The abortive February 24th terrorist attack on the Abqaiq oil facility, the largest in the world, is likely to have far reaching consequences for al Qaeda's Saudi franchise. Within days, Saudi security forces raided suspected terrorist safe houses in several cities. As a result, a number of suspected terrorists have been killed, including four on of the "36 Most Wanted" in the Kingdom. Among the dead is Fahd bin Faraj al Juwair, believed to be the "Emir" of Al-Qaeda-in-Saudi Arabia, killed in a pre-dawn shootout during a raid on a safe house in Riyadh on February 27th.
With this raid, virtually all of the "36 Most Wanted" have either been killed or captured. Faraj al Juwair, 36, one of a number of Al-Qaeda leaders trained in Afghanistan directly by Osama bin Laden during the Taliban regime, had only taken over as emir of operations in Saudi in July of 2005. He had succeeded to the job, following the death in a gun fight of the Moroccan Younis Al-Hayari, the former emir, who had himself had only taken control of operations in April of 2005. Since 2004, the Al-Qaeda network in Saudi Arabia has apparently lost five emirs in succession.
During the operation that netted Faraj al Juwair, two Filipino workers and an Indian driver were killed and three other men wounded when security forces opened fire on their pickup truck, which was caught inside the area that had been cordoned off by the police.
While Saudi police and security forces are often criticized by Westerners for being inept and corruptible, that is largely a function of leadership quality. Over the last year, new vigor at the top of Saudi public security has led to a shakeup in leadership all the way down the line. That has resulted in more effective policing at the street level. The oil facilities are guarded by a private security force of some 30,000 personnel. The oil security personnel tend to be more effective than most police, which is why no one has yet carried out an effective attack on the oil infrastructure. But after the attack fails, it's up to the police to run down the terrorist support crew, who set up the attack. These roll-up operations have been very successful, partly because the cops knew what they were doing, and had lots of tips from Saudi civilians who, even if they were generally positive about al Qaeda, had a different attitude when the bombs were going off in their neighborhood. Al Qaeda has made itself very unpopular by killing Saudi civilians, and attacking the economy that so many Saudis depend on for their livelihood. Al Qaeda has not been able to come up with a solution to this dilemma.
This pattern of terrorist failure is not unique to present day Saudi Arabia. Over the last thirty years, the same pattern played itself out in Egypt, Algeria, Jordan and Lebanon. However, in Lebanon, one of the terrorist groups, Hizbollah, ended up in control of part of Lebanon. To this day, the large Bekaa Valley of central Lebanon is a country within a country run by the Hizbollah terrorist organization. Late last year, al Qaeda was talking of establishing their own "Bekaa Valley" terrorist zone in Western Iraq, in an area bordering Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria. That didn't happen, but it shows you how terrorists think in this part of the world.