Does al-Qaeda have the ability to spark unrest in Saudi Arabia?

BILAL QABALAN/AFP/Getty Images] Saudi have rejected terrorist acts like the May, 2003 bombins by al-Qaeda in Riyadh.

BILAL QABALAN/AFP/Getty Images] Saudi have rejected terrorist acts like the May, 2003 bombins by al-Qaeda in Riyadh.

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The recent call by the second-in-command of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) Said al-Shihri, aka Abi Sufyan al-Azdi, to topple the Saudi regime represents an escalation in the efforts of this organisation to spark unrest in the Kingdom after years of no security breaches.

Saudi Arabia dealt severe blows to al-Qaeda in recent years, dismantling the majority of its cells and forcing its surviving members to escape abroad, especially to Yemen, where they reorganised their ranks.

A change in tactics

Al-Shihri's threats, which came in an audio recording published by al-Malahim Media, the media arm of the AQAP, came after past calls by al-Shihri for assassinating Saudi officials and princes. The organisation in August 2009 failed to assassinate Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the deputy interior minister for security affairs, who plays a key role in co-ordinating the anti-terrorism operations.

The attempted assassination signalled a change in al-Qaeda's tactics in the kingdom. The bomber blew himself up in the presence of the prince after leading the Saudi authorities to believe that he had returned from Yemen to turn himself in and to encourage the rest of the al-Qaeda members in Yemen to do the same. This attack sounded the alarms in the Kingdom and signalled a shift in al-Qaeda's operations towards targeting Saudi officials, after previous assertions that it only targets Westerners.

The assassination attempt also marked the beginning of an escalation and expansion campaign in the activities of the Gulf branch of al-Qaeda, widening the area of its operations in the Arabian Peninsula and reaching neighbouring areas as well as other parts of the world.

Rebuilding and expansion

In the Arabian Peninsula, the organisation apparently felt increasingly confident in its capabilities in its areas of presence in Yemen. This feeling of confidence was fuelled by Yemen's preoccupation with the bloody Houthi rebellion in the north and the separatists' rebellion in the south.

In addition to these thorny issues, the Yemeni government was also busy tending to the problems of poverty, unemployment, the decline in oil production and the decline of the drinking water reserves. Al-Qaeda saw all that as a golden opportunity to rebuild itself in Yemen after a crushing defeat at the hands of the Saudi security forces during the years that followed the commencement of its operations in the Kingdom in May of 2003.

The unification of the two wings of al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia and Yemen in February 2008 under "Al-Qaeda in the Arabia Peninsula" marked the re-launch of the organisation's activities. Nasir al-Wuhayshi, who served a jail sentence in Iran before being extradited to Yemen in 2003, where he escaped from prison in 2006, assumed the leadership of the new organisation. The Saudi national al-Shihri served as his deputy. The latter was a beneficiary of the Munasaha programme for extremist suspects, including those released by the United States from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Al-Shihri was one of those who returned from Guantanamo. He had claimed to be a mere carpet merchant arrested by mistake in Pakistan, denying to have travelled there to fight alongside al-Qaeda following the attacks of September 11th, 2001. He also reportedly denounced Osama bin Laden. Clearly, he managed to conceal his true feelings.

Following the Yemen re-launch, AQAP initially sought to rebuild its ranks and attract new elements, especially from Saudi Arabia, including some beneficiaries of the Munasahah programme like al-Shihri.

The recruitment efforts were accompanied by intensive campaigns to collect donations from sympathisers. The stage was set for the Women of al-Qaeda, such as AQAP's Wafaa Al-Shihri – known as Um Hajar al-Azdi-- to play a larger role in the recruitment and donation collection and transfer efforts, as well as hiding wanted people from security forces.

AQAP also worked on many other fronts. This included the expansion of the theatre of activities to include the US (the failed December 25th 2009 attempt by Nigerian native Omar Farouq Abdul Muttalib, who was a student in Yemen, to blow up a Detroit-bound civilian airplane).

The organisation also established communication and co-operation channels with Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahidin in Somalia, which declared its support for Osama bin Laden in his war against the US and Western countries.

This co-operation between AQAP and al-Shabab in Somalia came to the fore following air strikes against locations of the al-Qaeda branch in Yemen last year. Al-Shabab announced at that time that they were ready to provide Al-Qaeda in Yemen with fighters. In its turn, the Gulf branch of al-Qaeda called on al-Shabab to co-operate in closing the Bab-el-Mandab strait, located between Yemen and Somalia and connecting the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

Continued failure to rebuild in Saudi Arabia

However, the success of AQAP in expanding its activities inside and outside Yemen was not accompanied by success in carrying out any major operations inside Saudi Arabia, the main focus of the organisation's efforts.

The Saudi authorities on several occasions over the past two years announced the dismantling of many networks linked to what the Saudi government calls "The deviant group", in reference to al-Qaeda. This shows a continuous effort by AQAP to rebuild its cells in the Kingdom; an effort constantly thwarted by security forces each time a cell was built.

For that, al-Shihri's new call for toppling the Saudi regime comes within the same context: a repeated attempt to rebuild AQAP cells in Saudi Arabia.

AQAP may have timed this call to coincide with the advent of the month of Ramadan, in order to win sympathy during this blessed month, when Muslims give many donations to charitable activities. Religious authorities in the kingdom have issued a fatwa that clearly prohibits giving donations to terrorist groups.

The successes of Saudi security forces over the past years suggest that al-Qaeda's chances of carrying out significant attacks are low under the current circumstances. However, the Saudi security forces are likely aware that all that AQAP needs is a single person who adopts its ideas and who wants to serve its project.

On the other hand, the majority of Saudis are not amenable to accepting any new al-Qaeda adventures similar to what the organisation did in May 2003 when a series of bombings and killings nearly hit the heart of the Saudi economy. Such adventures would harm the Saudi citizen first and foremost.

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  • READER COMMENTS

    محمد

    2010-10-15

    Ha, the comments of the Americans are cool. Yes, he rejects development and advancement. The priests of the White House and the Zionists can only say this.

  • شامل

    2010-10-5

    This organization is hated by everyone in the hemisphere, because it causes the dissemination of malicious ideas and refuses to change. It is trying to destroy the economies of all countries and wants to work on the demolition of the infrastructure. Al Qaeda has tried to do this in more than one place, but it failed in most countries. It attempted to spread its ideas and culture, but it failed to gain the affection of all the people. Nowadays, everyone rejects this organization, which has killed people and turned their children into orphans and their women into widows. Today, this organization is going through its final stage. All its members and leaders have been targeted. That is why it is gradually collapsing. I think it no longer has any popularity among the Arab and Muslim parties, even among those who do not have awareness and knowledge.

  • 2010-8-26

    Today, al-Qaeda is suffering greatly in most of the countries of the world, especially the Arab and Muslim world, because the reality of the dirty organization has been revealed, and its slogans no longer fool anyone. No one respects or believes the lies of al-Qaeda and its leaders, like Osama bin Laden, al-Zawahiri and others, the heads of commotion and misguidance who have promoted terrorist deviant thought in the name of religion and jihad for the corruption of simple minds, ignorant people and people with distorted thoughts who find a solution with al-Qaeda and believe its lies. So I think that the Arabs and Muslims today are aware of the dirty reality of al-Qaeda, and its tricks are no longer deceiving anyone, but rather it is shunned by everyone. We believe that al-Qaeda today is undergoing the most difficult situation since the founding of this terrorist organization.

  • احسان

    2010-8-24

    It is a nice article, as usual mr. Kamal Al-Taweel. Thanks.

  • مؤيد

    2010-8-24

    Definitely, the Al Qaeda organization doesn't threaten Saudi Arabia’s interests. We all know that those who pay money will be safe. Saudi Arabia is among the first who supported terrorism in the world, and because of this, they are stable forever. In addition, the leader of the Al Qaeda terrorist organization, Osama bin Laden, is from Saudi Arabia, and he is one of the businessmen in this country. So how can he destabilize those who provide him with money, and support and shelter him? Everyone knows about the role that Saudi Arabia plays in organizing the terrorist organization around the world, and that most terrorists are Saudis who are following the Wahhabi and Takfiri ideology, and the Saudi government doesn't treat them as criminals or terrorists. Consequently, I think this is why the Al Qaeda terrorist organization hasn’t attacked and will not destabilize Saudi Arabia, as they are cooperating with them.

  • عطار السوداني

    2010-8-24

    Terrorist can't take revenge on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, because it has a wise leadership, and the best thing that sustained this stability is its people, who are working with and supporting their government. This is what puts the Al Qaeda terrorist organization in a difficult position to destabilize Saudi Arabia, because its security forces are experienced and don't favor people on the account of others. They are always doing operations against Al Qaeda and its members who are in the country. They also arrest them and bring them to justice, which makes them ensure stability, whether at the security, commercial or political level. That’s why the government in Saudi Arabia must preserve its integration with its people, who want the Al Qaeda organization to leave them in peace.

  • العمري

    2010-8-24

    Al Qaeda is unable to destabilize any country in the world, not only Saudi Arabia, because everyone knows what the ideologies of this terrorist organization are, and the backwardness and destruction that they cause to any country they enter. That's why they are unable to destabilize the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, because it is well protected by those who can face the Al Qaeda terrorist organization. Therefore, anyone who wants to take revenge on the kingdom will find the appropriate response from Saudi Arabia itself. This kingdom has been enjoying stability for a long time, and neither the Al Qaeda organization nor anyone else can subvert it, because it has controlled its borders, and this has prevented any terrorist from entering Saudi Arabia.

  • احمد الشمري

    2010-8-24

    We cannot underestimate the terrorist threat posed by the dirty terrorist organization of Al-Qaeda in any place on earth, especially in Saudi Arabia, because the senior leaders and members of this dirty organization are Saudis, as the takfiri and extremist thought was prevalent in Saudi Arabia. This has created a suitable environment for the spread of these terrorist thoughts in it. Consequently, I see that Al-Qaeda can get to its objectives in Saudi Arabia, because many Saudis are influenced by the thoughts of Al-Qaeda. If this organization was not deterred strongly by the Saudi government, it can undermine the Kingdom’s security and stability. This makes it necessary for the Saudi government to take all necessary and deliberate measures to dry up the resources of terrorism and to eliminate the promoters of the fanatic and extremist thoughts, because they represent the fuel that may destroy the security situation in Saudi Arabia.

  • 2010-8-24

    The dirty terrorist organization of Al-Qaeda did its best to undermine the security and stability in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, by carrying out different criminal suicide attacks against the interests of the kingdom and its vital institutions. However, this organization, despite all these feverish attempts, did not succeed in affecting Saudi Arabia or its people; rather, Saudi Arabia is today at the head of the states that fight terrorism and try to eliminate it on its soil. That is because it found that Al-Qaeda represents a real threat to Saudi Arabia and the interests of the Saudi people. However, it will never succeed in shaking the stability in Saudi Arabia, because the Saudis are united and the Saudi government works seriously to fight terrorism in all possible ways.

  • ابو بكر

    2010-8-23

    They are the ones who empowered them, and today they don’t want them?!

  • أشرف

    2010-8-23

    Thank you very much, and may God bless you for this fascinating article. You have summarized the bitter truth that the Muslims are suffering because of their different cultures, sects and parties. In fact, the major problem lies in the egoism inherent in every person. It is the root of all evil. The words “I” and “we” are the problem we are suffering from.

  • Kholod

    2010-8-22

    Al Qaeda wants to establish a base in the countries of the Middle East, especially after its failure in the first attempt in Iraq. The leaders of Al Qaeda tried to establish a strong branch for the terrorist organization in Iraq, but the people of Iraq were resolute; they rejected terrorism and did not surrender to the tempting terrorist and Takfiri thoughts of terrorism. They tried to use Iraq as a starting point to attack the other Arab countries.

  • محمد المطيري

    2010-8-19

    God is sufficient against them. They frightened the civilians, while the rulers did not pay attention to their threats; may God save them. His Royal Highness, Prince Mohammed, will stand against them. Such attitudes will add to him nothing other than strength from God. He is capable of stopping them. He identified them one by one, although he could have killed them, but they are still living in prison with a good life. God willing, they will get their just deserts. May God assist us and glorify us with Islam. Your brother, Mohammed Al-Mutaiyari.