Counter-Terrorism: Talk To Your Enemies Before You Kill Them


April 10, 2011: Saudi Arabia recently revealed that it had convicted 5,080 people of terrorism in Saudi Arabia, most of them in the last decade. Saudi Arabia has had problems with Islamic terrorism since its founding (80 years ago), and particularly since the 1970s, but has rarely revealed details of their counter-terror operations to outsiders (or even the Saudi public). Until 2003, Saudi officials liked to claim that there was no Islamic terrorism within the kingdom. Since then, the Saudis have had to conduct a major counter-terror campaign to halt their local Islamic terrorists.

As a result of this, Saudi Arabia has become a center for research and experimentation on how to halt, and reverse, Islamic radical activity. Despite being the most "Islamic" nation on the planet, and, by law, the most intolerant of other religions, the Saudi royal family has been working to reform Islamic conservatives and radicals for over a century. They don't get much credit for that, but it explains the many Saudi initiatives to detect and rehabilitate Islamic radicals, and prevent Moslems from going that way in the first place.

For example, the Saudis are using media and the religious establishment (which is on the government payroll) to discredit Islamic radicals. There is also a rehabilitation program for convicted or suspected Islamic terrorists. While this gets criticized, because 10-20 percent of the graduates go back to terrorism, the majority leave Islamic radicalism behind. The reform effort has a big impact on discouraging young Arabs considering Islamic radicalism.

The current Saudi enthusiasm for taking on Islamic radicalism began when terrorist bombs began going off after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Al Qaeda condemned Saudi Arabia for standing by and allowing this invasion of the Middle East by non-Moslem troops. In direct response to this, al Qaeda began attacking Saudi targets. Most Saudis promptly turned on the terrorists, and most of these Islamic radicals eventually died or fled the country. The Saudis gave Interpol the names of those who fled, and asked for help in tracking down these men. The Saudis were not happy with the lack of cooperation from Syria and Yemen in tracking down Saudi Islamic radicals. Yemen has since turned around, but the Syrians, largely because of their alliance with Iran, have dragged their feet. In the four years after 2003, nearly two hundred people died in Saudi Arabia as a result of Islamic terrorism, and most Saudis remained hostile to Islamic radicalism because of this. But during those same four years, the Saudis basically destroyed al Qaeda within the kingdom.

However, many Saudis blame the United States for all this, seeing the invasion of Iraq as creating an opportunity for Islamic terrorists to increase recruiting, and gain practical experience in carrying out attacks in Iraq. The surviving Saudi terrorists in Iraq then came home, along with their deadly skills. But the Saudis were able to control the Islamic terrorists, and do not see them as the principal threat (which is the growing influence of Shia Iran among the Shia Arabs of southern Iraq, and eastern Saudi Arabia, and the other Arab Gulf states.) Saudi Arabia has always made it clear that it preferred someone like Saddam Hussein (a Sunni Arab dictator) running Iraq, rather than a democracy that would allow the Shia Arab majority to rule. Saddam provided a more reliable ally against Iran, which is a nation of non-Arabs (Iranians are Indo-Europeans), who practice a variant of mainstream Sunni Islam.

Saudis are also reluctant to admit that their country is still a major source of support for Islamic terrorism. While the Saudis have cracked down on Islamic radicals in schools and mosques, as well as trying to prevent financial contributions to terrorist causes, much support for Islamic radicals still comes from Saudi Arabia. The Saudis also downplayed the participation of young Saudis in terrorist operations in Iraq. The Saudis insisted that few of the foreign terrorists in Iraq were Saudis. But captured al Qaeda records, showed that, during the peak years (2005-7), some 40 percent of foreign terrorists in Iraq were Saudi. Evidence like this gave the anti-terrorist factions in the kingdom more clout. The Saudis were able to shut down public preaching by pro-terrorist clergy, and went after wealthy Saudis that were using their businesses to pass money on to "Islamic charities" that were actually fronts for Islamic terrorist fund raising.

Many Saudis still cannot believe that 79 percent of the 911 terrorists were Saudis. The ruling family, or at least most of them, believes it, and is heavily funding the Arab Reform Movement, which insists that the social, economic and political problems in the Arab world are internal, not the result of foreign interference. This might appear to be an odd thing for the Saudi monarchy to get behind. But the Saud family did not come to found the kingdom back in the 1920s, by ignoring reality. The Saudi royals may appear a bit medieval to Westerners, but that's only because they must get along with some pretty old-school groups. The Saudis believe that it's best to keep talking to your enemies, even if you might have to turn around and kill them eventually.



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