Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat – Smuggling operations in Saudi Arabia have drastically changed in the last three years with border patrols seizing an unprecedented amount of weapons, explosives and drugs.
According to security sources, drug dealing, terrorism and money laundering are closely related as aborted smuggling operations in the Kingdom have revealed.
Terrorism, sources point out, requires financing. International measures adopted to curb the access of terrorists to funds mean they can no longer rely on mainstream financial institutions such as banks and charity organizations. Instead, they resort to smuggling money, sometimes in partnership with criminal networks to protect themselves from security crackdowns. In many cases, terrorist networks provide drugs in exchange for money, arms, ammunitions, and logistical support which criminal gangs are renowned for, such as forging documents, transporting illicit substances, and hiding them.
Previous studies have suggested that the drug trade in particular flourished in areas controlled by armed groups and in regions where military conflicts are raging. The significant profit obtained from trafficking drugs enables these armed groups to continue their activities. In turn, terrorists benefit from these procedures, especially in sparsely populated areas, regions beyond the government’s reach, and in conflict zones.
Faced with increasingly successful security operations, terrorists have had to change tactics. As communication between networks became increasingly difficult, members were caught or killed by the security forces that also disrupted their plans.
Last Thursday, a Saudi border patrol seized a large number of homemade explosives made of iron and construction materials which terrorists are known to manufacture using instructions found on militant internet sites. Raw materials are no longer smuggled into the Kingdom and then assembled by expert bomb makers as the government has increased its control of incoming goods at the borders and caught many smuggling arms and explosives. In addition, companies involved in the buying, selling, or manufacturing of bomb materials were ordered to provide details on its clients and the purposes of the transactions. A number of terrorist experts in explosives were killed in clashes with the security forces further denting the abilities of terrorist groups to carry out attacks inside Saudi Arabia.
The latest confiscations have revealed an extensive network for making and smuggling explosives whereby a number of Islamic militant groups in neighboring countries prepare the bombs and groups in the Kingdom transport and store them in preparation for terrorist attacks.
According to informed sources, recent security operations have uncovered a number of hideouts leading to a dwindling supply of explosives in the hands of militants who now suffer from a lack of high-grade material.
In the first terrorist bombings, which targeted housing compounds in May 2003 and November 2003, C4 explosives were used. This material was widely available in Eastern European countries after the fall of communism. Organized criminal gangs bought large amounts of C4 and weapons and later exchanged them for drugs. In a paper presented to an international conference against terrorism held in Riyadh in February 2005, the Ministry of Interior indicated that smuggling was concentrated in the southern regions of Asir, Jizan, and Najran.
Illicit border activities are rife because of the vastness of Saudi Arabia and the varied landscape. The Kingdom shares a land border covering 4500 km with seven countries and a sea border with ten countries. The kingdom’s historical role as a link between different regions also makes it suitable grounds for smuggling. Statistics released by the Ministry show that an incredible 14.8 million ammunition pieces, 16.3 thousand arms and 1282 kg of explosives were seized between 2000 and 2004, mostly in the south.
In order to neutralize the danger posed by terrorists, the Kingdom enlarged relevant departments and created 40 teams comprising experts in explosives. Specialized bodies were established to respond to terrorism and coordinate with friendly countries and defend its territory.