Saeed al-Shehri, the deputy leader of Al Qaeda in Yemen, was not content with merely observing the excitement that is dominating the scene and which was caused by the Gaza Flotilla crisis, and so – like others – decided to add his voice to the fray.
In an audio recording broadcast by al-Arabiya television, al-Shehri threatened doom and destruction if the Saudi authorities did not release a woman called “Haylah al Qassir” and who is also known as “Um al-Rabab” within Al Qaeda. Al-Shehri urged Al Qaeda supporters and sympathizers to kidnap [Saudi Arabian] royalty, ministers, state officials, and security officers, saying “we tell our soldiers, you must undertake kidnappings to secure the release of the prisoners.”
The woman who al-Shehri issued this audio recording on behalf of has been in custody since last March, along with other Al Qaeda elements whose arrests were announced by the Saudi authorities. According to Saudi sources, of those arrested, more than 100 Al Qaeda members were preparing for assassination operations.
In any case, it is nothing new for Al Qaeda to target Saudi Arabian figures and infrastructure, and senior security leadership in Riyadh have previously been attacked by Al Qaeda, while an Al Qaeda operative also attempted to assassinate Prince Mohammed Bin Naif at his home in Jeddah in a suicide attack. An Al Qaeda hit list was also discovered a number of years ago in a flat in Mecca in the same manner as lists of assassination targets drawn up by other fundamentalist organizations in Pakistan, Yemen, and North Africa.
What is new in the Saudi context is Al Qaeda employing this woman, for women – in local culture – have always been surrounded by an aura of protection and shielded from public activity. Of course this is something that is impractical and an embellishment which contradicts the spirit of Islam and the huge role played by women in Islamic history, regardless of whether we now regard this role positively or negatively. What is important is that women were well-known and active in politics, science, literature, and trade. The role being undertaken by “Haylah al Qassir” is nothing more than an extension of the role played by women [in Islamic history], such as the role played by “Ghazala” a leader of the Khawarij [who rebelled against the Caliphate of Ali Inn Abi Taleb].
Of course it is sad that a Saudi Arabian woman has become ensnared by such militant ideology, but it is also important to deal with such issues in a practically and realistic manner. From another perspective, it is clear that there has been development in this issue, not just because Al Qaeda is recruiting a female element – which does not represent a new development – but because Al Qaeda explicitly disclosed this. Al Qaeda openly stated the woman’s true name, rather than just her alias, so does this mean that Al Qaeda has unconsciously been following the general trend [with regards to women]?
The Saudi Arabian Interior Ministry possess numerous names of women active within Al Qaeda, along the lines of Wafa al-Shehri, [wife of Saeed al-Shehri] who resides in Yemen and who issued a statement a few days ago urging Al Qaeda followers to migrate to Yemen. However discretion and the local cultural taboo with regards to publicly mentioning women’s names, represent major obstacles that prevent the Saudi Arabian media and security authorities from confronting Al Qaeda’s women.
The time has come for us to deal with this particular issue without exaggerated caution and oversensitivity. An illness is an illness, and it does not differentiate between men and women. It is difficult to see in the dark; therefore it would be better if we dealt with this issue openly and in the light so that everybody can see everybody else.