Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat – Saudi sources have informed Asharq Al-Awsat that subversive terrorists are seeking to establish a third Al Qaeda branch in the Arabian Peninsula by promoting the jihadist ideology at home. This comes after Saudi authorities arrested a group of suspected Al Qaeda-linked militants in Riyadh. Security forces arrested six members of an Al Qaeda cell, confirming that they were connected to “suspected elements” inside and outside of the kingdom.
Asharq Al-Awsat obtained a copy of a web-chat conducted by the Al-Sakinah [Tranquility] Campaign, which is supported by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Islamic Affairs. The Al-Sakinah Campaign is an independent, non-governmental counter-radicalization and demobilization campaign. It utilizes Islamic scholars to interact online with individuals looking for religious knowledge, with the objective of steering them away from extremism and radicalism. Asharq Al-Awsat obtained a copy of a web-chat between an Al-Sakinah Campaign religious scholar and an online jihadist campaigner who utilized the username “al-Katibah” [the battalion]. At a glance, the web-chat reveals that those trying to establish this new Al Qaeda branch have a weak understanding of Islamic Sharia law and scholarship, and that the group is comprised of non-Saudi elements who are seeking to destabilize Saudi Arabian national security, rather than calling for jihad in Iraq or Syria. Al-Katibah also utilized obscene expressions during the web-chat with the Al-Sakinah Campaign Islamic scholar, whilst also demonstrating a strong commitment to the jihadist ideology, without demonstrating any legitimate Islamic jurisprudential grounds for this. When challenged over his commitment to jihad, al-Katibah said he would obtain fatwas from religious scholars to justify his views.
Another source informed Asharq Al-Awsat that elements from several countries have tried to infiltrate Saudi Arabia to promote the jihadist ideology. The source added that the majority of these jihadist proponents are Yemenis, and they enjoy strong support from Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, particularly as the Al Qaeda branch there was the first to declare its allegiance to him following the death of Osama Bin Laden. The source stressed that the Yemeni Al Qaeda branch has a strong desire to weaken Saudi security and stability.
For his part, director of the Al-Sakinah Campaign, Abdul Monem al-Mashouh, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the project has been able to conduct a number of important web-chats and internet posts in the 4 months leading up to Ramadan thanks to monitoring and follow-up.
Meanwhile, another source informed Asharq Al-Awsat that one of the figures whose arrest was announced by the Saudi Interior Ministry on Sunday had taken part in the Al-Sakinah Campaign. According to observers, the participation of pro-jihadist elements in online web-chats as part of the Al-Sakinah Campaign decreased significantly following the recent arrests.
The Al-Sakinah Campaign director added that pro-jihadist campaigners were increasingly participating in the campaign via social networking media such as twitter, confirming escalating attempts to target and radicalize Saudi nationals.
He also confirmed the importance of the continuation of the Al-Sakinah Campaign to promote a moderate Islamic ideology and counteract violent jihadist views. Al-Mashouh added that it was important to have a forum that involved all factions under one umbrella to promote ideological confrontation.
The Interior Ministry issued a statement on Sunday revealing that the Saudi authorities had arrested a group of suspected Al Qaeda-linked militants in Riyadh.
The Interior Ministry revealed that “after intense surveillance of the cell it was revealed that they have reached an advanced stage in their plan to implement their goals, which include preparing and setting explosives and testing them outside of Riyadh.”
The latest arrests and investigation also revealed a connection with a militant cell in Jeddah, leading to the arrest of one of its members, a Saudi national, who is accused of preparing chemicals to be used in explosive devices.