Winning: Down But Not Out In Saudi Arabia

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October 28,2008:  A few months ago, Saudi Arabia declared that al Qaeda had been "defeated" in its territory. Saudi security authorities reported that clashes since May of 2003 had resulted in the deaths of about 150 Saudi and foreign personnel, as well as at least 120 confirmed al Qaeda operatives. There have also been thousands of arrests. No official figures were given for persons detained.

 Now comes the final disposition of what the Saudis consider the hard core Islamic terrorists they still have in jail. While most of the Saudis arrested for terrorist activities went through a rehabilitation process and were released, 2,200 remain jailed. Some of these men have been incarcerated for several years. Now they will all be prosecuted. Some will be executed (by beheading), and most will go to jail. Of the 991 already indicted, 30 percent were foreigners (mostly from North Africa and Yemen). These will probably get the harshest sentences, because they have no local ties. Having a tribal elder willing to speak up for you, goes a long way towards keeping you out of jail (or in for far less time.)

The Saudi counter-terror effort has also benefitted from the thousands of young Saudis who went off to Iraq to join the fight, and get killed, or come back disillusioned. Very few came back as "hardened terrorists." Despite all this, Islamic terrorism remains popular among many young Saudis. They have to operate covertly, otherwise they will get arrested and sent off to a rehabilitation facility (endless hours of lectures from anti-terrorism clerics and interminable discussions with counselors until there is convincing evidence of a change in attitude.) The rehabilitation often works, but it fails frequently enough to maintain the population of potential terrorists.

The police, and particularly the intelligence specialists, have changed their methods greatly in the last five years. The cops are quicker and more effective when they have to carry out raids. The intel people have developed elaborate informant networks, as well as Internet monitoring systems. Many Saudis fear that these new capabilities will make it even more difficult to introduce reforms in the kingdom. It's a lot harder now, to do anything the government does not approve of.

Many Saudis still approve of Islamic radicals killing "infidels" (non-Moslems), and don't care if al Qaeda is doing it. What is unpopular is Islamic radicals attacking fellow Moslems. Al Qaeda justifies this by asserting that any Moslem that does not agree with them is actually not a Moslem (and is thus an infidel). Many Moslems disagree with this logic, but not so much in Saudi Arabia. So while al Qaeda may be down in Saudi Arabia, it is not out. The terrorists may be beaten, but until the monarchy can get the radical mosques, and the clerics that run them, to tone down the pro-terrorist message, there will always be new terrorist wannabes for the cops to round up.

 


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