Saudi royals felt the hot breath of Al Qaeda’s suicide bombers blowing ever closer to their sumptuous palaces Sunday, November 9, when the fundamentalists devastated the Riyadh compound of Muhaya, killing an estimated 42 Arab expatriate inhabitants and injuring more than 200.
On Thursday, November 13, a self-styled “Al Qaeda Commander in Iraq”, called Al-Hijazi stated at his base south of Falluja that al Qaeda launched its attack on Muhaya after long surveillance established that “…a large group of Lebanese Christian lived there.”
debkafile was alone in revealing that Lebanese Christians were the target of the attack which was carried out by an al Qaeda Lebanese unit.
So palpable was the threat that, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s exclusive intelligence and counter-terror sources, the very next day interior minister Prince Nayef, who is in charge of internal security and battling terrorism, ordered his underlings to seek a secret, roundabout route to Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders in the Arabian Peninsula to discuss a ceasefire. The order was issued after top-level consultations were held through the night in the palace of the shocked Crown Prince Abdullah.
The first American to sense the panic in Riyadh was deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, who arrived in Riyadh after the Muhaya raid with a message of support and condolence from President George W. Bush. In a hurried statement to the media, he acknowledged that al Qaeda meant to take down the royal government.
Presented to the princes was an intelligence report revealing that a 15-man al Qaeda terrorist team, mostly made up of Lebanese nationals, had carried out the attack. But its commanders were men of the Ghamidi tribe. Indigenous to the Asir and Najran regions of the south, the tribes’ more prosperous members have relocated to cities of the kingdom, the Persian Gulf and the Middle East, and become pillars of the Saudi commercial middle class.
The Ghamidi are also the new Saudi pillar of al Qaeda. Two members of the team blew themselves up by detonating the car which they drove into the Muhaya compound, while 13 others, mainly Ghamidi tribesmen, shot up and hurled explosives at buildings before making good their escape.
Electronic messages picked up by DEBKA-Net-Weekly later this week announced that, after resting from their exertions in Muhaya, the 13 terrorists are about to embark on the next round of action which will center on the murder of Americans working or living in the Saudi kingdom – especially CIA agents.
The confidential report placed before the Saudi princes revealed also that the Ghamidi took part in al Qaeda’s triple Riyadh strike on May 12, in which 35 people were killed, including 9 Americans. Two tribesmen were among the suicide bombers who blew themselves up in that first attack in the Saudi capital. Last week, two of the terrorists who died in clashes with Saudi security forces in Mecca and Riyadh just before the Muhaya attack were also identified as Ghamidi. Their deaths averted assaults on Ramadan pilgrims to Mecca, to which they were leading Nigerian and Lebanese suicide bombers.
The compilers of the Saudi intelligence report maintain that al Qaeda’s hard core in Saudi Arabia has shifted away from the Afghanistan veterans of the eighties and nineties to Ghamidi extremists. Bin Laden and his commanders have come to lean heavily on this tribal resource, employing it in two ways: 1. Youthful zealots are recruited and sent to the network’s Yemen bases for training. 2. Head hunters sign up terrorist candidates in the Middle East and Gulf and provide them with papers and identities for employment in regional tribal businesses, placing them in position for their missions.
After digesting this report, the Saudi ruling princes decided to capitalize on the centrality of the Ghamidi to al Qaeda’s operational planning by approaching tribal chiefs with an offer of an understanding as the foundation of an arrangement with al Qaeda to halt its deadly terrorist spiral against the kingdom.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly names the Saudi mediator entrusted by Prince Nayef’s minions with opening the door to negotiations on behalf of the throne. He is Sheikh Safar al Khwali who was thrown into jail with a group of likeminded clerics in the second half of the 1990s, accused of Muslim extremism and supporting bin Laden. According to our sources, Sheikh Khwali this week shuttled back and forth twice between the tribal lands in the south and Riyadh where he reported in person to the interior minister.
As is customary in this sort of tribal bargaining, both parties carefully avoided the main object in the opening rounds. The Sheikh began by asking the Ghamidi chiefs what the royal house could do for the tribe. Al Qaeda was not mentioned. The chiefs responded with lengthy discourses on the deep unemployment afflicting the Saudi-Yemen frontier regions. An infusion of capital to provide jobs for the young people would not come amiss, they said, a hint that if the Ghamidi had not been shunted aside for so long and there had been job opportunities for its young men, they might not have been drawn to al Qaeda training camps across the border. The Zaaran tribe was better off, the tribesmen complained, and asked for equal treatment. They did not pass up the chance of extracting tax breaks and credit lines on terms as favorable as those on offer in the cities.
Sheikh Khwali headed back to Riyadh to fetch answers for the next round of palaver.
Once satisfactory responses are forthcoming from the royal government, the tribal chiefs are required by negotiating etiquette to ask the intermediary what the royal government wants in return. The royal emissary will then lay down his ceasefire proposal for acceptance by the al Qaeda units integrated in the tribal framework. The Ghamidi leaders will most likely reply in the affirmative – they have already hinted as much. In this way, largesse handed out from Riyadh will also benefit the al Qaeda elements operating within the tribe. This turn of affairs will be tantamount to Riyadh’s implied acknowledgement of the Islamic network’s legitimacy for the first time since Osama bin Laden’s Saudi nationality was revoked in the 1990s. Bin Laden’s organization will have bought a comfortable ride on the back of an important Saudi tribe into the political heart of the Saudi kingdom – a position analogous to that of the Lebanese Hizballah, which practices terrorism quite openly while taking its seat in parliament in Beirut.