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Al-Qaida’s Saudi War By: Walid Phares
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, November 10, 2003


While world media was not able to figure out the root causes yet, al-Jazeera's bureau chief in Washington had his "analysis" in place.

According to his estimate, the attacks in Riyadh were provoked by crackdowns against Islamists. Hafiz al-Mirazi puts it that way: "Those men who knew that the security forces were coming to kill them hit first." In other words, al-Qaeda was implementing a pre-emptive strike, which is not exactly terrorism. In other words, al-Jazeera whitewashed the attack of al-Qaeda on the Saudi Kingdom.

Last May, al-Qaeda achieved its first major terror attack within Saudi Arabia when it targeted a Western compound. That was its test strike. It was also a threat against the ruling establishment in the Kingdom, because, according to circles sympathetic to bin Laden, the princes have been showing signs of reluctance in supporting the "sheik of Jihad." Bin Laden's circle felt these princes needed to be taught a lesson.    

Riyadh was compressed between its traditional inclination to Wahhabism and its realistic foreign policy need to maintain its ties to the United States. Al-Qaeda wanted to force the Saudis to 
shift either way, or collapse inwards. From May to November, it gave six months to the Kingdom to make its choice. In the eyes of bin Laden, it seems that the Saudi ruling elite made its choice, deciding to crack down on al-Qaeda's operations within the Kingdom.

During the summer, Saudi security zoomed in on what it identified as al-Qaeda cells. Firefights broke out in several cities between the police and the terrorists. Caches of weapons were found. A number of al-Qaeda members were arrested and jailed, but not transferred to the U.S. The Saudi Government wanted to draw a line between shrinking al-Qaeda's influence inside the Kingdom and fully joining an international campaign against Wahhabi Islamism.  But this attitude was a casus belli in bin Laden's eyes.

Then al-Qaeda decided the Saudis had gone too far. One day, Crown Prince Abdallah made a declaration of war against the "clerics" who protected al-Qaeda and legitimized violence. He called them "intruders" and "enemies of the true path."
It was seen, by al-Qaeda, as declaration of war.

At the end of the summer, bin Laden circulated more than one memorandum, closer to a fatwa than a legal opinion, to refute Prince Abdallah's criticism of the clerics. The storm was brewing. By October, winds of jihad were blowing.Osama bin Laden aired his audiotape on al-Jazeera television, ordering his Mujahedeen to attack infidels around the Middle East on October 19.  The Qatari-based satellite TV network not only broadcast the “State of Jihad” address, but played it all day long, and assembled intellectuals to explain it better to the populace.

The rest is current news. Last Thursday, Saudi security elements pursued alleged al-Qaeda militants in Mecca. In a few months, more than one terrorist was located in the holiest shrine of Islam and killed. Arms such as AK-47s and RPGs were found. The last time Mecca tasted violence was in 1979 when dozens of radicals were crushed by the Saudi security. At that time, hundred militants were killed, but no one followed up on the story. But this time, al-Jazeera is here to stir the emotions. And it immediately did.

Less than a few minutes after the blasts Saturday at midnight, Middle East time, the news room in Qatar was interviewing the spokesman of the "Islamic Reform Movement" of London. In a split second, the Islamist dissident accused the Saudis of "massacres" inside the holy city. Associating Mecca with Muslim blood is, indeed, explosive. I'll bet that in the next days or weeks you will hear the story developing as a "legitimate guerrilla attack" against the monarchy, or at least, there will be an attempt to frame it that way.

But whatever the strategy is, this time the tactics were different. According to witnesses, armed men opened fire at the security guards just before the suicide car burst into the compound. It follows the new method tested in Haifa: fighting your way inside before suicide attacks, in order to achieve a maximum kill.    

The attack against the al-Muhayya neighborhood is typical of al-Qaeda methodology. The organization attacks the "infidels" wherever it can reach them in Arabia, then waits to see the authorities falling in front of hard choices; either with the infidels or against them. That's what drives al-Qaeda and its suicide bombers today: They are simply dividing the world into what they want it to be -- the world of international law and the world of jihad.


Professor Walid Phares is the author of Future Jihad. He is a Visiting Fellow with the European Foundation for Democracy in Brussels and a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington.


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