Yasser Arafat was not the only Middle Eastern figure sunk in a coma this week. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources report that Prince Nawaf bin Abdulaziz, head of the Saudi intelligence services, has been lying unconscious for the past two weeks in King Faisal hospital in Riyadh. The nephew of Saudi Arabia’s incapacitated King Fahd, he collapsed with a brain hemorrhage in early 2002 while accompanying the de facto monarch Crown Prince Abdullah to an Arab summit in Beirut. He was saved then by medical care. Now, Saudi and foreign physicians say there is no hope of his recovery.
Nawaf’s imminent death, coinciding as it does with two new al Qaeda initiatives, comes at a bad time for Saudi rulers. Al Qaeda has appointed a new commander for its Saudi networks and last week, the fundamentalist terrorist group began operating two radio stations over the Internet. Each broadcasts four hours a day and can be picked up in every corner of the world. Its content is rampantly anti-Saudi, from seditious blasts to directives for terrorist strikes inside the kingdom.
A Saudi security service raid in Riyadh on October 31, netted three al Qaeda operatives plus a quantity of weapons, explosives, communications gear and a portable computer. Examination of the captured computer and radio equipment yielded an alarming development: al Qaeda has appointed a new local commander, Saud al-Otheiba, 34, a member of the extremist Wahhabi Otheiba tribe.
The Saudis tried to gloss over the fact that they had never heard of him by claiming he figured on their list of 29 most wanted terrorists. In fact, he did not.
Still more disturbing is that al Qaeda got a beat on the Saudis, announcing Otheiba’s appointment several hours after he was identified and before Saudi authorities released his name. This inside knowledge pointed to a mole planted in the Saudi security forces and passing information to al Qaeda.
But the royal security services have had their successes too, as attested to by the fact that Otheiba is the sixth al Qaeda Saudi commander appointed since October 2002. The first, Yusuf al-Abiri, died at the hands of Saudi security forces. His successor, Abul Rahim Nashiri, was captured in Abu Dhabi and handed over the Americans. His replacement, the Yemeni Khaled Hajj, was killed in Riyadh in early March this year. In June, Saudi security eliminated Abdul Mikrin, who was responsible for the beheading of American hostage Paul Johnson. A month later, Saudi security forces managed to kill al Qaeda’s fifth local commander, Salah al-Ofai.
Up until Otheiba’s capture, the Saudis had not been aware that al Qaeda had replaced Ofai. But they began to smell a rat from reports of al Qaeda involvement in the October 7 bombings at Egypt’s Sinai holiday resorts, especially when they heard that some of the hit-teams’ members had escaped aboard yachts stolen at Sharm el-Sheikh, which crossed the Red Sea to the Saudi coast.
As light and mobile as Internet
Shortly after these attacks, the two al Qaeda Internet radio stations went “on the air.” They call themselves Saut al-Jihad (Voice of Jihad) and Saut al-Ansar (Voice of the Prophet’s Fighting Followers).
Our experts believe some of the broadcasts are live, with an announcer “transmitting” from Pakistan, Iran or Afghanistan via a laptop computer. They are highly mobile. When a station manager suspects he is being tracked, he simply closes shop and moves on. Sometimes, to avoid detection, they broadcast from a moving car, using a prerecorded CD fed into a laptop. A number of intelligence operatives who have been monitoring the broadcasts, have told DEBKA-Net-Weekly they were surprised to find that the two stations have scarcely mentioned the Iraq war despite the fierce battles in Fallujah between US and Iraq forces and the al Qaeda fighters with Iraqi Sunni insurgents. The broadcasts’ heavy Saudi-orientation disturbs the kingdom’s intelligence and security services, disabusing them of the illusion that most al Qaeda cells in Saudi Arabia had been rounded up and their operations shut down.
To the contrary, one official who has been following the kingdom’s anti-terror crackdown, interprets the appointment of a new commander as a sign that the fundamentalist organization is still full of vigor. “A new commander in Saudi Arabia and the upgrading of its propaganda dissemination media are both cause for deep concern,” he said to DEBKA-Net-Weekly.
The Saudis are worried by the ease with which al Qaeda’s radio broadcasts can penetrate corners not yet reached by Internet. They simply copy radio programs on discs and hand them round for wide distribution.
Desperate to take al Qaeda’s radio waves off the air, the Saudis tried during transmission times last week to jam Internet service to regions where security services report a wide audience for al Qaeda’s message. Unfortunately those regions are located in the busiest commercial districts of the kingdom, the Red Sea coast and the oil city of Yanbu. As a result, companies and banks heavily dependent on Internet protested loudly that their businesses were being ruined.
According to our experts, the Saudis have chalked up a first. No government has ever yet jammed the Internet in the service of the global war on terrorism.