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Opinion: The Al-Qaeda Threat | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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File photo shows a fighter from Jabhat al-Nusra in front of a burning vehicle at their base in Raqqa. (REUTERS/Hamid Khatib/File)

I recently listened to an audio recording of an Al-Qaeda terrorist threatening a Saudi judge.

It is clear that this recording was leaked by Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria, and it concludes with the Saudi terrorist threatening the judge with death in the worst manner imaginable: beheading. The youth who issued this threat delivered his message in a deliberate and ferocious manner. The reason for this threat? The judge in question had sentenced women to prison.

I do not know the precise details of the case, nor the value of this judge’s sentencing, but I am aware that there has been a campaign launched by propagandists who support Al-Qaeda against the Saudi authorities in this regard. These propagandists have sought to place the issue of female detainees at the center of their discourse.

Al-Qaeda’s propaganda has sought to target Saudi Arabia since the beginning of the terrorist group’s operations more than a decade ago. At the time, this focused on labeling the state as being an apostate, claiming that the country was not being ruled according to God’s laws, including citing the state’s supposed support of “crusaders” and “infidels.” This discourse focused predominately on the US, and particularly the presence of US military bases on Saudi territory. Of course, the presence of such bases has not been a source of contention with current Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri’s followers in other Gulf states!

This issue regarding this alleged support of the “crusaders” has been highlighted less and less with the passage of time, and observers say this is down to the influence of Al-Qaeda propagandist Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi. However, approximately three years ago we began to see a new wave of Al-Qaeda propaganda against the Saudi state, focusing on the issue of detainees and prisoners. This propaganda has been couched in human rights discourse in an attempt to gain the backing and endorsement of human rights advocates abroad. This issue was soon narrowed to focus on female detainees in particular.

This issue resonated with political–religious activists in Saudi Arabia, and they mobilized—or, at least, attempted to mobilize—the street, with the slogan Ila Al-Nissa (“Not the Women”), which had a varying effect on the general public. This slogan aims to stir chivalric and gallant tendencies among Saudi men, in an attempt to bring the public over to Al-Qaeda’s side. The public response in this regard ultimately exceeded the expectations of the Saudi [religious] sahwa (awakening movement).

The Al-Qaeda youth who threatened the Saudi judge called on him to completely avoid even mentioning Al-Qaeda, whether its ideology or members, in his courtroom, let alone issuing judgments. This was part of a dangerous attempt to incite fear.

This is a serious case, and the confrontation with Al-Qaeda is ongoing, whether through the media or the pulpits.