Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- The latest announcement by the Saudi Interior Ministry about the massive terrorist organization, consisting of 7 cells and 172 members, has not come as a complete surprise for the observers. This is despite the fact that the numbers are large, and the cells are extensive.
This discovery comes after a series of Al-Qaeda activities, which have not stopped for more than half a year. In December 2006, the Saudi security authorities announced the arrest of 136 people in simultaneous preemptive operations in a number of regions, and the capture of weapons, money in various currencies, documents, communication equipment, computers, and electronic media tools containing Al-Qaeda ideology materials. This December statement included that the transformation in Al-Qaeda operations started to focus on bringing in funds by any means, including illegal ones.
The Interior Ministry statement said that that cell “was about to act after they issued a fatwa allowing them to kidnap innocent people, bargaining over them, killing them, and stealing from merchants and banks.” The statement also revealed the existence of foreign channels providing training, financing, and covering up for the Al- Qaeda members. The statement specified 16 members, two of whom were residents of Saudi Arabia and the others were Saudi nationals who adopted “misguided ideology,” which is the Saudi official expression referring to Al-Qaeda ideology. The members were arrested in a number of regions, including Mecca, Riyadh, Jazan, and Al-Jawf; the members were in contact with agents abroad who trained and rehabilitated the individuals and secured their return to work at home. The statement also revealed that Al-Qaeda established Shariaa and media committees to secure the resurrection of the organization. This is the same method that was used by the “Al-Qaeda Organization in the Arabian Peninsula” during the peak period of its activities in Saudi Arabia from mid 2003 until the end of 2005; activists from Al-Qaeda used to handle the media work, and other activists handled the “Shariaa” missions, as it was clear from the Sawt al-Jihad magazine, the mouthpiece of the organization.
This also was deduced later from the duties of important members of the organization, such as Hamad al-Humaydi, Abdullah al-Rashud, and Faris Al Shuwayl who were handling the Shariaa and fatwa aspect. The Interior Ministry’s statement of last December revealed that the members arrested, who were a mixture of Saudis and residents, were in touch with foreign sides. These members, according to the statement, were trying to “recruit individuals, and send them to the places of sedition to train and prepare for criminal actions.” Here, it is clear that the reference was primarily to the Iraqi arena, and to some extent to the Somali one. Within this context, the statement issued the day before yesterday considers capturing this “seven-cell” organization an extension of the series of preemptive and abortive strikes addressed to Al-Qaeda. What attracts attention in this latest statement is the fact that there are some new features, apart from the large number and the extensive cells. These features include: dividing the duties of the cells into recruitment; military work, which was again divided into assassinating public figures and striking at oil installations; and “advanced” finance by using camouflage methods to confuse the surveillance authorities through using false finance channels.
As Dr Abdul Rahman al-Hadlaq, member of the Saudi advising committee, pointed out to Asharq al-Awsat in his statements, which were published yesterday: The camouflage methods to which they resorted in the financial field consisted of using fictitious companies, whose proprietors stopped operating for some time, including a company that used to collect donations for the benefit of Saudi Al-Qaeda, which was owned by a businessman known to the shareholders, and known to the authorities for his financial speculations.
What also attracts attention in the latest statement is the reference to two foreign axes, to which Saudi Al-Qaeda used to extent its wings. The statement referred to the first axis by saying: “Some of these (Al-Qaeda members) had been linked to foreign elements that worked to set up camps abroad to train recruits on subversive operations and the use of weapons and explosives and then send them to carry out terrorist operations in the Kingdom.” As for the second axis, the statement referred to it by saying: “They also sent and financed those misled to training camps abroad so as to participate in regional conflicts and subsequently facilitated their return to the kingdom to carry out their criminal designs.
Asharq al-Awsat has been led to believe that the country referred to as the one in which there are training and preparing camps, and from which those people who are ready return to Saudi Arabia is Yemen. This is because of the smuggling and infiltration movement across the borders, the spread of weapons and the culture of weapons, the weak control of the central authorities, the existence of pockets of sympathy with Al-Qaeda, and the existence of other precedents in which some members of Saudi Al-Qaeda infiltrated through the Yemeni borders, including Saud Bin-Hamud al-Muqati al-Utaybi, who was killed in a famous confrontation with the security forces in Al-Rass in Al-Qasim in central Saudi Arabia (April 2005).Asharq al-Awsat has also been given to understand that the country referred to as the one in which there are regional conflicts, to which the Al-Qaeda members go, and in which Al-Qaeda members have support and finance through this network is Iraq. Therefore, the north and northeast of the country, i.e. Iraq, and the south of the country, i.e. Yemen, become two sources whose particular circumstances Al-Qaeda tries to exploit in order to consolidate and resurrect its work, particularly as there is intensive propaganda to join the Iraqi war.
One of the new features in this statement is the reference to the existence of an actual commander to whom allegiance was pledged by one of the cells comprising of 61 members. The allegiance was pledged next to the Kaaba. This is very indicative and is reminiscent of an incident, which is similar to some extent, in the history of religious terrorism in Saudi Arabia. In 1979, the followers of Juhayman al-Utaybi pledged allegiance to the so-called Mahdi, Muhammad al-Qahtani, at the Kaaba between the Yemeni Corner and the Black Stone because they thought that this, according to the texts, would be the way to pledge allegiance to the expected Mahdi. So far, no one knows whether the 61 members of the cell pledged this allegiance to the new commander as the Mahdi, or the pledge was made at the Kaaba in order to bestow a sacred and confirming character upon it.
Also it is not known whether this commander was the leader of all cells or of this cell alone. One of the new features in the statement is the reference to the development of the Al-Qaeda action, and the exploitation of all possible loopholes. The development of the Al-Qaeda action is through sending some elements to learn flying, and then carry out suicide attacks using aircraft similar to the 11 September attacks.
The statement also pointed out that the members who intended to assassinate public figures, intended to do so through suicide attacks, in addition to murder; this was indicated by the photograph of the pistols camouflaged as pens. As for the reference to the intention of the cells to target the oil complexes, there is nothing new about this other than confirming that the al-Qaeda targeted the Buqayq oil complexes (February 2006) and Yanbu industrial complexes (May 2004).What remains is the reference to the intention of some members to carry out attacks against some criminal investigations prisons in order to secure the release of the Al-Qaeda prisoners. It is known that the prison that enjoys bad publicity by Al-Qaeda is Al-Ruways prison in Jeddah. Ali al-Ma’badi, one of the culprits of the attacks on the Al-Muhayya residential complex in Riyadh (December 2003), mentioned this prison in his talk recorded on the famous “Wedding” tape. Despite the magnitude of the information that makes us feel that the Al-Qaeda danger is continuing, the latest statement by the Interior Ministry is no more than an extension – a “qualitative” one – of the abortive war waged by the Saudi authorities on Al-Qaeda. According to a Saudi security source speaking to Asharq al-Awsat, there is no official feeling that the war against Al-Qaeda has ended, or even that it is about to end; the issue requires another war in the ideological field.