Saudi Arabia, as well as all members of its coalition, are currently in a state of war against the main source of chaos in the region: Iran. Tehran is fomenting this chaos through its regional allies, from the Houthis in Yemen to Hezbollah in Lebanon to the sectarian National Mobilization forces in Iraq.
At the same time, Saudi Arabia and the coalition are also at war with Sunni terrorist organizations, most prominently the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda.
With Iran and its followers seeking to destabilize the region, it is only natural that there would be dangerous consequences to this, even if indirectly. One of these consequences has seen the specter of Sunni terrorism cast its shadow across the Arab world, particularly Al-Qaeda and ISIS. While the mere presence of extremist and terrorist groups such as this serves to further isolate the Arab world from the rest of the international community, distorting our image and reputation.
Saudi Arabia is fighting the Houthis—who are backed by Iran—on one front in Yemen, while ISIS is seeking to send its death and destruction into the Kingdom on a second front. This is the same ISIS that is seeking to monopolize Islam, portraying itself as the defender of Muslims and the Arab Sunni community against Iran, or the “Persian Magi” as the group puts it.
But couldn’t ISIS postpone its attempted expansion into Saudi Arabia, at least for a time, considering the situation it finds itself in across the rest of the Arab world? What is the reason behind this move at this particular time?
The Saudi Interior Ministry this week revealed that security forces have arrested a man suspected in the murder of two Saudi policemen in eastern Riyadh earlier this month. A second suspect is on the run. The Interior Ministry has confirmed that both men have ties to ISIS, and in fact that ISIS ordered them to carry out this heinous attack. More than this, the 23-year-old man who was arrested in connection with this crime, Yazid Mohammad Abdulrahman Abu Nayan, was in the process of preparing for another attack. This attack, which was foiled by his arrest, would have seen seven car bombs targeting different sites across Saudi Arabia and no doubt resulting in large civilian casualties.
The second attacker is currently a fugitive from the law—another young man, aged 29, named by the authorities as Nawaf Sharif Al-Anzi. The authorities confirmed that both men had received orders from ISIS leaders in Syria and that they had not even known each other prior to the attack. As for Anzi, Abu Nayan said that he spoke with a Moroccan accent.
Reports indicate that these two youths have a criminal past, and previous charges against them include resisting arrest, driving while drunk and even financial crimes. So, they both have a long history of rebelling against the law, before becoming radicalized. After this, they found ISIS to be a suitable religious cover for their inherent rebelliousness against society and the rule of law, and vice versa. This is something that is worth pausing at and considering when looking at how ISIS finds, and uses, its recruits.
At the Saudi Interior Ministry press conference, spokesman Brig. Gen. Bassem Al-Atiyah said that ISIS seeks to prey on and use our disaffected young people against us, warning about “child soldiers.”
This is true, and a great threat to our nations and societies. Isn’t now the time for new global legislation regarding the use of social media and how extremist and terrorist groups use these to gain followers, turning them into killers?
After all this, it is clear that everything is part of a larger battle and battlefield, from the Shi’ite Houthis to the Sunni Al-Qaeda and ISIS—there is no difference.