Saudi Arabia's announcement last week that its security forces dismantled 19 terrorist cells provided new evidence of the kingdom's success in countering any activity that emanates from its territory or is carried out by Saudis and that disrupts security in the Kingdom or in foreign countries.
The cells were reportedly composed of 149 individuals accused of involvement with al-Qaeda operations in Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia.
The announcement also raised questions about al-Qaeda's continued success in recruiting Saudis to support its ideology, which authorities describe as misguided and lost.
Major-General Mansour al-Turki, security spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry, said in a press conference on November 26th that Saudi security services were able, during the last eight months, to dismantle 19 terrorist cells, including 10 linked to each other and nine operating independently. He said the various cells included 124 Saudis, including a large number of young people. The rest of the accused were nationals of Arab, African and Asian countries.
The cells were planning to carry out suicide attacks against Saudi military institutions and assassinate security officials and journalists, according to al-Turki. They also targeted "the protected", in reference to foreigners working or residing in Saudi Arabia who are recognised as being protected under Islam.
Saudi officials said some of the cells' plans had reached advanced stages. Some of their members have ties to al-Qaeda in Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia, they added.
Yemen is where the command centre of the Gulf branch of al-Qaeda, called al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is located. The branch was founded in 2009 when al-Qaeda's Saudi branch and Yemeni branch were unified under the command of a Yemeni national and his Saudi deputy.
As for Afghanistan, and specifically the tribal areas bordering Pakistan such as Waziristan, it is an essential headquarters for al-Qaeda leadership and the suspected hiding place of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Despite the fact that the Somali al-Shabab movement declared allegiance to al-Qaeda, it has not yet turned into an official branch in East Africa. It is clear, however, that al-Qaeda has been present on Somali soil for many years. Its cells were implicated in more than one attack in neighbouring countries such as Kenya and Tanzania.
Somalia appears to play an important role by virtue of its location and al-Shabab movement's control over large parts of its territory as a liaison between al-Qaeda elements in South Asia (Afghanistan and Pakistan's Waziristan) and al-Qaeda in the Gulf, especially Yemen.
But in reality, the cells that were dismantled in Saudi Arabia are not only linked to Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan. The ties include other countries, as indicated by reports the Saudis provided to Interpol containing the names of individuals plotting terrorist operations in the Kingdom.
The number of those wanted abroad, and their whereabouts, has not been officially announced.
There is no doubt that dismantling all these cells represents a powerful new strike by Saudi security services against al-Qaeda, which barely recovers from a blow and tries to catch its breath and rebuild its cells before receiving another blow toppling the new cells that have been built.
This wearing down and continued dismantling of the cells in Saudi Arabia confirms that Saudi security services are highly vigilant and exhibit a degree of efficiency and professionalism that has allowed them to thwart the vast majority of attacks planned by al-Qaeda over the past few years.
This implies that Saudi Arabia is no longer a fertile ground for al-Qaeda activity, in contrast to Yemen, which is currently trying to contain the organisation's increasing activity, which is active in a number of remote areas, sometimes under the protection of regional tribes.
Yemen was a known haven for many members of al-Qaeda cells that were dismantled by the Saudi agencies between 2003 and 2006.
Those members are currently waging their new campaign against the Saudi government from Yemen, including assassination attempts on senior officials, as occurred with Assistant Secretary of Interior Prince Mohamed bin Nayef. An al-Qaeda operative in Yemen claimed he wanted to surrender himself to authorities and attempted to blow himself up and the prince at his palace in Riyadh last year.
The bomber died while Prince Mohamed suffered minor injuries.
The Saudis undoubtedly knows al-Qaeda activity in Yemen will continue to constitute a constant threat to their security if it is not addressed.
The Saudis offer various forms of assistance to the Yemeni government to address its problems, but they are also apparently attempting to penetrate al-Qaeda on Yemeni territory.
It is not clear what the Saudis have done in this area, but what is certain is that their efforts are beginning to bear fruit, as evident through official confirmations in Washington and Riyadh that Saudi agencies provided information that exposed the recent conspiracy of al-Qaeda in Yemen to blow up US planes with explosives hidden in printers placed in packages on cargo planes headed to the United States.
Yemeni officials said the Saudis were able to uncover the plot as a result of someone infiltrating al-Qaeda in Yemen.
While detection of these cells represents another success for Saudi security forces, the large number of Saudis involved in these cells must be a source of concern to the authorities.
The reason for this concern is tied to al-Qaeda's ability to continue to recruit young people in the Kingdom despite all the efforts being made to counter its ideology.
This recruitment is partly done online through supporters of al-Qaeda's ideology, spreading it and recruiting its followers—sometimes sending them outside of Saudi Arabia to receive training before returning to the kingdom to do what is asked of them.
According to Saudi officials, members of the 19 dismantled cells used the internet to broadcast "propaganda for delinquent thought". One member identified himself on internet forums as "Killer", "Enlightened", "Lover of God" and "Abu Riyan".
The detainees also included a woman calling herself "Immigrant Lion", "Stranger", "Beloved daughter of Najd" and "Shining Star". Authorities delivered this woman to her family and left them to deal with her, in accordance with traditions governing how the state deals with women. There are some rare cases in which they are held in Saudi prisons such as Hayla al-Qassir, who harboured members of al-Qaeda.
The announcement that the cells were targeting of journalists confirms that reporters are "considered a beacon in the war against terrorism, and all journalists are also in the line of fire against any movement of terrorism," al-Riyadh newspaper columnist Yousef al-Kwelit told Al-Arabiya.
"When al-Qaeda targets journalists, it confirms the importance of the role the media plays," he said.
Also speaking to Al-Arabiya, Jamal Khashoggi, the former editor of Saudi newspaper al-Watan, said targeting journalists indicates that "al-Qaeda is hurting" because of what they (journalists) are doing.