September 14, 2003


Saudis Promising Action on Terror: The Saudis have acknowledged that their terrorist problems are far worse and more difficult to combat than they had imagined, but U.S. officials remain wary. (DON VAN NATTA Jr. and TIMOTHY L. O'BRIEN, 9/14/03, NY Times)

Since May the Saudis have broken up six to eight Qaeda cells operating within the country, including several in the past few weeks, Saudi and American officials said. They also made renewed efforts to cooperate with Russia against terrorism. The Russians have long suspected the Saudis of financing Muslim separatists in Chechnya. Last week, Crown Prince Abdullah, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, traveled to Russia for talks that included terrorism as well as oil and trade agreements. It was the first visit by a Saudi leader to Moscow in 75 years.

In the discussions with their American counterparts, Saudi law enforcement officials said they would try to channel monetary donations away from mosques into more regulated entities that would allow the Saudi authorities to keep a closer eye on the source and destination of such money. All Muslims are expected to contribute a portion of their income to charities, a practice known as zakat. The Saudi government has not yet announced any specific measures, and in practice officials on both sides acknowledge that policing donations at mosques may prove daunting, akin to forbidding churchgoers in the United States from making donations at Sunday services.

Since May, the Saudis have acknowledged that their terrorist problems are far worse and more difficult to combat than they had imagined, American officials said.

Only weeks after the May bombings in Riyadh, Saudi security forces cornered a senior Qaeda operative suspected of orchestrating the attacks and fatally shot him as he tried to flee in his car on a Riyadh street. The retribution visited upon the suspect, Yousif Salih Fahad al-Ayeeri, known by a nom de guerre translated by the Saudis as Swift Sword, was hailed in Saudi Arabia as a significant blow to the Qaeda network in the country and proof that the Saudi authorities were willing to bring the war on terrorism home.

But less than a month later, security officials stumbled upon enormous caches of terrorist weaponry — 20 tons of explosives and detonators, rocket-propelled grenades and high-powered rifles — at three different locations. Several senior Saudi officials said the discoveries served to underscore the reality that despite what they believed to be an aggressive crackdown on terrorists, the Saudi royal family faced the prospect that scores of heavily armed Qaeda terrorists were entrenched inside the kingdom and might be plotting further attacks against Saudi targets or members of the royal family themselves.

"It was another shock to the system," said Jamal Khashoggi, a former newspaper editor who is now a senior adviser to the Saudi ambassador in London. "Clearly, the terrorists were planning a big attack inside the kingdom, and they had the weapons and manpower to do it."

American officials familiar with Saudi Arabia said the recent bombings had a major effect. An American diplomat in the Middle East said they had "fundamentally changed the way Saudis view terrorism and threats and the best way to deal with them." The official said that Saudi citizens were now demanding the arrest, or even elimination, of militant Muslims -- a sea change in a country that has long been hospitable even to radical Islamists.

"They have realized that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of terrorists inside Saudi Arabia," a senior American official based in the Middle East said.

In addition to the dragnet that ensnared Mr. Ayeeri, the Saudis have arrested more than 200 people since May who the authorities say are connected to Al Qaeda. Last Tuesday, as part of its enhanced effort to track terrorists domestically, the Saudi Interior Ministry asked families with missing sons to report their disappearances to the government. The ministry said the move is a reflection of the government's "concern to protect Saudi citizens against suspect groups who try to drag people into criminal activity."

The Saudi interior minister, Prince Nayef, said last month that he believed that Al Qaeda had established training camps inside the kingdom. Saudi security forces have staged regular raids on safe houses and farms all over the kingdom. In several shootouts, at least 16 suspected members of Al Qaeda and 11 Saudi police officers have been killed.

"The populace now says, `Make us feel safer,' and one of the extraordinary things is the Saudis are now publicizing each arrest, each raid," said the American official based in the Middle East. "Before May 12, they'd arrest guys, then deny publicly that they had arrested them. There was a head stuck in the sand. After each shootout, the public says, `We want more of it, this is good, finish the job.' "

The more bombs that go off the more allies--even somewhat unwilling ones--we have in the War on Terror.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 14, 2003 7:43 AM

Now, if one could only convince our Saudi allies, such as they are, that the Iranian Bomb will be aimed in their direction.....

Posted by: Barry Meislin at September 14, 2003 8:18 AM

Like the Palestinians, I think the Saudi royal familiy is going to have to have a battle within itself between the hard-liners and those truly willing to fight terrorists before any real progress will occur.

Posted by: John at September 14, 2003 12:23 PM

The Saudi crackdown on al Queada sympathizers is pointless. Wahabism is the problem and Wahabism is the house of Saud. Most of the mosques built throughout thw west have been financed through Saudi Arabia and support the death cult of Wahabism. The younger men who are drawn to the jihad are products of Wahabi teaching. The Saudi's are largely responsible for the growth of Islamic terror and it will probably continue as long as Wahabism dominates the oil rich Saudi state.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at September 14, 2003 12:31 PM


The capacity of the Sauds to turn Islam into Wahhabism is the great source of hope though, because they should be able to force a Reformation too, once they realize it's in their interest.

Posted by: oj at September 14, 2003 3:33 PM