Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat-Foreign nationals currently occupy leadership positions in Al Qaeda as well as financing, training, and recruitment in Saudi Arabia. This comes following the news that Saudi authorities have dismantled a 101 Al Qaeda elements operating in Saudi Arabia, the majority of which are foreign nationals. The Al Qaeda cell was planning on attacking the kingdom’s oil facilities.
According to the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Interior, security authorities arrested 47 Saudi nationals, 51 Yemenis, a Somali, an Eritrean, and a Bangladeshi, with links to Al Qaeda. It is believed the group was planning to “target national facilities and security personnel.” The Saudi Ministry of Interior also announced that security authorities had also arrested two other independent terrorist cells with direct ties to Al Qaeda in Yemen. The Ministry of Interior report revealed that each cell was comprised of six members, and that these were eleven Saudi nationals and one Yemeni, and that they were arrested in the “initial stages of preparing an attack on oil and security facilities in the Eastern Region.”
The participation of foreign nationals in Al Qaeda operations is nothing new, but this is something that has been on the increase in the recent period for a number of reasons, such as the difficulty Al Qaeda is facing in recruiting Saudi nationals due to an increase of awareness in Saudi society, which is something that has forced Al Qaeda to significantly rely on “foreign” elements.
Security spokesman for the Saudi Ministry of Interior, Major General Mansour al-Turki told Asharq Al-Awsat via telephone that Al Qaeda represents a threat from abroad to Saudi Arabia, and therefore it is certain that the terrorist organization is relying upon foreign elements in order to implement its objectives.
He added “The Al Qaeda organization is currently facing many difficulties in recruiting Saudi Arabians following the increase in the level of awareness [of Saudi society] and the exposure of the ideology and actions of the deviant [Al Qaeda] group, causing the organization to resort to [recruiting] non-Saudi elements.”
Major General al-Turki also pointed out that Saudi Arabia is being targeted from abroad, and this is why the Al Qaeda organization is utilizing these foreign nationals to achieve their objectives and for recruitment purposes. He also stressed that the presence of foreign nationals in Al Qaeda has increased due to their failure to recruit the Saudi youth.
Major General al-Turki told Asharq Al-Awsat “The foreign nationals play different roles in Al Qaeda, and each plays a role that suits him, and the majority of terrorist cells in Saudi Arabia are under the direct management of foreign leadership, and this is with regards to persuading Saudi Arabians to become suicide bombers, or to utilize them for shelter, financing, fund-raising, and in order to serve the purposes and objectives of the Al Qaeda organization.”
As for the foreign countries that have the highest number of elements in Al Qaeda, the Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman told Asharq Al-Awsat that it is difficult to identify this information, saying that the Al Qaeda organization does not target any particular nationality for recruitment but rather seeks individuals who are concerned with Muslim issues, and draws them in through this.
Major General Mansour al-Turki added “this deception and persuasion that Al Qaeda’s actions are in the interests of the Islamic Shariaa has been uncovered in Saudi Arabia, and this is what has enabled Saudi Arabian society to protect itself from this ideology.”
For his part, retired Major General Yahya al-Zaidi, a Saudi Arabian expert in security, told Asharq Al-Awsat that Al Qaeda is open to all, and that foreign nationals will continue to join this organization so long as Al Qaeda is able to provide them with training and support in the areas that they are recruited from.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, al-Zaidi said that “following the events in southern Saudi Arabia and the Huthi war, Al Qaeda’s centralization in Yemen has become clear, and Al Qaeda elements include Yemenis, Somalis, and other foreign nationals.” He also said that the goal of this diverse recruitment was to create confusion and instability in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi security expert also revealed that the uncovering of the terrorist network yesterday included arresting foreign elements within Saudi Arabia, and that “this issue requires attention and care from all [security] apparatus and citizens.”
Al-Zaidi also told Asharq Al-Awsat “Saudi Arabia has managed to be like a counter-terrorist school, especially as many other Arab countries have begun to implement Saudi Arabian programs and plans in the fight against terrorism.” Al-Zaidi also stressed that the foreign nationals involved with Al Qaeda received their training outside of Saudi Arabia. .
The retired Major-General attributed the rising number of foreign nationals in Al Qaeda to the organization’s inability to find a place in Saudi Arabia, which has caused it to establish centers in other countries and recruit foreign elements.
Al-Zaidi told Asharq Al-Awsat “The number of non-Saudi Arabians involved in terrorist activities in Saudi Arabia is on the increase following the events of the Huthi war, not to mention that Al Qaeda is preparing to enter Saudi Arabia either through the border areas or by infiltrating using forged passports and aliases or even entering using Umrah and Hajj visas under the guise of religion.”
Saudi Interior Ministry security spokesman, Major General Mansour al-Turki told Asharq Al-Awsat that in the beginning Al Qaeda relied upon Saudi nationals, and that during this time some foreign nationals had leadership roles in the organization, but this was extremely limited in comparison to Saudi nationals.
Al-Turki said that “with the failure of the terrorist cells and the uncovering of their intentions and their misguided ideology, as well as the [increased] awareness that society has reached with regards to this, it has become difficult for them to easily recruit Saudi youth, which has forced them to recruit Muslims of other nationalities.”
He added “the increase in the number of foreign nationals working on plans that target the Saudi state coincided with the success of the state security authorities to thwart these plans and begin to confront the difficulties of the misled youth through awareness campaigns carried out by the Ministry of Interior and other relevant authorities in order to expose this ideology and its misguidance.”