Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat-Saudi Interior Minister Prince Naif speaks with Asharq Al-Awsat about the dynamics of the terrorist threat to Saudi Arabia. The Minister elaborates on the implications of the arrest of 701 suspected Al-Qaeda terrorists in Saudi in the past weeks, 181 of whom were recently freed due to lack of evidence. The Ministry of Interior issued a statement citing that the arrests included individuals who had planned to attack a Saudi oil installation. Saudi security forces uncovered and foiled the plans. Prince Naif also discusses the role of international forces in combating terrorism, and the global consequences of national terrorism. Additionally, he highlights the difficulties the Saudi state faces in maintaining tight security during the principal Islamic pilgrimages, the Hajj and Umrah, which bring floods of foreign visitors to the Kingdom twice annually.
Interview with Saudi Interior Minister Prince Naif on Latest Terrorist Arrests
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Saudi security force’s feat last week has two distinct implications. First, it highlights the force’s capability of uncovering Al-Qaeda plots and terrorists. On the other hand, the arrests expose the organization’s maintained stronghold in the country. What is your view on these implications?
[Prince Naif] That is correct. I have said in the past that if any information is made available to us we will announce it at the time, and we have announced the details of all the information we have. However, we are certain that their [the terrorists’] deeds continue to harbor evil and we should continue to confront them. Therefore, I wish to say very clearly and frankly that unless all the countries in the world act to dry up and end the sources in their countries, terrorism will continue to exist in any country. Of course, the Kingdom is one of the primary countries that are targeted. This shows that they [the terrorists] are against Islam and against stability. No one should be deceived that they talk like Muslims. Describing these people, God’s messenger, may God’s prayers and peace be upon him, said, “There will be peoples that offend your prayer when they pray and your fast when they fast. They will pass through [renounce] Islam the way an arrow passes through its target.” Without consolidated international action to end sources of terrorism, it will continue to target all of us. At any rate, we rely on God Almighty first and on our own capabilities second. God willing, the successes we have achieved, God be praised, will be followed by more successes. We will crush all those that threaten the security of the Kingdom. Therefore, I urge everyone, especially Saudi citizens, to have positive stands by cooperating with the security organs. No one should be deceived by these [the terrorists’] calls, which have absolutely nothing to do with Islam. In fact, such calls are against Islam and distort our true faith.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you saying that international cooperation thus far has been insufficient to repulse terrorist plots targeting Saudi Arabia?
[Prince Naif] In fact, there was cooperation in terms of exchange of information. But, unfortunately, international action or inclination to dry up and end the sources of terrorism does not exist so far.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Of the five terrorist cells that were dismantled and announced that last week, what percentage of the detainees were Saudi nationals?
[Prince Naif] Unfortunately, the percentage of Saudis was high; it was about 90 percent.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How advanced were the terrorist schemes of the detainees?
[Prince Naif] Praise be to God, we had them under surveillance. We did not allow them to reach stages that would threaten the installations. But we do not rule out the possibility that they may have alternative plans. We anticipate anything and we take into account all plans whether big or small.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Saudi Interior Ministry’s statement announced that the security organs acted in response to security developments generated by regional and international conditions since the start of the current Hijri year . Does this mean that Saudi Arabia was targeted with attacks planned outside the Kingdom?
[Prince Naif] No doubt, the turmoil in some Arab countries, especially in Iraq, has increased terrorist planning and brought it closer to Saudi Arabia. No doubt, these [terrorists] are crossing through Arab countries. These countries may not know this and therefore efforts are being exerted to open channels of cooperation. But this cooperation exists on various levels. There is good cooperation, somewhat acceptable cooperation, and non-existent cooperation. What we should keep in mind now is that the Kingdom is the primary target of these terrorist actions. They will do all they can to recruit other nationals to enter the Kingdom and they will exploit the lesser pilgrimage [Umrah] and the greater pilgrimage [Hajj] seasons. However, we are resolved not to be lax in our efforts. It requires strong cooperation among the various concerned institutions.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How will the state provide services and facilities for the pilgrimages and simultaneously enforce tight security measures?
[Prince Naif] We are faced with a reality. First, we cannot and do not wish to prevent any Muslim from performing the greater pilgrimage or the lesser pilgrimage. But we do not know what is hidden in the hearts [of individuals] and we take that into consideration. We will facilitate the entry of Muslims; but, at the same time, we will exert intensive efforts toward follow-ups and surveillance in order to expose any evil intentions before they materialize. This also took place during pilgrimage seasons in the past and we succeeded in overcoming difficulties. We always pray to God for success and for doing the righteous thing. We take everything into consideration. After relying first on God, we rely on our own capabilities and we thank everyone that provides us with information.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you saying that some countries provided Saudi Arabia with information that led to the discovery of terrorist elements?
[Prince Naif] Yes; no doubt, we appreciate the information -we receive from countries regardless of whether they are Arab or Islamic countries or international countries. No matter how limited, this information may tell us something or it may often not tell us anything new.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Interior Ministry’s statement made it clear that the terrorist schemes that were uncovered were compiled outside Saudi territory. Does this mean that the faction within the Kingdom has lost its leadership?
[Prince Naif] It may have lost its leaders inside the country through arrests or ending the active elements. Unfortunately, however, it finds those that respond to it or cooperate with it or those that lure some youths to work in this evil field.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Al-Qaeda continues to target oil installations. The recent statement confirmed that all the uncovered schemes targeted economic and oil resources. What are the security plans to protect these installations?
[Prince Naif] They [the terrorists] target anything that may harm the economy and security of the Kingdom. There is no doubt that oil installations are their first target and the most dangerous for us. That is why we have attached great importance and attention to this matter by intensifying our resources to safeguard the security of these installations, to obtain information, and to follow-up on anything that may show us any kind of activity. We say God is with us. We also rely on our security capabilities and on the support we receive from my lord the custodian of the two holy shrines, my lord the crown prince, and upon their gracious instructions as well as on the cooperation of the Saudi people with us.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Finally, are the terrorist threats targeting Saudi Arabia planned by individuals, organizations or states?
[Prince Naif] No doubt, they are planned by organizations. We have no evidence to show that they are planned by states and it may be unlikely. We depend on nothing but facts.