter-Terrorism: When A Home Is Not A Home


November 5, 2014: Saudi Arabia continues to catch and prosecute Islamic terrorists found operating in the kingdom. In October one group of 13 men (11 Saudis, one Qatari and an Afghan) were sentenced to from 1.5 to 30 years for terrorist acts. Specifically this group, who were arrested in 2011, were planning attacks on American troops stationed in Qatar and Kuwait. In a separate case two men were sentenced to death and one to 12 years in prison for attacking a police station. Three Shia were also sentenced, one to death and two to prison, for instigating religious strife among Saudi Shia in eastern Saudi Arabia (where most of the oil is.) The court described all these sentences as a deterrent to others. 

The Saudis have been imposing these deterrent sentences regularly since 2003. The names change, but the objectives remain the same. Thus in April 2014 Saudi Arabia broke up an ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant) operation inside Saudi Arabia. This group had 62 members (59 Saudis, a Yemeni, a Pakistani and a Palestinian) who were planning several attacks and assassinations in Saudi Arabia. Prosecutions of this group may take several years, but all the accused know they won’t be able to bully or bribe their way out of jail, or a death sentence. Saudi Arabia executes via beheading.

ISIL is one of two Islamic terrorist organizations that have it in for Saudi Arabia, the other is AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula). Both are affiliated with al Qaeda which, since the 1990s, has been dedicated to overthrowing the Saudi monarchy. AQAP was formed in 2009 after the remnants of the Saudi al Qaeda organization (several thousand full and part time members at its peak) fled to Yemen and merged with the Yemeni al Qaeda branch. AQAP also benefitted from hundreds of Iraqi al Qaeda members who arrived after the defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq in 2007-8. Growing unrest in Yemen (against the long-standing Saleh dictatorship) enabled AQAP to recruit locally and take over several towns in southern Yemen by 2011. Then the new post-Saleh government launched a counteroffensive in 2012 and AQAP got hurt very badly. That offensive continued, along with the growing use of American UAVs in Yemen. In April 2014 another major offensive was launched against AQAP by the U.S. and Yemen and this succeeded in capturing all the new bases AQAP had established in remote mountain areas after the 2012 defeat. That was followed by Shia rebels moving south and going after the Sunni Islamic terrorists there. While the al Qaeda situation is desperate in Yemen, AQAP is still al Qaeda’s most capable branch and the only one that has shown any ability to support attacks (few successful so far) in the West. Now that capability is in doubt, for a while at least. All this has been good news for Saudi Arabia which has always been the primary foreign target for AQAP attacks.

ISIL is a threat despite the fact that it was outlawed by al Qaeda earlier in 2014. That’s not the first time al Qaeda has had to slap down misbehaving Iraqi Islamic terror groups (which is what ISIL is) and won’t be the last. But it’s not a problem unique to Iraq. It is a problem for Saudi Arabia because the Saudis finance al Nusra and some of the other Islamic terrorist rebels in Syria that are now at war with ISIL. To the Saudis such support is the lesser of two evils as ISIL is crippling the rebel efforts to overthrow the Assad government in Syria. This is also part of the ideological war the Saudis (and most other Sunni Moslems) are fighting with Shia Iran (and its Shia allies the Assads and the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon). Meanwhile the Saudis continue crushing the Sunni Islamic terrorists that try to attack them at home.

The Saudis are thorough and persistent. This can be seen in how Saudi Arabia continues to prosecute Islamic terrorists who made several major attacks in 2003 and 2004 during a brief al Qaeda terror campaign inside Saudi Arabia. In early 2014 a Saudi court condemned three of these terrorists (two Saudis and a Kuwaiti) to death for their role in three attacks made in 2003 against residential compounds.  The terrorist violence in Saudi Arabia greatly increased after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, which enraged al Qaeda. Even though Saudi Arabia officially condemned this invasion, it was seen as an infidel occupation of the al Qaeda homeland that the Saudis did not fight to oppose. So the terror attacks in Saudi Arabia began. The Saudis had been preparing for this terrorism and were able to defeat al Qaeda. By 2009 over a thousand al Qaeda members were killed or prosecuted in the kingdom. Several thousand more were arrested and released, often after a period of rehabilitation. Certain clergy were ordered to halt their pro-radical preaching. All clerics were encouraged to point out the religious errors in the thinking behind al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorists. The Saudi royalty have always had considerable control over the Islamic clergy (who are all, in effect, state employees.)

Saudi Arabia was saved from worse trouble with local terrorists by the growing (after 2003) violence in Iraq between the Sunni Arab minority, and the Shia majority. This attracted many Saudi fanatics, most of whom died in Iraq. This greatly depleted the number of al Qaeda backers inside Saudi Arabia. Over 5,000 Saudi Islamic radicals are believed to have died in Iraq. From 2003-7, up to half the suicide bombers were Saudis, and about half the foreigners held in U.S. military prisons in Iraq were Saudis. Back in 2007, American intelligence believed about 45 percent of the foreign fighters (less than ten percent of all terrorists there) were Saudis. The next largest group was Syrians and Lebanese (15 percent), followed by North Africans (10 percent). The other 30 percent were from all over, including Europe. More recently thousands of young Saudi men have gone off to join ISIL. Returning home is difficult as the Saudi security services have become adept at dealing with returning Islamic warriors.

At first al Qaeda terrorists appeared capable of doing some serious damage in Saudi Arabia. In 2003-4, they made four major attacks. These killed 68 people, including twelve Americans. Because most of the dead were Saudis that turned the population against the terrorists. All the planned terror attacks since then have been aborted by security forces, usually via tips from Saudi civilians. Most Islamic terrorists have now fled the kingdom.

A large minority of Saudis still support Islamic terrorist groups, but it's the majority who do not and that makes it nearly impossible for the terrorists to operate in their "homeland." Killing civilians will do that, and al Qaeda has not been able to figure out how to fight without shedding the blood of innocents. So the innocents are taking their revenge.





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