Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Major General Mansour Al-Turki talks to Asharq Al-Awsat about current security issues in the kingdom in dealing with terrorism and the media. The transcript of the interview with Al-Turki follows:
Q) One year ago, Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz stated that 75% of terrorism had been eliminated from Saudi Arabia. Were you able, practically, to disassemble the infrastructure of terrorism?
A) From the seven terrorist attacks that had taken place after the bombing of the residential compounds (the first of the terrorist attacks), we witnessed a change in the capacity of explosives, the tools used and an alteration to simpler weapons. This reflected the incapacity of terrorist movements to provide explosives and weapons as well as the difficulty to load cars with explosives. Instead of these weapons, terrorists resort to knives and light weapons just as they did in the Yanbu district and Abdulaziz Oasis in Khobar. After counter attacks launched by security forces, terrorists resorted to planning the assassinations of some figures. From this change in methods and goals, we understand that terrorist movements were at their peak in terms of numbers, armament and planning. However, this had changed when information about terrorists was collected by security forces, which then lead to the foiling of their plans.
Q) Has the arrest of 40 criminals from all over the Kingdom whose names did not feature on the published wanted lists show that other generations of extremists and terrorists are emerging?
A) On many occasions, Prince Naif Bin Abdulaziz asserted that we are still fighting the war against terrorism. We still expect that further terrorist attacks could take place in Saudi Arabia, as we believe there remain a considerate number of those who believe in extremism. Nevertheless, we could never charge anyone who believes in this line of ideology unless they are involved in terrorist activities. We further expect, however, that a number of them will transform this ideology into practice and it is for this reason that security and precautionary measures are taken.
Q) A fifty year-old man who works for ARAMCO and earns over 20,000 Saudi Riyals (over 5000 US Dollars) monthly was arrested in Abqaiq. Does this indicate that a change is taking place, in that it is no longer only the young and unemployed youths who are taking part in terrorist activities?
A) The fact that the majority of these terrorists are young men does not mean that members of other age groups do not assist in planning and funding. Ideological crises cannot be associated with a certain age group; however, young people are more able, physically, to implement terrorist attacks.
Q) Do you believe that the names that featured recently on wanted lists are less dangerous?
A) We could never say that they are any less dangerous; however, their roles are significantly different to those who participated in terrorist attacks. What I mean to say is that they have an assisting role, which, nevertheless, is no less dangerous.
Q) What about those whose names featured on previous wanted lists, why have they not been arrested? Are their locations known?
A) Our security networks are huge and we are working on collecting vast amounts of information. We make the most out of all the information that we receive, yet we ensure that this information is investigated.
Q) What about the names on the lists, are they still inside Saudi Arabia?
A) Many sources claim that wanted criminals have fled the kingdom but still take part in terrorist activity. However, as long as there is no evidence to support these claims, these terrorists are assumed to be in Saudi Arabia.
Q) Have there been cases of terrorists disguising themselves in women’s clothing as they move between different areas?
A) Yes. The wanted terrorists do what they can to evade arrest. Female clothing has been found on various occasions at inspected areas. Most importantly, we were able to arrest a number of people with consideration to religious and social sensitivities, such as asking women to uncover their faces at checkpoints. We were successfully able to isolate terrorists and expel them from social and economic aspects of public life.
Q) Confiscations of huge amounts of money after raids have taken place, have you been able to name the sources that fund these movements?
A) In most cases, the funding of these movements is achieved through individual rather than collective endeavors. Funding such movements in Saudi Arabia has depended mainly on the support of sympathizing individuals.
Q) Are the current sources of finance for terrorist movements any different from previous ones?
A) The current sources of funding is from those who believe in the same ideology of terrorists and who want to support them in anyway they can. They also have their ways of collecting money to fund their activities by exploiting society’s confidence in charity work.
Q) There have been reports that a number of Arab and Gulf countries are involved in facilitating the entry of wanted terrorists to Saudi Arabia, by providing them with fake passports. How would you respond to these claims?
A) This is not true, as we know that the majority of those who had participated in planning and carrying out these terrorist attacks are Saudi citizens. Whoever assisted them did not do so intentionally against us.
Q) From the weapons that have been confiscated, it is clear that different missiles and components of enhanced explosives were found. Where could these weapons have come from?
A) Unfortunately, such weapons could have been bought on the black market and smuggled to various countries.
Q) Have you been able to say where these explosives were built?
A) Our primary concern is to know how these explosives got into the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This problem is not limited to Saudi Arabia only, but rather, it is more an international crisis. There are global fears of the potential threat of selling and marketing nuclear weapons on black markets all over the world.
Q) A member of the advisory council informed Asharq Al Awsat of the arrest of some women who were involved in terrorist attacks, such as the Al Khalidia attack. To what extent do you believe that women have become involved in extremism and has this stemmed from ignorance, weakness or conviction?
A) I am not fully aware of these cases of detained women involved in terrorist attacks. However, I can assert that a woman’s role in supporting terrorism may be involuntarily as women usually fall under the control of their husbands. The case is different when women actually believe in these ideologies. As for women who support their husbands, I believe that their role is simply a supportive one. Furthermore, what Sheikh Mohamed Al Nejeemi had mentioned about women encouraging their sons to take part in jihad (holy war) in Saudi Arabia, brings us back to the issue of extremist ideologies that have spread all over the world. Women can also be affected by extremist ideologies. However, in eastern societies, men are more prepared to participate in terrorist activities.
Q) What about the detention of women?
A) A number of women have been detained in various cases. During some clashes, some women were with their husbands. In fact, in many cases, even children were also present at the crime scenes, but this does not mean that we arrested these women or children. What actually happened was that women were summoned by the police and questioned about their exact roles. Women involved in such crimes are fully responsible for the roles that they played and will not be pardoned by religious or state laws. The majority of these women are released immediately, whereas some of them remain in custody for some time without being detained at police stations. As for children, they are handed over to their parents or guardians immediately.
Q) What about Saudi prisoners in Iran? It has been said that one of Bin Laden’s sons has been imprisoned there. How far have negotiations gone to hand them over? In addition, what about the Saudi prisoner in Israel and what information has been made available to you regarding this?
A) I think that this question should be addressed to the Minister of the Foreign Affairs, Prince Saud Al Faisal. Concerning the Saudi prisoner in Israel, the lack of information and the fact that he was not reported missing at Saudi police stations, is attributed to disengagement between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Furthermore, the prisoner has a common name and those who share his name have not had complaints made against them. Because of these factors, if Israelis do not report any information about the Saudi prisoner to international police organizations or the United Nations or any Arab state, then Saudi security authorities would have no access to any information about him.
Q) Which countries have mediated between Saudi Arabia and Israel?
A) I believe that the Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs had stated that Saudi Arabia is aiming to have the Saudi prisoner in Israel released through dialogue with various international organizations; however, he did not name any country in particular.
Q) Is it true that around 2800 Saudis have fought in Iraq?
A) The number of Saudis involved in insurgence in Iraq is inaccurate as there are no official statistics concerning this issued by the state or any international organizations. The declared figures are assumptions, and despite the numerous claims that a large number of Saudis have participated in terrorist activity in Iraq, there is no evidence for this. The Iraqi security forces arrest many insurgents from different countries of the Islamic world; however, the number of Saudis involved is not as high as is claimed.
Q) So how many Saudis have been arrested and released in Iraq?
A) I do not have a definite figure concerning the number of Saudis involved with the insurgency in Iraq, and this is due to the ever-changing security circumstances. Generally, the Minister of the Interior, Prince Nayef Bin Abdul Aziz, would only declare the detailed figures.
Q) Has the number reached the hundreds?
Q) There has been criticism of the security authority’s use of power during raids. What is your opinion in this regards?
A) Murder has never been a goal for security authorities and we always work to arrest suspects and to put them on trial. There have been some exceptional cases in which we were forced to deal violently with criminals, as some do not surrender and are not content with killing themselves, but rather seek to kill others too. In many cases, we came under fire from the terrorists.
I would like to add that our forces are armed only with light weapons, and that security forces only carry machine guns and this had put us in a difficult situation during the first the clashes especially during the Al Fihaa operation in which security forces were faced with grenades and RPG missiles. This had actually led to the deaths of a number of security officers, and we were forced to resort to additional precautions. The use of developed weapons takes place only within severe restrictions and by specialized security forces.
Q) What about those who had practically participated in bombings, do you seek to capture them alive?
A) I have to clarify that we are an executive authority and not a judicial one. If we believe that anyone is involved in terrorist activities, we have no authority to judge them. Our basic role is to arrest suspects. We make the most out of the information that we attain from suspects during interrogation and this helps us to arrest a number of other suspects and criminals. Arresting wanted criminals alive is our main duty; unfortunately some of these wanted criminals force us to fire at them, as they become aggressive causing death or injuries to either security forces or themselves.
Q) People say that the identities of scholars arrested for spreading the extremist ideology have been obscured. How do you respond to this claim?
A) Being a suspect does not necessarily mean that the suspect is a criminal. Therefore, legal and human rights are preserved and names of suspects are not announced until that suspect has been taken to court and proved guilty.
Q) So, one of the reasons for hiding their identities, is the fear of the public’s reaction.
A) We live in tight knit society and secrets are not kept especially when it comes to arrest. Those who know the person will know that they have been arrested. On the other hand, announcing the names of those who have been arrested in our conservative society would not only harm the person himself but also his family and acquaintances. This is why we respect all the social aspects and are patient with issuing any judicial sentence.
Q) Are there any links between the terrorist cell that was arrested in Morocco and terrorist groups in Saudi Arabia, which declared that it would revive their terrorist activities here in the kingdom?
A) There are links between terrorist groups all over the world. These groups, which share the same ideology and training, remain loyal to one another even when they return to their home countries and follow up on each other’s activities. This is why it is no surprise to hear that a Saudi terrorist cell is involved in terrorist activities abroad or that terrorists are familiar with one another.
Q) Do you believe that there are terrorist movements independent of Al Qaeda but allied to this movement?
A) The spread of extremist ideologies and its realization in terrorist activities began in Afghanistan where terrorists engaged in training and planning. Extremists in Afghanistan interpreted their ideologies through terrorist activities, and the spread of extremist ideologies is not confined to the Al Qaeda movement or Afghanistan.
Q) Do internal groups receive instruction from the leaders of Al Qaeda?
A) They do not need instructions to operate. Their targets are simple and clear. They receive their training, which is based on the selection of targets to be destroyed. This process is quite straightforward, for as long as these criminals adopt an extremist ideology and are well prepared for the implications of their line of thought, terrorist attacks will be carried out.
Q) Is one of the obstacles of allowing women to drive in Saudi Arabic concerned with security on the road?
A) I do not believe that there are any security reservations on the matter of women driving. The Ministry of Interior is an executive authority and the issue of women driving is one of the concerns of the legislative authority. In addition, society needs to accept it and prepare for such a practice. The Ministry of Interior prohibits and permits certain issues according to the law.
Q) In light of the fact that there are a number of wanted non-Saudi criminals, do you believe that areas, in which foreign communities reside, such as Al Batha in Riyadh and Ghalil in Jeddah, represent a challenge for security authorities and may be difficult to survey?
A) Absolutely not. Security authorities do not have any difficulties in following up security matters and I must highlight that members from various spectrums of society cooperate with us. This is in addition to the fact that foreign citizens involved in terrorist activities are very few in comparison to the number of Saudi citizens.
Q) Do you believe that non-governmental associations have played an effective and satisfactory role in this field?
A) Private security associations are crucial in supporting us. Despite their roles being limited to within private facilities, their roles should be developed to assist official security authorities.
Q) Military ranks for women in Saudi Arabia are limited to staff sergeant. Do you not believe that there is a necessity to allow women to become officers?
A) This is mainly concerned with the nature of the task that women undertake. Women’s incorporation in security, which had been confined to men, could be attributed to the increasing need of incorporating women in this field and this need has emerged as female involvement in criminal activities has increased. Women have a pivotal role in security, nonetheless and for the time being, women are carrying out the role that is required of them, which in itself is ever changing. If there is any development of her role in security affairs then this will be reflected through her responsibilities and her rank.
Q) Do you personally support the development of the role of women in this field?
A) There is a strong need for expanding the role of women in the field of security, as men cannot be responsible for all aspects of security. In addition, there are certain instances that require the assistance of women, such as when interrogating female suspects.
Q) What about 990 that has been set up to receive calls regarding security issues. Have citizens actively responded to this service?
A) What I would like to state is that we would never allow such a service to be exploited to harm others without investigating information that has been given. People who offer their information must be proved impartial as regards to the information they provide. Information presented is not considered correct, unless they are investigated and proved so.
Q) The media has questioned why a certain local satellite channel was permitted to film where raids have taken place whilst other visual and written media organizations were refused. What are the reasons behind this?
A) There is no distinction between the various forms of media. Filming at these sites is done by security authorities, which in turn provides the local channels with material. Nevertheless, the variation between timings of news bulletins of different channels may allow some channels to enjoy exclusivity of news over others. I must note that the experience of media concerning security issues is quite new. In addition, the experience of security officers with the media has caused many restrictions and dilemmas. This experience is still new and the matter is being discussed by the media and security.
Q) What about the written media?
A) The dilemma lies in the variety of participants covering these events, with many journalists and photographers. There is currently coordination between the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Culture and Information to set some regulations for the organization of media covering security incidents. We seek to make the most out of previous experiences to set the basis and regulations for organization. We only need time to reach the required level.
Q) It has been noticed that there has been a change in your enthusiasm in dealing with the media. What would you say to this?
A) I am not against dealing with media. However, I have had a bad experience with the media whereby statements that I did not give have been falsely attributed to me. Also, many statements were incorrectly issued in my name and it is for this reason that I had resorted to writing statements concerning any incident.
Q) How have you benefited from your position as official spokesman for the Ministry of Interior?
A) This post gave me experience in how to deal with the media, which involves much caution.
Q) Considering the responsibilities of your job, do you fear for the safety of your family? Have you received any threats especially considering that the public have direct contact number for you?
A) If I am threatened, then so are all security officers. We are trained not to fear anybody but God. I believe in fate regardless of anything else. Despite that a large number of security officers were martyred, this has not stopped us from confronting criminals.
Q) Do you fear for the safety of your children?
A) We seek to maintain security in Saudi Arabia. I trust our security authorities and the levels of security in Saudi Arabia and our capacity to preserve the protection of society. In the end, we trust in God.