The war between Arab governments and militant Salafi Islamists led by al-Qaida
plays out across the Middle East and beyond on a daily basis.
regimes, the battle is one of necessity. Deemed as illegitimate puppets of the
West by their Islamist foes, they are the targets of radical plots to unseat
them by force. They are also the target of relentless radical Islamist rhetoric,
most of it appearing on Internet sites controlled by jihadis.
situation is most dire in Asia, where Pakistan is fighting off a steadily
growing al-Qaida and Taliban bid to topple the government. Pakistan’s
instability and the possibility that jihadis could one day access its nuclear
arsenal are seen by security analysts as the number one threat to global
IN THE Middle East, one of the regimes most targeted by
al-Qaida is Saudi Arabia.
It is a confrontation that often pits Saudis
against Saudis, and it is likely to continue for years to come.
Abdullah bin Abdulaziz’s government is in the midst of a massive building
project in the heart of Mecca, Islam's holiest site.
The project, being built by the Bin Laden
Group construction corporation (run by relatives of al-Qaida’s figurehead
leader) features seven enormous skyscrapers and an array of commercial centers,
being built for wealthier pilgrims who flood the city annually for the Haj.
The project includes a hotel intended as a kind of replica of
London’s Big Ben, which soars many times taller than the original clock tower,
and which will house 30,000 guests. It will be the second tallest structure on
the planet, according to reports. The complex is surely viewed by Bin Laden and
his followers as a towering example of Saudi Arabia’s
Al-Qaida-affiliated websites often issue a call to kill a
Saudi leader, as was the case in July 2008 when Abu Yahya al-Libi, a
high-ranking al-Qaida ideologue, posted a video on a jihadi website urging
followers to assassinate King Abdullah. He had provoked Libi’s wrath by holding
an interfaith dialogue conference on Saudi soil.
“Hurrying to kill this
wanton tyrant who has announced himself to be a leader of atheism would be among
the most pious acts,” Libi declared in the video.
This week, the Saudis
issued an Interpol red notice alert concerning 47 Saudi nationals accused by
Riyadh of being members of al-Qaida. The spokesman for the Saudi Interior
Ministry, Maj.-Gen. Mansour al- Turki, said most of the suspects, aged between
18 and 40, “posed a potentially serious public threat at home and abroad due to
their suspected involvement with al-Qaida,” and urged them to turn themselves
in, the Interpol website stated on Tuesday.
Interpol’s general secretary,
Ronald K. Noble, praised the Saudis for internationalizing their battle against
homegrown al-Qaida elements.
The alert went out to 188 Interpol member
states. It was one of the largest alerts of its kind.
The largest ever
red notice alert was also issued by Saudi Arabia, in 2009, and named 85 Saudi
terror suspects who were believed to be actively engaged in hostile action
across the Middle East.
And it was Saudi Arabia which tipped off American
intelligence officials to the October 2010 parcel bomb plot by al-Qaida members
in Yemen. The tip saw security officials remove explosive devices from USbound
cargo planes in Dubai and London.
That failed attack has been attributed
by some analysts to Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, a Saudi national residing in Yemen
who is the chief bomb maker for al-Qaida’s offshoot in Yemen (also known as
al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula).
Asiri famously dispatched his younger
brother, Abdullah, on a suicide bombing mission in 2009, in what was one of
al-Qaida’s most audacious attempted strikes at the Saudi establishment. Asiri
arrived at the Jeddah palace of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence head and deputy
interior minister, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef. Taking advantage of a Saudi
clemency offer to jihadis who renounce their ways, Abdullah Asiri obtained an
invitation to the palace by pretending to be a reformed jihadi.
in line to meet the prince, and detonated his bomb vest upon meeting him. Asiri
killed himself in the blast, but caused only light injuries to the intelligence
Saudi Arabia, often accused of funding its own network of radical
Wahhabi centers around the world, has become a vital player in the global
struggle against al-Qaida.
For jihadis determined to overthrow its
government, Saudi Arabia’s state ideology remains, on the whole, unforgivably
moderate. They point to its collaboration with the “infidel” superpower, the US,
as evidence of its illegitimacy.
In 1996, Osama bin Laden released a
statement he described as a fatwa in which he suggested that Saudi Arabia, or
“the land of the two holy sites,” was following American orders.
ACROSS the thousands of jihadi forums and Internet sites, those who subscribe to
al-Qaida’s ideology compare Bin Laden’s war against Saudi Arabia to the battle
waged by Muhammad against the pre-Islamic society of Mecca. For Saudi Arabia’s
rulers, such an idea is as abhorrent as it is dangerous.
chances of achieving its goal of unseating the Saudi government remain extremely
slim, but the group and its affiliates will nevertheless continue to try to
strike “the near enemy” – a term referring to Arab-Muslim states – with a
special focus on Saudi Arabia.
The kingdom will in turn continue to
activate its powerful intelligence and security agencies to kill or capture its
Islamist foes, or talk them out of their ideology.The writer is author
Virtual Caliphate: Exposing the Islamist State on the Internet (Potomac