Terrorism: June 15, 2005


In Saudi Arabia, the government, for the first time, issued a warning of terrorist attacks against American housing compounds. In the past, Western governments had issued their own warnings, saying that they were relying on their own intelligence resources. But Saudi Arabia was reluctant to admit that Westerners living in the country were at risk. That has changed. Saudi Arabia has also, recently, been calling for world wide cooperation, and sharing, of intelligence on terrorism. Saudi Arabia now sees al Qaeda as a long term, and world wide, threat. 

Saudi Arabia has cracked down hard on Islamic terrorism within its borders. But at the same time, millions of Saudis still support such terrorism, although nearly all Saudis are opposed to such terrorism within Saudi Arabia. Most Islamic radicals in Saudi Arabia are willing to abide by this unofficial rule. Thus several hundred Saudi men have gone to Iraq to fight. Some 42 percent of the suicide bombers in Iraq have been identified as Saudi.

But some of these Islamic terrorists continue to plot attacks within Saudi Arabia. Such terrorists have a hard time of it, as there are always enough Saudis willing to turn them in. But a  few active terrorist cells continue to survive. For example, last month, two gunmen, disguised as women, tried to shoot their way into a mosque in the holy city of Mecca. The two were killed, as were two of the policemen who confronted them when the guns came out from beneath the womens clothing. Senior clerics in Mecca then denounced such terrorism. Yet many of these same clerics still support the things like destroying Israel, expelling all non-Moslems from Saudi Arabia and forcibly converting Shia Moslems to the mainline Sunni form. The government tolerates some of this talk, and only comes down hard on those who advocate terror attacks on civilians anywhere, especially Western countries that buy Saudi oil, and sell it weapons. 

Saudi religious conservatism takes some strange (to Westerners) forms. For example, mainline Saudi clerics can preach boycotts against Saudi businesses run by men who are clean shaven or smoke. While drinking alcohol is forbidden by Islamic law, smoking is in a gray area, as is being clean shaven. But Islamic purists insist the absence of a beard, or the presence of tobacco, is sinful, and should be punished. This type of religious zealotry is what enables Islamic terrorists to survive in Saudi Arabia. The government fears that there are still several groups that have surrounded themselves with a network of very religious, very loyal, and very secretive supporters. Within that network, new terror attacks are being planned. Going after targets in Mecca is extreme, even by Saudi standards, but attacking an American housing compound is considered much more acceptable. 

A year after Saudi Arabia issued a list of 26 most wanted Saudi terrorists, 23 of them are dead or in prison. The few Islamic terrorists that remain at large are desperate, dangerous and good at avoiding capture. They know that killing Saudis, or Moslems, turns more Saudis against them. So Westerners are the primary target for the few remaining al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. However, to succeed in their attacks, they will have to battle past Saudi police and security guards. By Saudi logic, getting in there and killing some Americans would justify killing some Saudis to do it. For Westerners, Saudi Arabia is a strange place. It's also becoming a more dangerous place as Saudis try to come to grips with Islamic radicalism and terrorism. 


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