In recent months, he has been the world’s second most active terrorist, his roll call of atrocities eclipsed only by that of the ubiquitous Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi.
But yesterday, Abdulaziz Al-Muqrin, Al-Qaeda’s chief of operations for the Arabian Peninsula, upped the ante considerably in his jihad against the West.
A masked man identifying himself as Al-Muqrin spoke on a videotape released on several Islamist websites that shows Lockheed Martin employee and New Jersey native Paul Johnson, who was kidnapped in Riyadh on Saturday. In his statement, Al-Muqrin demanded that Saudi Arabia free all al Qaeda prisoners and that Westerners leave the Arabian Peninsula within 72 hours. If not, he said, Johnson will be killed.
Al-Muqrin, also known as “Abu Hajar,” seems hell-bent on upholding his recent pledge to make this summer “bloody and miserable for infidels.”
Just last week, he vowed through an Islamist website that Al-Qaeda would target Western airlines, military bases and residential compounds in “the near future.” And on May 29, he claimed responsibility for a chaotic assault on Western oil facilities in the Saudi city of Khobar that killed 22 people, including one American.
Along with the 37-year-old Al-Zarqawi, Al-Muqrin, 35, is among a new breed of terrorist masterminds that has emerged to fill the void left by the killing or capture of numerous Al-Qaeda leaders since 9/11. His increasingly brazen and deadly tactics have led Saudi authorities to label him the Royal Kingdom’s most wanted man.
Saudi security forces have said that Al-Muqrin, along with three cohorts, is hiding in the mountains of Al-Amariya, about 25 miles northwest of Riyadh. The men have reportedly resorted to eating desert plants and drinking rainwater in order to survive.
But like the similarly beleaguered Osama bin Laden, Al-Muqrin has still been able to issue incendiary statements against the West and, apparently, has even directed several attacks on Saudi soil. Considering Al-Muqrin’s lofty position in Al-Qaeda, his death or capture would be a significant victory in the War on Terror.
Oddly enough, Al-Muqrin has claimed to have no intentions of waging worldwide jihad, at least for now. He has elected instead to first “purge the Arabian Peninsula from the polytheists” as well as the Saudi Royals before expanding his operations onto a global scale.
In addition, Al-Muqrin has stated emphatically that he “will not go to Iraq,” and that those who have made offers to him to do so should “forget this issue.”
Whether Al-Muqrin can indeed resist the lure of the current epicenter of world jihad, Iraq, remains to be seen. But when it comes to wreaking havoc on Westerners in his native Saudi Arabia, Al-Muqrin has more than kept his word.
He is suspected of having engineered suicide bombings in Riyadh in May and November 2003 that took 53 lives (including nine Americans) and is thought to have been the architect of an April 21 attack in the Saudi capital that killed five people and wounded 148.
Al-Muqrin also claimed responsibility for a May 1 shooting spree in the Saudi oil center of Yanbu that killed six Westerners and one Saudi. According to Al-Muqrin, the Yanbu attack, like the one in Khobar, was designed to stem the flow of Saudi oil, thereby harming the country’s economy.
In numerous statements, Al-Muqrin has warned the U.S. to leave the Arabian Peninsula, withdraw its troops from Muslim countries, and end its support of Israel and “apostate” Muslim governments. He has also advocated a guerilla war inside of Saudi Arabia that would feature a terrorist strike force “trained to carry out operations inside cities, including assassinations, abductions, bombings, sabotage, raids and the liberation of hostages.”
Over the past two decades, Al-Muqrin has waged jihad in several war-torn hotspots, including Afghanistan, Algeria, Bosnia and the Ogaden province of Ethiopia, and has taken an active role in the training and recruitment of Al-Qaeda “holy warriors.” In 2001, he fought against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
It is unclear how the Saudi government will deal with Al-Muqrin, if he is indeed caught. In 1997, after being extradited to Saudi Arabia by Ethiopian authorities, Al-Muqrin was sentenced to eight years in prison. In the summer of 2001, although he had served only half of his sentence, the Saudi Interior Ministry released Al-Muqrin, reportedly because he had memorized the Koran while behind bars.
Inexplicable actions such as this by the Saudi government have only further emboldened Saudi Arabia’s terrorist elements. Indeed, attacks against Westerners and economic interests in the Royal Kingdom persist despite the government’s self-described “war” against terrorists.
On Saturday, the same day Johnson was kidnapped, another American, Kenneth Scroggs, was killed by Al-Muqrin’s group in Riyadh. Last Tuesday, an American defense contractor, Robert Jacobs, was shot and killed (and, according to some reports, beheaded) by terrorists in the city’s eastern end. The previous Sunday, a BBC reporter was critically injured and his cameraman killed in a drive-by shooting in the capital.
It appears that Al-Muqrin’s call for jihad on the Arabian Peninsula has not gone unnoticed.