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Opinion: Terrorism in Qatif | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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epa04761736 People and members of the emergency services stand amidst the wreckage of the Shiite Imam Ali mosque in a village in the eastern province of Qatif, Saudi Arabia, 22 May 2015. According to intial reports some 30 people are thought to have been killed in the explosion which ocurred when the Mosque was filled due to Friday prayers with an estimated 150 Shiites, a minority, roughly 10-15 percent, population in the mainly Wahhabi country, and who live mainly in Qatif and al-Ahsa. EPA/STR

In 2003, the Al-Qaeda organization launched a war of terror against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, targeting security headquarters, government infrastructure and residential compounds, particularly those housing foreign nationals. These attacks resulted in the deaths of dozens of Saudi and foreign nationals, although the organization was eventually defeated and forced to flee the Kingdom. Al-Qaeda’s subsequent attempts to destabilize Saudi Arabia from outside its borders also met with utter failure.

After the birth of a new terrorist organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), this group also sought to strike a blow to Saudi stability, although this time by means of inciting sectarian fitna (strife) between Saudi Arabia’s Sunni and Shi’ite communities. However, ISIS’s attempts to incite this strife with an attack on a Shi’ite mosque in Al-Ahsa last November failed, instead producing a coherent message of national unity that surprised ISIS and its supporters. Despite this failure for ISIS, it sought to carry out the same scheme on Friday with an attack on a Shi’ite mosque in Al-Qadeeh in Saudi Arabia’s eastern Qatif province. This is a scheme that is based on the senseless idea that an attack on a Shi’ite mosque by a terrorist who claims to be a Sunni will meet their objectives. ISIS forgets that Saudi Arabia’s Sunni and Shi’ite communities are well aware that terrorists are not Sunnis or Shi’ites, or even Muslims—they have embraced a new religion which has its own objectives and path.

Statistically speaking, Saudi Arabia is one of the countries most targeted by terrorist organizations falsely claiming to be Muslim or representatives of Islam. The numbers also show that Saudi Arabia is one of the most capable and successful countries in the world when it comes to combating terrorism and foiling terrorist plots. As for attempts to address and neutralize the extremist and terrorist ideology that is present among some of its citizens, these have also been successful, particularly when you take into account the relentless efforts that are being made to promote this ideology. These efforts by terrorists sometimes come from within the Kingdom itself, and at other times from beyond its borders. It is clear that a major part of the strategy of all terrorist organizations is to target Saudi Arabia; success in this endeavor would represent a public relations victory that would help them to implement their plots and objectives elsewhere.

At the same time that Saudi Arabia’s security apparatus have succeeded in besieging terrorist organizations, arresting sleeper cells and generally reducing the harm that terrorism can cause, it is practically impossible to stop every single terrorist operation in light of regional and international inaction. There is a lack of real strategic cooperation to uncover the truth regarding just who is supporting these terrorist groups and facilitating their movement between regional states. It is impossible to believe that these groups operate independently and without the assistance of parties with ties to states that are facilitating their movement and operations. As for the required international strategic cooperation in this regard, it has been a case of one step forward and two steps back, even on issues such as terrorist groups’ employment of social media. Indeed, ISIS used social media to claim responsibility for the Qatif attack, saying that an ISIS member calling himself Abu Amer Al-Najdi had carried out the operation. In fact, ISIS has eight accounts on Twitter and is able to freely move from one to the other and post whatever it likes. The same applies to thousands of terrorists who use social media networks, without there being any genuine effort to put an end to this absurdity that ultimately helps ISIS carry out its plans.

Saudi authorities were able to capture all those involved in the attack on the Shi’ite mosque in Al-Ahsa within days, uncovering a 77-member terrorist cell implicated in the attack. They will, similarly, be able to pursue and prosecute all those involved in the attack on Al-Qadeeh. However addressing extremist ideology and pursuing those who are financing terrorism and justifying its crimes is another matter, and this will be a difficult battle that requires a clear-minded and stringent response that does not ignore those who speak out against terrorism today, only to return to supporting and justifying it tomorrow. This is the real war that Saudi Arabia needs to be fighting today, before it is too late.