2. Structure of al Qaeda’s Saudi Networks

According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence and counter-terrorism experts, Al Qaeda’s Saudi network is a key operation. Structured differently from the other world centers and cells, this group operates under the direct command of bin Laden and Zawahri. It is made up of five sectors:


A. The “Afghans”


Saudi nationals who fought in al Qaeda’s ranks in Afghanistan in 2001, and became known as “the Afghans”.


In October 2001, two weeks into the Afghan War, the House of Saud made a strategic decision to fund and stage a rescue operation for the 2,500 to 3,000 Saudi fighters on the Afghan battlefield and their clandestine repatriation by plane, train and ship. Several hundred non-Saudis, mostly Yemenis, Egyptians and Syrians, were lifted to safety at the same time.


To many Western observers, this operation looked like a Saudi maneuver to remove Saudi al Qaeda followers from the danger of falling into American hands lest they betray the scope of Riyadh’s profound ties with the terrorist network so soon after the shock of the 9/11 attacks by Saudi suicide-hijackers in New York and Washington.


On another, deeper level, it was recognized that the Saudi royal family and the kingdom’s intelligence services – like other Arab governments in the Middle East – perceived Bin Laden’s organization and the Taliban regime as the Sunni religious and military counterweight to the militancy of the Shiite paramilitary terrorist groups, such as Hizballah, arching over the Arab world. This rationale still motivates Saudi support for the Palestinian Hamas terrorists.


Furthermore, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Middle East experts note, the Saudi royal family holds itself traditionally responsible for the welfare of all Saudi citizens. This paternalism stems from strong tribal, clan and family loyalties that are the bedrock of Saudi society. It is inconceivable for a Saudi father to abandon his son the battlefield, even if he is fighting for Osama bin Laden. So when Saudi fighters returned home from Afghanistan, most were welcomed with open arms by their families. They were quickly absorbed into the clandestine cells that Al Qaeda had established in their tribes and clans while they were away in Afghanistan. Once back with their families, they were of no more interest to Saudi intelligence.


 


B. Saudis who fought outside Afghanistan


Those who served al Qaeda in the Balkans, in places such as Chechnya, Macedonia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania.


 


C. Private mosques


 


Thousands of private mosques have sprung up across the kingdom and function without formal religious or security supervision. Most are just a room in a private apartment or a tent in the desert. They provide safe and convenient meeting places for Al Qaeda adherents to get together and take training in the use of weapons and explosives.


 


D. Private preachers


 


Many thousands of private often self-appointed firebrand preachers, roam the desert kingdom, avid zealots of the puritanical Wahhabi doctrine that is even more radical than the Al Qaeda brand of fundamentalism. The preachers serve Osama bin Laden’s organization as fund-raisers and couriers and also as spotters for new members from the ranks of the faithful. A wandering preacher visiting tribal desert encampments and outlying villages is the perfect courier which the most sophisticated electronic instrument is incapable of keeping track of.


 


E. Fugitive Saudi Expatriates


 


This group opted not to return home but to establish themselves in Iran, Syria and Lebanon. Its members became the dynamic lifeblood that kept the organization afloat after its bases were lost in Afghanistan. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources reveal that this group set up medrases, or religious schools, in the suburbs of Damascus to replace the schools of Pakistani Peshawar where Al Qaeda once reared and recruited terrorists. Pakistani intelligence now keeps those medressas closely supervised; they are frequently raided by US special forces patrolling the region against terrorists.


The new medressa system in Damascus has become a hit. Thousands of Muslims from all over the world, especially from Western Europe and North America, are stepping up to enroll to the student body, a fresh reservoir of zealots from which Al Qaeda can pick and choose its next generation of terrorists


(Vadim: This is end of E.)


When bin Laden, Zawahiri and their operational staff returned to the Arabian Peninsula in September 2002 (as DEBKA-Net-Weekly 81, reported on October 18, 2002 under the caption Bin Laden is Alive – And Back Home in Saudi Arabia”) all they needed to do was to connect the dots between Al Qaeda’s five power bases and equip the fighters with weapons, explosives and operational plans.


The May 7 street shootout between al Qaeda fighters and Saudi security forces in the streets of Riyadh, followed by the suicide attacks on Westerners residential compounds five days later (See tactical details of the attacks in HOT POINTS below), were the initial outcome of the new plan of operation in Saudi Arabia. Al Qaeda made a heavy investment in the assault.


DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism sources are certain that the Americans and Saudis seriously underestimate the expenditure of terrorist manpower when they put its number at 10 and 15 fighting men. At least 55 to 65 terrorists were most certainly involved in the battle and the attacks.


Our sources believe that all of them spent periods of from two to three years on the battlefields of Afghanistan or Chechnya. At least five were members of the Saudi military, attesting to Al Qaeda’s deep penetration of the kingdom’s armed forces. Almost all of the terrorists were graduates of Saudi universities, and some were foreigners from Algeria and Canada who had fought in Afghanistan and used their passports to move freely around the world.


Other foreign passport holders included men who came from or once studied at the Damascus medressas. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism sources report that at least two of the men who took part in the Riyadh bombings had family connections with some of the 19 suicide-hijackers who carried out the 9/11 attacks. Relatives of suicide bombers believe they have a family and religious obligation to carry on their legacy and become martyrs. Others are carried away by fiery rhetoric and religious fanaticism.


The average age of the Riyadh assailants was 28; at least 20 of team members were aged between 25 and 30. Five others were about 36 years old. Their 28-year-old commander, Khaleb al-Jenani, fought for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Bosnia. In mid-2002, he was seen in the company of fellow senior Al Qaeda operatives on the move between Beirut, Damascus and Jeddah. All of the members of the network carried Saudi identity papers issued under their assumed names, bespeaking again Al Qaeda’s ability to infiltrate Saudi internal security departments and win the cooperation of a large number of minor Saudi officials.


US and Saudi intelligence services knew all this at the end of last year. But DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence and counter-terrorism experts estimate that the Saudi government refrained from taking preventive action for fear of upsetting their delicate balance of relations with the kingdom’s tribes at a critical stage of the power struggle in the royal house.


Saudi interior minister Prince Nayef, whose security services failed to prevent the Riyadh attacks, is wooing tribal support for himself and his brothers of the Sudeiri faction in their bid for the succession to the throne against Crown Prince Abdullah.


He too is unlikely to take action that will antagonize the tribes – even after the massacre perpetrated in the capital of the kingdom.


As for the Americans, they claim they expected the Saudis to act first. But their hands were tied for another reason. To dismantle the Saudi terrorist underground they would first have had to take action against the entire Al Qaeda infrastructure in Lebanon and Syria. Such action was on hold as long as the US ultimatum to Syrian president Bashar Assad was in force to compel him to take on the terrorists under his wing, or face the music.


According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism sources, the Riyadh terror assault was but the foretaste of the terror offensive in store for Saudi Arabia. No one knows for sure the scale of the terrorist army at large in the kingdom, but intelligence assessments estimate that between eight and 12 cells are operating in parallel. Each of those groups is geared up for more terrorist assaults, some even deadlier than the Riyadh bombings.

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