Counter-Terrorism: Al Qaeda's New Saudi Strategy

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July 20, 2006: Although Saudi Arabia has declared al Qaeda defeated within the kingdom, they continue to seek al Qaeda members. Another reason for this continued interest in al Qaeda is because al Qaeda may be beaten, but not it is eliminated from Saudi Arabia. The government knows this because, using American technology and technical assistance, Saudi Arabia has gained a high degree of control over Internet use within the kingdom. This capability has made it very difficult for al Qaeda members to keep in touch, and enabled the government to track new al Qaeda activity. An unfortunate side effect of this is that the Saudi Internet police have gone after all opponents of the government. Over 2,000 people have been arrested as a result.
This Internet crackdown has given the Saudi al Qaeda encouragement. As a result, al Qaeda has shifted from attacking foreigners in the kingdom, to going after the royal family. Al Qaeda is no longer worried about a revolution, and a secular government replacing the Sauds if there is an uprising. That's because al Qaeda now considers the Saud family "un-Islamic" and no different from a secular government. While the corruption of the Saud family has made them very unpopular, no one but al Qaeda believes the Sauds are a secular government.
What al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia has recognized is that trying to drive foreigners out of the kingdom would cause the economy to collapse, and is very unpopular with Saudis. Moreover, most of those foreigners are Moslems. Al Qaeda, while never hesitant to kill Moslems in the past, has noticed that this has become very unpopular in the Islamic world. This is largely because of the thousands of Iraqi Moslems killed by al Qaeda in the last three years.
So now the Saud family is the principal target for al Qaeda. That's fine in theory, but in practice, the Sauds are the best protected people in Saudi Arabia. Most of the royal bodyguards are Saudis. Loyal and well-paid Saudis, often with tribal and personal links to the royal family. Al Qaeda is going to kill a lot of these bodyguards as they try to get at the thousands of Saudi princes. That will not be popular with many Saudis. For the moment, this is the al Qaeda strategy in Saudi Arabia. Everything else they have tried has failed. The new strategy is high-risk, but al Qaeda has few other options. The Saudi family is at risk, and many Saudis would like a new government. But the smart money is not siding with al Qaeda.

 


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