It's been a bad week for al Qaeda in Arabia. The terrorist organization piled up more failures and defeats, adding to their growing reputation as loudmouthed losers.
First, Saudi Arabian police cornered and killed the head of al Qaeda operations in the kingdom last week. In another battle, fifteen Islamic terrorists were killed in a three day gun battle. The terrorists used women and children as human shields, which did little for their heroic reputation. The Saudis used special police for these operations.
The Saudis organized a Special Emergency Forces (SEF) unit in 1972, mainly as a riot control force, and a special detective unit for drug smuggling and organized crime. By the late 1970s, the SEF was dealing with Islamic terrorists as well. When al Qaeda declared war on the kingdom two years ago, it was SEF that responded to the terrorist attacks. The initial al Qaeda operations, and police responses, left 90 civilians, 42 policemen and 113 terrorists dead. In the last two years, SEF has conducted over 800 raids, and killed or arrested several hundred Islamic terrorists. Last December, the Saudis put out a list of the 26 most wanted Islamic terrorists. Nearly all of the people on that list have since been killed or arrested. Thus, last June, another list of 36 terrorism suspects was published. So far, five of those have been killed or arrested.
In Jordan, there was a rare terrorist act, when three BM-21 122mm rockets were fired from a warehouse in the southern city of Aqaba. The Gulf of Aqaba is the northern tip of the Red Sea. It is here that the borders of Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are all close together, either touching or within view of one another. One rocket was aimed at an American amphibious assault ship docked at the port. That rocket missed the ship and hit a warehouse, killing one of the Jordanian soldiers guarding it. The other two rockets were aimed at Israel, which is about 16 kilometers away. These two rockets hit nothing of significance, one landing outside an airport, the other near a hospital. The 150 pound, 122mm Russian designed BM-21 rocket is nine feet long and has a range of 20 kilometers and a 45 pound warhead. Developed in the late 1930s by Russia, the 122mm rocket is normally fired in large numbers from many launchers at spread-out targets. That's because the rockets are unguided. Aim lots of them at a target and you'll hit something. Aim a few of them at something, and you usually won't, But the rockets are made by many countries, relatively easy to get, and favored by terrorists for attacks that terrorize, rather than actually do any damage.
The 42 pound, 107mm, 33 inch long, Russian BM-12 is more commonly used for these attacks. This rocket has a range of about six kilometers and three pounds of explosives in its warhead. rocket. While easier to move around, the BM-12 would not have been able to reach nearby Israel.
The Jordanian police, the most efficient in the Middle East, immediately went into action. They soon found four more rockets in a nearby warehouse, and arrested at least six men, including Iraqis, Syrians, Egyptians and Jordanians.
The Abdullah Azzam Brigades took responsibility for the attack. This is an al Qaeda type organization that claimed responsibility for bomb attacks that killed at over sixty people at Sharm el Sheikh last month, and 34 people at two other Egyptian resorts last October. It's easy for Egyptians to move between Jordan and Egypt.
But terrorists have a hard time operating in Jordan, mainly because they tend to get quickly rounded up if they try anything in the kingdom. The police cooperated closely with Israel in counter-terrorism matters. Jordanian police carefully monitor the borders, and foreign communities (including many Iraqi exiles) in the country. The police use informer networks, and good record keeping, to track who is doing what.
But because of large areas of the borders covered by desert, and active smuggling gangs, you can get just about anything into Jordan. The 122mm rockets can be obtained from Hizbollah terrorists in southern Lebanon, or in in Egypt or Syria via cooperative military officials. Iran has supplied Hizbollah, and could ship them directly (and illegally) into Jordan. The Jordanians will probably be able to trace the source of the rockets used, which will prove embarrassing for someone. The Jordanians will also crack down on any groups suspected of supporting the terrorists.
The royal family, the Hashemites, that run Jordan, have a long history (centuries long) of fighting Islamic radicals and terrorism. Until the 1920, the Hashemites ruled eastern Arabia, and the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina. They were driven out by the Saud family, and most of the Arabian peninsula because Saudi Arabia. The Hashemites moved north, to establish kingdoms in Jordan and Iraq. The Iraqi Hashemites were killed by a military coup, by Sunni Arab Iraqi army officers, in 1958. But the Jordanian branch has survived by being more efficient than their opponents. This included an attempt, in 1970, by Palestinian refugees to take over the kingdom by force. The kingdom still has lots of Palestinians, and Islamic conservatives. It's a dangerous place to be in charge.
The rocket attack is a major defeat for al Qaeda, as the rockets hit no "foreign" targets, killed a Jordanian soldier, and generated public enthusiasm for rounding up the usual (terrorist) suspects. Whatever other plans Islamic terrorists may have had going in Jordan are now at risk because of an aroused population and police force.
Saudi Arabia is the center of Islamic conservative thought that feeds al Qaeda, and its militant supporters throughout the Islamic world. Al Qaeda is very embarrassed by its inability to assert itself in Saudi Arabia, or any other nations in the Middle East. The violence in Iraq is mainly the result of the Sunni Arab minority refusing to stop resisting the overthrow of their government in 2003, not support for al Qaeda. The more al Qaeda tries, and fails, to achieve any of their goals (establishing an Islamic dictatorship), the more potential supporters doubt the viability of al Qaeda as a cause, and an organization.