Opinion and Editorial

A Gathering Threat

Claude Salhani
Filed on September 5, 2009

The attempt on the life of Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the Saudi Deputy Interior minister, last Thursday in Jeddah demonstrates that while the initial battle against Islamist terrorism in Saudi Arabia may have been won, the war is far from over.

“It would be naive to assume that there won’t be other attempts on individuals,” Prince Mohammed Al Faisal, a member of the royal family told this reporter. Prince Mohammed bin Nayef was slightly injured when a man made his way into his Jeddah home wearing a bomb inserted into his colon during an iftar, the meal that celebrates breaking the fast at sunset during the holy month of Ramadan. The bomb was detonated by a cellular telephone.

The Interior Ministry is in charge of internal security. Some of the special counter-terrorism units established with the help of the United States,

Britain, France and Germany following the initial wave of deadly attacks that rocked the kingdom as late as 2007, are troops and units of the Ministry of the Interior.

The Jeddah attack basically sends a message to the Interior Ministry, the very entity tasked with tracking down Islamist terrorists, that despite their best efforts, those it was meant to watch were able to infiltrate the very heart of the government ministry that was supposed to be watching them.

And although there have been no major terrorist attack in the kingdom since 2007 that should not be taken as an indication that the war is over. It is not. Indeed as Prince Mohammed al-Faisal told this reporter,“the fact that there was a lull should never be misunderstood as victory against terror.

These people took two decades (80s and 90s) building themselves under the radar, we should expect more time to completely amputate this cancer.”

What is also very important to note is the manner in which the terrorists made use of the holy month of Ramadan to perpetrate the attack, and the manner in which the explosives were transported to the site of the attack.

Most Muslims would agree that at least two major sins were committed in this operation, not counting suicide and murder.

First: In using the occasion of an iftar to gain access to his target, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef’s house, the perpetrators of this ignoble plot have desecrated and soiled the holy month.

Ramadan is traditionally a time when Muslims are supposed to cleanse their body through fasting and feel themselves closer to God through prayer.

Second: by inserting the explosive device into the body of the suicide bomber those same perpetrators have desecrated the human body, God’s ultimate creation. Not to mention, of course, the fact that in choosing to die the way he did, the suicide bomber, despite what some fanatic imams may have brainwashed him into believing about a paradise—with or without virgins waiting for him at the end of the journey—is going to have a rude awakening.

They will have the rest of eternity to figure out how wrong they were.

Finally, it is hard to believe that after such ignoble acts anyone would still believe that Al Qaeda speaks in the name of Islam. The third point is that the reactivation of terrorist activities in Saudi Arabia happens to coincide with the outbreak of heavy fighting in Yemen, not far from the border with Saudi Arabia. Could there be a direct link between the two? Possibly.

Bin Laden retains a following in his country of origin and where Islamists have found refuge in the desolate and hard-to-police regions of the interior. The unrest that is going on currently in Yemen is not to be underestimated, ignored, or yet written off as trivial inter-tribal squabbles. It is anything but trivial.

Yemen is the soft underbelly of the Arab world.The country is difficult to govern outside the main centers of population. It is structured along tribal lines with loyalty owed to the family, clan, tribe, sect and religion ahead of the nation. It is not surprising that the time when it was divided into two countries, into north and south, the South became the only Arab country to become communist. Bin Laden, who spent several years living in his ancestral land, knows Yemen only too well.

Add to that background the fact that Al Qaeda branches in Saudi Arabia and Yemen merged last February, becoming “Al Qaeda Jihad in the Arabian Peninsula.” Asseri, the attacker, had apparently flown into Jeddah from Yemen, according to a statement by Al Qaeda claiming responsibility for the assassination attempt on the deputy interior minister. That, despite the fact that he was one of 85 wanted terrorists in the kingdom.

“I believe we are on the right track, we just have to keep on doing more of what we have done, and maintain our vigour, alertness and energy. And most importantly, we must never be under false impressions that we have won, because that’s what terrorist wants,” Prince Mohammed al-Faisal said.

Claude Salhani is Editor of the Middle East Times and a political analyst in Washington

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