Ever since Al Qaeda terrorists, a majority of them Saudis, hijacked four aircraft and flew them into buildings in New York and Washington, Saudi security forces, acting under the broad ranging instructions of the increasingly resolute Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, have arrested hundreds, if not thousands of suspected militants, sympathizers and persons believed to have ties to Al Qaeda.
Saudi investigators reportedly uncovered plots by the Al Qaeda network to initiate a series of major terrorist attacks, primarily in Riyadh, to coincide with the war in Iraq. Saudi intelligence had a source in the group and the plans were frustrated, but the Saudi government was shocked by the discovery that the group had stockpiled poisons, C4 explosives, hand grenades and small arms in preparation for their planned attacks.
On May 10, Saudi security arrested 149 persons believed to be engaged in a plot to poison parts of the countrys water supply. At the same time security forces raided a Riyadh apartment where a large cache of weapons and explosives was uncovered. A nationwide dragnet was launched the next day for 19 others, some of whom reappeared in the bloody terrorist attacks of the following day.
Following the May 12th suicide bombings in three Riyadh compounds that killed at least one, possibly two members of the 15,000 member royal family Saudi, as well as over 30 other persons, internal security forces stepped up efforts to crack open and uncover existing cells in the kingdom with a considerable amount of vigor.
Examination of speeches and Friday sermons led to the dismissal of 2000 clerics and suspension of their right to preach in Saudi mosques. While no reasons were given officially it was widely noted that the sacked ulema clerics were considered to be sympathizers to the militants and admirers of Osama bin Laden.
Regulatory agencies have virtually frozen money in accounts where there is question if it is making its way to terrorist groups. Charities operating in Saudi Arabia are under increasing scrutiny and the trickle of money to Al Qaeda from that source has been severely reduced, if not completely cut off.
Saudi security forces and militants (the Saudi name for Al Qaeda and its sympathizers) engaged in a shootout on August 10, with another clash that raged for five hours in the Al-Suwaidi district capital Riyadh and resulted in the deaths of four policemen as well a Saudi terrorist.
On August 15 Saudi security rounded up another suspected 10 militants, including a police officer, in Qarboos a southern village in Jizan, one of the countrys poorest regions. The raid, which utilized tear gas and explosives, captured a cache of 93 RPG launchers, 53 hand grenades, other ammunition, machine gums, plastic explosives, police uniforms and radio and electronic equipment.
Abdullah recently appeared on national television making clear it was the intention of the government to destroy the militants. He also put the people of Saudi Arabia on notice that there was no middle ground in a stinging attack on sympathizers. In the decisive battle between good and evil, there is no place for neutrality and no room for stragglers. Those who even just sympathize with terrorists are themselves terrorists, and they will receive their just punishment.
The government faces a number of problems at home and abroad.
In the West, a hostile press and a militant Christian neo-conservative movement assumes the Saudi government is in league with Al Qaeda because both adhere to Wahhabism. But Al Qaeda made it clear from its beginning that one of its goals was the overthrow and destruction of the House of Saud. The internecine warfare between the two groups is frequently underreported.
The suppression of 28 pages of the final report of the commission investigating 9-11 was widely reported to be at the express request of the White House, to avoid embarrassing a foreign government. Anti-Saudi westerners immediately pointed to this as further proof of Saudi complicity. The Saudi government remains infuriated at the decision, claiming it cant defend itself against baseless charges if it doesnt know what the charges are. It is doubtful that anyone believes the Bush administrations statement that the suppression was to protect intelligence sources.
At the same time the long standing tension between the ultra-conservative Wahhabist clerics (based mainly in Qassim) and the House of Saud continues as they have since Ibn Saud first allied with the Wahabbists and established the Ikhwan in 1910. Purists believe the monarchy is corrupt, virtually non-Islamic, and in bed with Western interests. They perceive the West, as anti-Islamic, morally bankrupt and a corrupting influence. The problems in the country, they argue, would best be solved by a restoration of strict Islamic principles. With unemployment at 40 percent among recent college graduates, there are a lot of bored young men with little to lose and a susceptibility to being swayed by demagogues promising both a better life AND a closer relationship to Allah in the bargain. (Check any good Christian political group in the American south for a local version of the same thing)
Nipping at the government's heels are the so-called Saudi dissident groups in exile. Based overseas, mainly in London and the US, they have been predicting the fall of the House of Saud for decades and decrying Saudi suppression. Several state there goal is religious freedom, which they say is lacking in Saudi Arabia, but in reality they are seeking freedom to practice an ultra-ultra conservative brand of Islam that makes Wahabbism look liberal and whose intolerance the government has refused to allow.
The vast majority of Saudis are a mixed bag. For the most part they prefer their Islam to be Wahabbi. They respect the House of Saud, but feel it is corrupt at times and needs to be cleaned up. Less than one percent actively support Al Qaeda, but many were secretly sympathetic to it because of its demonstrated ability to bloody the nose of the arrogant West. The Riyadh attacks and Abdullahs condemnation of sympathizers will likely lead to a population that is increasingly hostile to Al Qaeda operatives, and Al Qaeda sympathizers and militants who are increasingly hardened and willing to commit mayhem.
Saudi Arabias government has been engaged in a bloody, bitter war with Al Qaeda since 9-11, with efforts intensifying over the last few months. The conflict has taken place against a back drop of confusing kaleidoscope of circumstances, divided loyalties, innuendoes, suspicions and misunderstandings.