Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat- With the issuance of lists of individuals wanted for having links to terrorism by the Saudi Interior Ministry, it becomes clearer and clearer that Jihadist and Takfiri ideology has infiltrated the minds of the youth, indeed infiltrating the minds of men of various ages, backgrounds, and social class. The surprise that came with the most recent list of 85 came with regards the 50th name on the list; the journalist Obaida Abdul-Rahman Al Otaibi.
This is a strange story of the transformation of a journalist –who holds a Media degree from the prestigious Imam Mohamed Bin Saud University- into a subject of journalism.
This story is another example of those involved in different fields becoming directly or indirectly involved in terrorism. Like the story of the Al-Majd television reporter who was involved in the Al-Mohaya bombings, or the footballer Marhoum Al Marhoum who was captured while attempting to enter Iraq in order to join up with Al Qaeda.
Abdul-Elahi Al Qasim, a member of the editorial department of the Saudi Al-Jazirah newspaper informed Asharq Al-Awsat that Obaida Abdul-Rahman Al-Otaibi had started working for the newspaper while he was still a student in the media department of the Imam Mohamed Bin Saud University in 1999/2000. Following his graduation from university, Al-Otaibi was promoted into an editorial position.
Al Qasim went on to say that “After he was promoted he worked with us at the newspaper for no more than a period of 9 months, after which he resigned in order to join the Water Administration. He stayed in contact with colleagues for almost a year after his resignation by sending news [of himself] now and again”
Al Qasim, who is a senior journalist in the Saudi Al-Jazirah newspaper, added that most of the issues that Al Otaibi pursued in his writing centered on the local community, and the social conditions in which they lived. In addition Al Otaibi also wrote a series of articles entitled “The Prohibited” under his full name which is included in the Ministry of Interior’s most wanted list
Al Qasim does not hide his surprise at the sudden transformation that occurred to Obaida Al-Otaibi, saying that he was a calm and polite individual. It is for this reason Al Qasim believes that Al Otaibi will be among the first of those on the list to hand themselves in to the authorities.
He said “in terms of professionalism and news-reporting he was an ordinary journalist, but he had good writing ability. He was also one of the first journalists to add his email address to his articles at a time when the Saudi Arabians were new to the internet.”
Al Qasim reiterated “As I said, he was focused on social and local topics, and neither he nor his writing had anything to do with extremist ideology. There were also no black marks with regards to his personal discipline at work.”
Al-Otaibi has ties to Eisa Al-Awsham, a former Al Qaeda commander in Saudi Arabia who was killed during a confrontation with security forces on 19 July 2004. However Al Qasim explains this relationship saying that both Al-Otaibi and Al-Awsham were classmates at the Al Shifa Religious Academy during the intermediate and secondary school levels.
The Saudi Ministry of the Interior statement revealed that Obaida Abdul-Rahman Al-Otaibi had left Saudi Arabia for the UAE in 2005, but that there was no information with regards to his current whereabouts. It also confirmed his association with the Al Qaeda organization both within Saudi Arabia and abroad, as well as accusing him of planning to target vital infrastructure within Saudi Arabia.