Counter-Terrorism: The Saudi Solution Will Never Fly In The West

Archives

September 2, 2014: Saudi Arabia has openly warned the West in general and the United States in particular that ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant) is coming after them, sooner rather than later, in the form of a spectacular terror attacks, or at the very least serious attempts to organize and carry out such attacks. The Saudis have been taking the ISIL threat quite seriously, even though a year ago the Saudis thought they could control all the al Qaeda factions in places like Syria. But earlier this year Saudi Arabia concluded that most (but not all) Islamic terrorist groups were irredeemable and must be destroyed, with extreme violence if necessary. In line with that the Saudis have now declared it illegal for their citizens to finance, sympathize with or fight for Islamic terrorist organizations. For the last few years the Saudis have arrested thousands of suspected Islamic terrorists, often because of tips by family or neighbors, and prosecuted hundreds (and tried to reform the others). There have been dozens of beheadings for terrorism. The trials and executions are public. The Saudi approach may be as medieval as al Qaeda tactics, but it has worked in Saudi Arabia and Saudis wishing to carry out Islamic terror activities are generally smart enough to leave the country to do it. With the new laws, returning home, which thousands of Saudi Islamic terrorists have done, is now less of an option. 

Despite the ISIL threat to the West, ISIL is one of two Islamic terrorist organizations that have it in for Saudi Arabia in a big way. To ISIL the overthrow of the Saudi government is a higher priority. But at the moment it is American jets who are bombing them heavily in Iraq and NATO nations that are providing the most effective assistance to the Iraqi government.

ISIL is a threat despite the fact that it has been outlawed by al Qaeda. That process began in June 2013 when the head of al Qaeda (bin Laden successor Ayman al Zawahiri) declared the recent merger of the new (since January 2013) Syrian Jabhat al Nusra (JN) with the decade old Islamic State in Iraq (ISI) unacceptable and ordered the two groups to remain separate. The reason for this was that the merger was announced by ISI without the prior agreement of the JN leadership. The merger formed a third group; Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). That was the problem, as many JN members then left their JN faction to join nearby ones being formed by ISIL. JN leaders saw this as a power grab by ISIL and most of the JN men who left to join ISIL were non-Syrians. Many of these men had worked with ISI before and thought they were joining a more powerful group. But ISIL was just an attempt by ISI (which is having a hard time in Iraq) to grab some glory, recruits, cash and power by poaching JN members. JN appealed to Zawahiri for help and got it. That did not end the matter and the dispute escalated in January 2014 when outright war between ISIL and other Islamic terror groups in Syria began. A month later al Qaeda declared ISIL outcasts and sanctioned the war against them. That’s not the first time al Qaeda has had to slap down misbehaving Iraqi Islamic terror groups 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 operation, it was seen as an infidel occupation of the al Qaeda homeland. So the terror attacks in Saudi Arabia began, because the Saudi government had not resisted the "crusaders" with force. 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.

The Saudis have maintained the intensity of their counter-terror operations since the 2003 outbreak. That year the first “most wanted list”, with 19 names on it, was issued. In 2004 Saudi Arabia issued another list with 26 names. In 2005 a third list, again with 26 names, was issued. Within a few years all but a few of those on the first three lists were killed, captured or surrendered. Saudi Arabia issued another terrorist most wanted list in 2009. The 85 suspects were all men believed to be engaged in planning new attacks. All but two of them (Yemenis) were Saudis. Eleven of these were men the American had been holding at Guantanamo but were released at Saudi insistence that they would be taken care of. Despite rehabilitation, these eleven men returned to their terrorist ways. So far nearly 90 percent of the 85 men on the 2009 list have surrendered, been taken or killed. There have been no new lists since 2009.

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. But most of the dead were Saudis, and this 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 al Qaeda, 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.

 

 


Article Archive

Counter-Terrorism: Current 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 


X

ad
0
30

Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 30 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close