There is still great shock at the case of the Al Qaeda woman Haylah al Qassir, as most people I meet these days in Saudi Arabia ask me, “Does this make sense?” The magnitude of shock stems from the fact that she is a woman and it is usually the case that extremists exploit women’s issues to object to the activity taking place within Saudi society. For that reason, my answer is always: “Yes, it certainly does make sense!”
Since the outbreak of terrorism in Saudi Arabia – and there are calls for paying careful attention to the outbreak of the phenomenon of extremism among women – there hasn’t only been the story of Haylah, as other women are being monitored by the Saudi security [apparatus] which prefers not to slander their names in keeping with social customs; rather, it was Al Qaeda that slandered Haylah’s name. A while ago, a senior Saudi security official told me about cases of other Saudi and non-Saudi women and the security [apparatus] preferred to deal with them away from the media spotlight with the aim of reforming them not defaming them. However, it seems that Al Qaeda wanted to embarrass the Saudi security [apparatus] but in fact Al Qaeda only divulged that it does not have any feelings, as extremism is not limited to man or woman and what’s wrong with imprisoning a woman if she committed a crime? But despite all that, the Saudi security apparatus dealt with women with reform and not defamation in mind.
At this point, I will tell a story that I was told some time ago. I heard from a security official that a Saudi woman fled to Iraq with her children in order to meet [Abu Musab] al Zarqawi. When I asked the official her name he said, “Are you intending to publish it?” “Yes,” I replied. “What have her family done for us to defame them?” he asked me. After the Haylah incident, I asked the same official again about the woman who fled to Iraq, especially considering that this story is yet to appear in the media. The official said, “My answer is the same, what have her family done?” I asked him, “What’s the difference between her and Haylah.” He said, “There is a big difference, we did not defame her, we are still dealing with this in accordance with our morals. Al Qaeda was the one that defamed her!”
When we question whether or not Haylah is a unique case there is no exaggeration in the matter, as there are other cases that are yet to appear in the media with the aim of protecting and reforming [these women]. But this requires caution, as Saudi Arabia previously arrested Saudi women and non-Saudi women carrying explosive belts and the security officials dealt with them in a decisive manner both in terms of security and reform as well, as most of them were returned to their families after they took pledges regarding the need to monitor them and to report anything suspicious about them. As far as I know, there have been no problems with those women.
Therefore, the gravity of the situation lies in the fact that women are treated in a particular manner in Saudi Arabia, whether by society or by the state security [apparatus] and there is every fear that that could be exploited by the extremists in order to use women in suicide operations, God forbid, especially as in the past members of Al Qaeda have disguised themselves in women’s clothing and they have also used women in suicide operations in Iraq and elsewhere.
It is true that great efforts have been exerted and are still being exerted in Saudi Arabia such as the surveillance of funding, mosques and charity work etc. in order to prevent the spread of terrorist activity. But there is still along road ahead and a battle to cut terrorism from its roots is inevitable and it begins in the school, the mosque, the family and the media.