Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- General Mansour Al-Turki, the security spokesman for the Saudi Ministry of the Interior revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that a number of those included on the most wanted list of 85 suspected of having links to Al Qaeda were not under any security surveillance prior to their flight from Saudi Arabian territory. General Al Turki ascribed the success of the 85 suspects fleeing Saudi soil to the length of the Saudi Arabian border, and their own ingenuity.
Some pictures and information related to those included on the list of 85 most wanted have yet to be released by the Saudi Ministry of the Interior. Information obtained by Asharq Al-Awsat also clarifies that a number of Al Qaeda members included on this list concealed their identity by changing their outward appearance, for example by shaving off beards and moustaches. This is a practice of disguise that Al Qaeda members used in order to feely move around Saudi territory, and which has been used by perpetrators of terrorist incidents since the 9/11 bombings.
This has been confirmed by pictures of Saleh Al Qarawi [suspect no 34] obtained by Asharq Al-Awsat. In the first picture Al Qarawi is seen in a normal appearance, and has no outward manifestation with religious extremism, while in the last two pictures we recognize the characteristics common to members of Al Qaeda.
General Al Turki highlighted that the most prominent methods of disguise used by the Al Qaeda organization is either; disguising oneself in women’s clothing such as the Abaya in order not to be stopped in the street or searched, or via making external changes to appearance such as shaving off beards and moustaches and wearing western clothing. Saudi Arabia has begun to combat this phenomenon of fugitives disguising themselves in woman’s clothing by appointing female inspectors at airports.
General Al Turki revealed that the Saudi authorities were attempting to obtain the most recent pictures of those it was seeking. He added that in cases were it was not possible to obtain recent photographs reflecting the true ages of those included on the Saudi most wanted list, the security services were using the latest electronic technology in order to produce facsimiles of them.
The list of 85 suspects sought by Saudi authorities for having links to Al Qaeda fled Saudi territory in disguise to take refuge in a number of neighboring Islamic and Arab countries in disguise. These countries include Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran, who have absorbed some of those on this list over a varying period of time. With regards the nature and number of the false documents used by them to infiltrate foreign countries, Al Turki said that perhaps this indicates the beginning of a new war of “disguise and masquerade” between the armed groups and the security services.
Prior to his capture in March 2003, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the third most prominent member of Al Qaeda, was extremely skilled in concealing his identity, possessing numerous passports, and reportedly being known by at least fifty aliases.
Ahmed Rashid, an Al Qaeda expert in Pakistan revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that Khalid Sheik Mohamed was able to freely move from one region to another as he was in possession of a number of different identities. Rashid added that Mohammed’s external appearance in his identities would also vary, for example in one identity you would see him in a beard, and in others without, or he would appear in one identity with a completely shaved head, or having used cosmetic tools to change the color of his skin, and so on.
Disguising oneself in women’s clothing such as the Burka or the Abaya remains one of the most successful ways that Al Qaeda cells freely move around in Islamic countries. For example in 2005 Saudi authorities raided an Al Qaeda cell in Al-Ras [180 miles North-west of Riyadh], killing14 Al Qaeda insurgents including Abdel Karim Al Tuhami Al Majati,, while 6 others managed to escape the scene for Al Ras center where they disguised themselves in women’s clothing.
This practice of disguising oneself as a woman is not only used by Al Qaeda members and fugitives from the law; this has also been successfully used by official security services as part of undercover operations. For example, a group of Pakistani commandos disguised themselves as women by dressing in burkas in May 2005 in order to arrest Al Qaeda leader Abu Faraj Al Libbi.