The Malaysian Prime Minister Mohammad Najib Razak said his country stands in solidarity with Riyadh on its efforts to achieve peace and security in the world and added that the strengthening of Saudi Arabian – Malaysian cooperation aims to guarantee peace and security in the Muslim world.
Abdul Razak, who is on a visit to Saudi Arabia, said that the Malaysian army is participating in the “Thunder of the North” military exercise with 20 brother countries. He added that ninety members of excellent military cadres arrived in northern Saudi Arabia with their weapons and two aircraft. Abdul Razak said in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat on the eve of his meeting with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz that “Iran’s setting fire to the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Mashhad is unacceptable and we condemn these acts”.
Abdul Razak also said that military action and foreign interference in Syria may complicate matters. He continued by saying that Russian military intervention will not lead to a solution to the conflict and pointed out that ISIS has targeted Malaysian citizens; around 70 people were lured to conflict zones in Iraq and Syria including seven citizens who were killed there.
Riyadh- Security investigations with the allegedly Iranian spy cell in Saudi Arabia revealed the double agents’ contact with the religious Shi’ite Marja’ (religious reference) Ali al-Sistani. Interaction with al-Sistani was among the lines of establishing a Shi’ite center in Mecca. Spy numbers were increasing at the holy capital of Saudi Arabia, and the sum of Iranian spies reached to 24 employees, all assigned to diplomatic positions in the Kingdom.
Informed Saudi sources gave details to Asharq Al-Awsat on the Iranian embassy in Riyadh, consulate in Jeddah, and the Iranian representative at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) all having a hand in the spy mission. The mentioned bodies have supported the spy ring network. Multiple meetings were held at conspicuous places such as the domiciles or cars of the agents.
Sources also state that Iranian intelligence services have allotted large chunks of cash for the operation, as well as monthly paid salaries for the double agents. Rent and utility expenses were all within Iranian providing.
Iranian intelligence has taken upon themselves to coordinate meetings for the spies in Iran, Lebanon, Turkey, Malaysia, and China. It is also worth mentioning that Iran’s intelligence services have arranged for the spies to gain an audience with the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
The spy ring used foreign currency to cash in bribes sent to the undercover agents in Saudi Arabia. An economic analyst, working at one of the Saudi banks, helped Iranian intelligence with the money swindle process conveyed by currency deception. Currency was changed from the Iranian Riyal to Saudi Riyal, and moved to Tehran, packed in bags held by diplomatic agents working at the Iranian embassy in Riyadh.
Sources clarified that one of the 30-Saudi, an Iranian, and an Afghani composed spy ring is a Saudi citizen who is a 45-aged man devoted to religious studies. The 45-year-old had met, in Iran, international enlisted terrorists wanted for involvement in the attack on a U.S. military residential compound in Khobar-Saudi Arabia in 1996. Among those wanted are Ibrahim Mohammed Al-Yacoub, Abdelkarim Al-Nasser,Abu-Jafar Mohammed al-Hussein ( known as Mohammed Al-Sayegh), and Ahmed Al-Mughassil.
The former Lebanese president Michel Suleiman criticised the “negative” role that Iran is playing in his country, adding that Iran “did not provide anything tangible for Lebanon, rather it just provided friendship and intentions”. He commented in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat that Hezbollah is also detrimental to Lebanon and its economy, pointing out that “the reputation of the country has declined economically due to Hezbollah’s intervention in Syrian affairs”.
The former Lebanese president also mentioned that “the use of Lebanon and its territory as a platform to attack neighbouring and friendly countries with Lebanon is considered to lessen Lebanese sovereignty greatly and the sovereignty of the country on its lands, and I am against that”. With regards to the situation in Syria, Suleiman said that “Lebanon hopes that a solution is found in Syria so that this will reflect positively on Lebanon and this will at least stop the use of the Lebanese presidency as pressure for a Syrian solution”.
Suleiman considers the media campaign in Lebanon directed against Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states “a fatal and big mistake”. He added that “We are with Saudi Arabia and historical ties link us together. It should not be abused by any Lebanese party regardless of their political position and I have opposed those who made statements against Saudi Arabia primarily and the rest of the Gulf and Arab countries many times”.
When asked about a date to solve the presidential crisis in Lebanon, Suleiman said that “I hope that it is tomorrow but I don’t know” when the president of the republic will actually be chosen.
Ahmed Obayed bin Dagher, Yemeni Presidential Advisor, revealed that Russia is contemplating on relieving former President Ali Abdullah Saleh from his plight in exchange of him abandoning Houthi rebels, and leaving them to their fate, or for both parties comply with peace.
Bin Dagher told Asharq Al-Awsat that he had met with the Russian Ambassador Vladimir Dedushkin, who informed him that Russia is still working within the frame of the Security Council’s resolution, and that Saleh himself represents an “issue”.
Bin Dagher and Dedushkin got together in the sidelines of a diplomatic meeting in Riyadh, “ he told me that he will be visiting Yemen to meet with Ali Abdullah Saleh, and I believe that he already did”, bin Dagher added referring to the Russian ambassador.
“Saleh has become an issue”, bin Dagher reported being told by ambassador Dedushkin, to whom he later responded with Russia’s capabilities of relieving Saleh from his plight, and advising him to exit leaving the Houthis to face their fate or comply with peace. “That’s what we are thinking of”, replied Dedushkin.
Moreover, Presidential advisor bin Dagher believes that Saleh “is looking for a way to drag Russians into Yemen. However, the visit that the Russian ambassador will be paying him will not play to his wishes. The Russians might propose for Saleh to safely exist Sana’a, given that the Americans, the British, and one of the Gulf countries have specially proposed the idea before, yet the former President refused.
Furthermore, bin Dagher adds “Saleh has felt defeat, over the past few days, perhaps for the first time he has heard the cannons close to the capital Sana’a”.
Eight months ago when the war started “there wasn’t a popular resistance in Aden, Lahij, Abyan, and several other areas. Resistance began in Taiz, and Saleh understands well the field data and that international politics is no longer what it used to be last March, and all that imposes a different way of thinking.
On the other hand, bin Dagher revealed that AbuBakr al-Qirbi,Yemen’s former Foreign Minister, will soon follow. He added that al-Qirbi is a diplomatic man, he is different from others, and he might change his current position soon.
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Saudi-led coalition targeting the Houthis in Yemen has denied its warplanes bombed the home of the Omani ambassador in Yemen’s capital Sana’a on Saturday, and accused Houthi militias of carrying out the attack.
“The home of the Omani ambassador was not targeted [by the coalition],” spokesman Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri told Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday. He said coalition warplanes had instead targeted the Interior Ministry building in Sana’a on Saturday.
He said the ministry building was being used as a military operations center by the Houthis and followers of ousted former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who alongside Iran is the Houthis’ main ally.
“There has been no change in the coalition’s strategy since the beginning of Operation Decisive Storm [the Saudi-led coalition’s anti-Houthi campaign] in late March. It is not in our interests to target homes. Instead we target operations centers used by the Houthis and [forces] loyal to Saleh, as well as weapons depots,” Asiri said.
Oman’s state news agency ONA said Saturday’s airstrikes on Sana’a had targeted the home of the ambassador, and reported that the Omani Foreign Ministry had summoned the Saudi ambassador to Oman in the capital Muscat on Saturday following the allegations.
Asiri said the coalition welcomed an investigation into the matter and accused the Houthis of targeting the home of the ambassador in Sana’a. He said it “should be easy to distinguish between targets hit by mortar strikes and those hit from planes,” making reference to the Houthi militias who have targeted civilian areas with mortars and missiles across the country.
This comes as the coalition said its warplanes bombed a number of Houthi targets in the Yemeni capital, including conducting 10 airstrikes targeting the Interior Ministry building.
The Saudi-led campaign targeting the Houthis in Yemen began on March 26 following a request by the country’s internationally recognized President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, after he and his cabinet were deposed in a Houthi coup in February.
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Yemen’s exiled President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi is set to appoint a new prime minister and reduce the number of ministries “within the next few days”, a government source has said, in a cabinet reshuffle aimed at “reducing costs and bureaucracy.”
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, a Yemeni official said President Hadi will soon unveil a new government lineup, with a new prime minister and ministers who will be chosen “based on their competence, stance on the legitimacy and the support they have from [Yemen’s] political powers.”
President Hadi will keep Khaled Bahah, Yemen’s prime minister and vice president, as vice president and will appoint two deputy prime ministers from the members of the new cabinet, the source added.
According to the source the new prime minister is from north Yemen and “has a long history of government work.” Yemen’s political powers, the official maintained, have given their blessing to Hadi’s new appointments.
There will be a reduction in the number of ministries, the source maintained, as some will be merged in a bid “to increase their effectiveness and reduce costs and bureaucracy.”
Most cabinet members fled with President Hadi to Saudi Arabia after the Iran-allied Houthis captured most of the country, including the capital Sana’a and the strategic southern city of Aden, in February.
In a major reversal of fortune, government loyalists, backed by Saudi-led coalition forces, captured Aden last month and started marching towards the Houthi-held Sana’a.
The new cabinet will carry out its duties soon and in full coordination with the Hadi administration in Riyadh.
The move aims to weed out cabinet members whose loyalties lay with the Houthi rebels and followers of ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, the official said.
Several ministers have resigned, neglected their duties or disappeared since Saudi Arabia started bombarding the rebels in late March at Hadi’s request.
Those include the ministers of education, higher education and oil, among others.
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi authorities on Saturday identified the suicide bomber who carried out Thursday’s attack on a mosque in the country’s southwestern region as 21-year-old Saudi citizen Youssef Bin Suleiman Abdullah Al-Suleiman.
The Interior Ministry said Suleiman was previously held by authorities for a period of 45 days in 2013 on suspicion of belonging to a “deviant faction,” a term Saudi authorities use to refer to extremist groups.
“The suicide bomber Suleiman was detained around two years ago but he was released due to lack of evidence. He has not previously left Saudi Arabia,” Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Wearing an explosive belt, Suleiman detonated himself at the mosque in the city of Abha during noon prayers on Thursday. A total of 15 people including 12 security personnel were killed and 33 injured.
Turki said the attack “did not respect the sanctity of the [mosque] nor the lives of the [worshippers]” and showed “the extent of the wickedness, criminality, and deviousness of this ideology.”
The mosque was mainly used by Saudi Special Emergency Forces.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) quickly claimed responsibility for the attack and said it would continue to target Saudi Arabia and its security forces due to their participation in the US-led coalition targeting ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Turki said: “These despicable acts will only increase the determination of the security forces and the honorable sons of the nation to counter this deviant ideology and those who support it, and to defend with every breath the honor of religion and the security of this blessed country and its people.”
Saudi security forces announced last month they had foiled a number of ISIS terror plots in a major security operation that resulted in the arrests of hundreds of people suspected of belonging to the extremist group and carrying out a number of attacks in the Kingdom as well as planning future operations.
ISIS has launched several attacks in the Kingdom over the past months, including a suicide bombing in May at the Ali Ibn Abi Talib Mosque in the eastern Qatif province, which killed at least 21 worshippers and injured 97.
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—A group affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for Thursday’s bombing that killed and injured several people, including security personnel, at a mosque in southern Saudi Arabia.
A suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt detonated himself at a mosque belonging to a special emergency force in southwestern Saudi Arabia on Thursday, the interior ministry said.
At least 15 people were killed, including 12 security personnel, and nine injured in the attack that took place during noon prayers in the city of Abha, Mansour Turki, ministry spokesman, said.
In an audio recording posted online, ISIS said it was responsible for the bombing, the latest in a series of attacks the ultra-radical group has carried out in Saudi Arabia in the past months.
“This [ISIS] group is seeking to target [Saudi] security men in an effort to undermine their resolve,” Turki told Asharq Al-Awsat via telephone, adding that such attacks “will only make the security personnel more determined to carry out their duties.”
Security forces, the spokesman maintained, will continue to pursue terrorist elements inside the Kingdom and bring them to justice.
Saudi security forces announced last month that it had foiled a number of ISIS terror plots in a major security operation that resulted in the arrest of hundreds of people suspected of belonging to the extremist group and carrying out a number of attacks in the Kingdom as well as planning future operations.
ISIS has launched several attacks mainly on Shi’ite mosques in the Sunni-majority Kingdom over the past months, including a suicide bombing in May at the Ali Ibn Abi Talib Mosque in the eastern Qatif province, which killed at least 21 worshippers and injured 97. ISIS considers Shi’ites heretics.
Prince Faisal Bin Khalid Bin Abdulaziz, Governor of Asir region, where the attack took place, told Asharq Al-Awsat that Saudi Arabia has been for years at the forefront of the countries targeted by terrorist organizations but that “their attempts to destabilize the Kingdom have failed.”
Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—Yemen’s exiled Vice President and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah returned to Yemen on Saturday for the first time since March, when he was placed under house arrest by Houthi rebels and then forced to flee the country.
“I aim to return to the country to liberate Aden and ensure that government services are operating,” Bahah said before departing to the Yemeni southern port city of Aden from Saudi Arabia, where he and his government have been in exile since March.
Spokesman for the Yemeni government Rageh Badie told Asharq Al-Awsat the one-day visit of Bahah, who is the most senior member of Yemen’s government to visit the newly liberated city in recent weeks, marked the “return to Aden of the country’s legitimate government.”
Aden was recently liberated by forces loyal to internationally recognized President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who have been supported by Saudi-led airstrikes targeting the Houthis in Yemen. Several members of the cabinet including Transport Minister Badr Baslama have returned to the city to set up a rival power base to the Houthis’ in the capital Sana’a, which they have occupied since September 2014.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday, Basalma said Bahah aimed to “host meetings with members of the local government who operate in different locations in the city, with leaders of the resistance movement, and the army in order to present his gratitude for their political leadership, sacrifices, and efforts to halt the Iranian–Houthi influence that has lasted five months.”
Yemeni ministers had insisted Bahah should postpone his visit until the end of the week, to ensure security measures were tightened in the city, Basalma revealed. However Bahah “insisted on visiting Aden” and “was confident there were no security concerns.”
Bahah toured Aden and reviewed the destruction caused by months of fighting. Basalma said most of the city’s essential infrastructure had been destroyed and residents had also endured significant “psychological damage” due to the fighting, which has significantly affected everyday life in the city.
Pockets of Houthis resistance still remain on Aden’s outskirts despite the group’s recent defeat in the city. On Wednesday international NGO Human Rights Watch said Houthi militias had continually shelled residential areas in Aden throughout July, killing around 100 people—mostly civilians who included women and children.
Speaking of those injured in the attacks, Basalama said many would be transferred to Jordan for treatment on Monday and Tuesday, in coordination with The King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Works.
Basalma said the center, founded this year by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Bin Abdulaziz, would provide the entire financial coverage to treat around 600 Yemenis wounded in the conflict.
Yemen’s crisis began in September 2014 after the Houthis overran Sana’a. The group, backed by Iran and Yemen’s ousted former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, then launched a coup in February deposing President Hadi and Bahah’s government.
After being placed under house arrest by the group, both men eventually fled to Saudi Arabia where Hadi requested the Kingdom and its Arab allies intervene with military force against the Houthis. The Saudi-led campaign began on March 26.
Riyadh and Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir on Monday criticized recent “aggressive statements” made by Iranian officials towards other countries in the region, following Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers on July 14.
Jubeir, who was meeting with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in Riyadh, said, “we reject their comments and reject the hostility they show towards the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the countries of the region.”
“These statements are escalating and they are many,” he added.
Several Iranian officials, including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, have made comments aimed at other regional countries since the nuclear deal, many of which have focused specifically on Saudi Arabia.
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian recently said some “extreme” voices within the Saudi administration were “pushing the region towards conflict and shaking its security and stability.” He also criticized what he said was the Kingdom’s “negative” role in countries such as Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, and Bahrain.
Jubeir said the comments did not “represent the desire of a state for good neighborly relations but that of a state which has aspirations in the region and which carried out hostile acts like this”—referring to a suspected plot by Iran to smuggle arms and explosives into Bahrain.
Bahrain’s Interior Ministry said on Saturday it had arrested two men in relation to the plot and recovered several weapons, ammunition, and explosives. It said both men had admitted to receiving the shipment from Iranian handlers and at least one of them had been trained at an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps camp in Iran.
During an official visit to Kuwait on Sunday, Zarif said the allegations that Iran was involved in the plot were “baseless” and, in apparent reference to Saudi Arabia, said “some countries . . . want conflict and war in this region,” according to AFP.
Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmed Bin Khalid Al Khalifa responded on Twitter by saying: “Iran’s foreign minister says allegations of smuggling arms into Bahrain are false. I advise him to come [to Bahrain] so we can show him what the Revolutionary Guard has been hiding from him.”
Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region fear the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers will embolden Tehran to continue supporting regional proxies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen.
Iran has also been involved in Iraq as part of the country’s fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), supporting volunteer Shi’ite militias accused by Human Rights Watch and other international groups of carrying out human rights abuses against Sunni civilians. The Quds Force, an elite paramilitary unit of the Revolutionary Guard, has also been involved in the fight against ISIS in Iraq.
In addition to praising Saudi Arabia’s role in the region, Mogherini said on Monday that with respect to Iran the “trust is not there yet” and that EU leaders would be watching Tehran’s behavior closely in the coming period in order to ensure it was not reneging on the terms of the nuclear agreement.
“We [the EU] understand the concerns very well,” she said in reference to some of the regional reservations regarding the deal.
Zarif in Baghdad
Jubeir also criticized comments by Iraq’s former prime minister and current Vice President Nuri Al-Maliki, who recently said that Saudi Arabia was a “sponsor and supporter of terrorism” and called for the Kingdom to be placed under the “trusteeship” of the international community.
Jubeir said Maliki’s tenure as prime minister between 2006–2014 and his sectarian policies marginalizing Sunnis in the country had helped pave the way for the rise of ISIS in Iraq.
Meanwhile, on Monday Zarif visited the Iraqi capital Baghdad as part of a tour of regional countries which also includes Kuwait and Qatar.
During a press conference with his Iraqi counterpart Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, Zarif said: “Iran is sending a message of peace to all the countries of the region after its recent nuclear deal with the West,” and added that those countries “should not be afraid of the deal.”
He said he was in Iraq to “reiterate that Iran stands by the Iraqi government and people in their fight against terrorism.”
Jaafari said Iraq welcomed the nuclear deal and added that Iran “has proven through the wisdom of its leaders that it is capable of overcoming a crisis that perhaps was difficult but clearly not impossible to surpass.”
Zarif arrived in Iraq on Sunday and visited the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf where he met with Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani. Following the meeting, Zarif held a press conference and said Iran supported Sistani’s role in Iraq and that the Ayatollah had stressed during their meeting the “importance of working together [with Tehran] to ensure the peace and stability of the region and the world.”
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday, Salah Al-Arabawi, a senior member of the Shi’ite-dominated Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) party, said: “Zarif’s visit to Iraq at this particular time, and particularly after the signing of the nuclear deal, is extremely important, especially given the good relations which Iraq has with Iran,” adding that Iraq’s government and politicians had “strongly supported the nuclear deal with Western powers.”
“There is much that unites us with Iran, most importantly on the political, cultural, and economic fronts. This calls for a continuation in dialogue between the two countries, given also that we see the relationship has more positives [than negatives], in addition to the fact that the relationship will reflect positively on the region and the fight against ISIS’s gangs,” he said.
Hamza Mustafa contributed additional reporting from Baghdad.