Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- The Saudi Interior Ministry said yesterday that it has security concerns with regards to the possibility that al-Qaeda is using glider aircraft to carry out potential terrorist operations against vital facilities [inside Saudi Arabia], or using them to transport recruits across secured borders and security fences, which had previously rendered land infiltrations “impossible”.
These concerns were formed against the backdrop of the Saudi border guards recently dealing with an attempt to smuggle a shipment of drugs across the border with Iraq. The criminals used a glider, flying at low altitude at dawn yesterday, which was able to bypass the security fence by flying over it. However, the border guards tracked it and dealt with it in a timely manner, in a security operation resulting in the arrest of the pilot and 9 others who were awaiting the shipment inside Saudi Arabia. During the operation, fire was exchanged but there were no deaths or injuries.
The border between Saudi Arabia and Iraq has been secured by a security fence, erected by the Saudi authorities10 kilometers within its borders, consisting of 3 separate security barriers and reaching a height of around 3 meters. Commenting on the recent incident, Major General Mansour al-Turki, security spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said that the Ministry was concerned with issues far bigger than an attempt to smuggle drugs on board a glider, despite the serious nature of the matter.
In a press conference held in the Saudi capital Riyadh yesterday, al-Turki confirmed that there are serious concerns over the possibility that al-Qaeda is using gliders to carry out terrorist attacks against oil facilities or vital interests inside the country, or to smuggle new recruits using these aircraft over secured borders.
Saudi Arabia has embarked upon a huge project to secure its land and maritime borders, starting with its border with Iraq, through the construction of a security fence spanning more than 800 kilometers, expected to be completed at the end of 2012. According to what al-Turki reported yesterday, the fence has contributed to almost completely eradicating incidents of smuggling, or cross-border infiltration.
This is the first time that Saudi Arabia has recorded an incident whereby a glider has been used in the process of smuggling across the border.
On more than one occasion, the security spokesman for the Ministry of Interior warned of the consequences of flying gliders as they are a breach of security and public safety, stressing that the security services would firmly deal with any threats of this manner.
The Interior spokesman said that the security apparatus had previously monitored a number of cases in which glider pilots flew at low altitude. However, in reply to a question posed by Asharq al-Awsat about whether those cases unearthed terrorist intentions, al-Turki said that this was not true, as the monitored cases simply involved a small number of amateur pilots.
However, at the same time, Major General al-Turki did not belittle the concern caused by the flight of any aircraft at low altitude within cities, which he stated was a major threat to security and public safety, and that the security apparatus will not stand by idly with regards to threats that the use of gliders may bring.
The Saudi Interior Ministry announced yesterday that it had thwarted an attempt to smuggle a shipment of drugs over the border with Iraq, through the use of a single-engine, two-seater glider. In answer to a question posed by Asharq al-Awsat, asking whether the Iraqi border authorities bear responsibility for this incident, al-Turki rejected this assertion, preferring to wait for the results of the investigation into the incident.