Many questions have been raised by the recent spate of Al-Qaeda attacks on Saudi Arabia, not least the attack on the Wadia Border Post with Yemen in the southern province of Sharura, and the subsequent attack on the provincial security headquarters. Why now? And furthermore, how is it that all of these attacks are taking place on Saudi Arabia’s southern border when everyone feared an attack from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) via the country’s northern borders with Iraq?
Early information reveals a number of issues, most dangerously that the terrorists are now competing for publicity. We can see this in Twitter comments that preceded the attack and which sought to incite against the Sharura province security apparatus, claiming that they threatened women and wrongly accused certain parties of being jihadists. These accusations were patently false. This raises questions about Twitter’s toleration of such threats, as well as who it was that issued these threats in the first place.
As for the objective of the Al-Qaeda attack on Saudi Arabia’s southern border, the most likely reading of this is that the terrorist group is trying to compete with ISIS propaganda in Iraq. Al-Qaeda is trying to pre-empt ISIS claims that it is able to infiltrate Saudi territory, God forbid. This is an obvious propaganda ploy, particularly when taking into account the ongoing rivalry between Al-Qaeda and ISIS.
By targeting the Wadia border post, Al-Qaeda also sought to evoke what is happening in Iraq. It is noticeable, for instance, that the car bomb struck the Yemeni side of the border post. This was to eliminate the Yemeni security presence on the border with Saudi Arabia in a similar fashion to that whereby Iraqi forces have withdrawn from the Saudi-Iraqi border.
So, Al-Qaeda wants to intimidate Yemen’s Border Guards or even force them to flee in order to achieve its objective of keeping Saudi security occupied, creating opportunities for further attacks or infiltration of Saudi territory.
As for the specific objective of the terrorist attack on the Sharura security headquarters, the real objective seems to have been an attempt to raise the black flag of Al-Qaeda over the government building, photographing the scene and posting it on the Internet as a publicity stunt.
However, the Saudi security forces were able to stop this attempt before it even started. The threat was neutralized within minutes of the start of clashes between the Al-Qaeda terrorists and Saudi security men, and the Al-Qaeda flag was subsequently discovered in the glove compartment of one of the vehicles used by the terrorists. Four Saudi security officers were martyred in this attack.
Therefore, it seems we are now witnessing a competition between terrorist organizations in the region—whether we are talking about Al-Qaeda or ISIS—over publicity. This is only matched by the escalation in Shi’ite terrorist activity in Iraq and Syria. So it is clear we are facing a new phase in the war on terror in the region.