Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat – The Special Criminal Court in Jeddah, which is currently trying the case of 16 individuals accused of forming a “clandestine group” which – in coordination with Al Qaeda – allegedly sought to topple the Saudi government, yesterday reviewed a video of the alleged leader of the group expressing his support for jihadist ideology and militants in Iraq. The Special Criminal Court specializes in dealing with terrorism and national security cases, and is currently reviewing the case of 16 defendants who are facing a total of 75 charges, most seriously charges of attempting to topple the government, in addition to accusations of links to the Al Qaeda terrorist organization and a foreign intelligence agency.
A video of the alleged leader of the “clandestine group” was submitted into evidence on Tuesday, the 26th day of the trial. This video showed the alleged leader, wearing traditional Saudi Arabian dress, calling for “peaceful [political] change” and “noble struggle” by returning to jihadist ideology.
Defendant No. 1 in this case, the alleged leader of the “clandestine group” is a well-known academic, and the Saudi General Prosecution has leveled a number of serious charges against him. According to information obtained by Asharq Al-Awsat, Defendant No. 1 is accused of advocating and inciting Saudi Arabian youth to travel to fight abroad, coordinating with foreign intelligence agencies, illegally taking part in foreign conflicts, following and promoting Al Qaeda ideology, being a member of Al Qaeda, communicating and coordinating with Al Qaeda [in the Arabian Peninsula] leader Abdulaziz al-Muqrin, coordinating with AQI, funding terrorism and terrorist activities, aiding and abetting Al Qaeda members, establishing a charitable group to illegally fund terrorism, and most seriously of all, establishing a clandestine organization with the aim of seizing power, amongst other charges.
The video saw this well-known academic describe the “regime’s media” and “falsely religious [people]” as the major obstacle in achieving what he described as the “process of reform” in Saudi Arabia. As for the “reformists” in Saudi Arabia, he described them as being nothing more than foils attempting to turn the true reformists aside from their path, despite “all the shedding of our blood and the muzzling of our voices.”
The trial of the “clandestine group” took a new turn with the reviewing of this video, which is entitled “this is my story”, and which according to information available at the present time was seized when members of the group were arrested. Other information indicates that the tape was recorded before the 16 defendants were arrested, and that Defendant No. 1 had arranged for this tape to be smuggled out of the country due to its incriminating nature.
In the same hearing, on the 26th day of the trial, the alleged emir of the “clandestine group” was confronted with a range of evidence put to him by the Saudi General Prosecution, including the “this is my story” video, and confessions made by some of the other 16 defendants in this case.
The alleged leader of the “clandestine group” denied the charges against him, claiming that these were invented by the Saudi General Prosecution and based upon conjecture and guess-work. He also claimed that the Saudi investigators had added “distortion and fabrication” to his statement, and that these statements were taken under duress.
However Defendant No.1 did acknowledge some of the lesser charges that he is accused of, although he completely denied some of the more serious charges, including the accusations that he sought to spread deviant ideology in Saudi Arabia, was a member or follower of Al Qaeda ideology, and made calls to incite strife within Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi General Prosecution also accused the defendant of distributing publications affiliated to the “Jaish al-Islam” [Army of Islam terrorist group in Gaza]. However Defendant No.1 denied this, saying he did not distribute any such publications to the public, but rather that he handed this material over to the authorities.
As for Defendant No. 15, he also appeared in court, during which he testified that Defendant No. 1 – the leader of the “clandestine group” – had ties with armed groups in Iraq, and had hosted Iraqi fighters in Saudi Arabia, and collected donations to finance terrorism.
Defendant No. 1 also admitted to traveling to Iraq on 4 separate occasions to provide aid to the people of Iraq, however the Saudi General Prosecution claim that these visits were conducted for the purposes of funding armed groups in Iraq.
The defendant also denied funding terrorism, stressing that he had collected funds and charity donations for the people of Iraq and Palestine, and that this aid was transferred to legitimate authorities in countries, including the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq. He also admitted to being in contact with legitimate Iraqi religious leaders like [former president of the governing council of Iraq] Mohsen Abdul Hamid, [spokesman for the Muslim Clerics Association in Iraq] Mohammed Bashar al-Fidi, [head of Public Relations of the Iraqi Muslim Elites Delegation] Abdul Salam al-Kabisi, and others.
Defendant No.1 also called on the Specialist Criminal Court to provide him with an attorney to advise him on his legal rights, with the court acquiescing to this demand.
Last year, Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest exporter of oil, arrested some 113 suspected militants with ties to Al Qaeda, who were allegedly planning to attack oil facilities. Riyadh has strongly sought to combat terrorism since the 12 May, 2003 Riyadh Compound bombings, which shocked the country. Saudi Arabia instituted the “Munasaha” rehabilitation program to counter Al Qaeda ideology, in addition to launching a strong security campaign against Al Qaeda elements in the country. Saudi Arabia’s anti-terrorist campaign was successful, with most observers agreeing that Al Qaeda has largely been eradicated from the country, with Al Qaeda and other Islamist extremist elements fleeing the country and setting up base in Yemen and elsewhere.