US President George W. Bush pulled no punches in the forceful speech he delivered at Istanbul University on Tuesday, June 29, in between NATO summit sessions. In a clear signal to Saudi Arabia, he said leaders throughout the Middle East, “including some friends of the United States, must recognize the direction of the events of the day. Any nation that compromises with violent extremists only emboldens them and invites future violence”.
Less than 24 hours after that warning, Wednesday, June 30, Saudi security forces were battling al Qaeda gunmen in the al Quds district of Riyadh. One security officer and two terrorists were killed on their way to a mega-terror attack.
The resumption of fighting only 10 days after the decapitation of American hostage Paul Johnson (whose body still has not been found) and a week after Crown Prince Abdullah‘s dramatic announcement of a month’s amnesty for al Qaeda operatives who turn themselves in, bespoke the falling of his offer on deaf ears. Bush’s speech in Istanbul reflected the intelligence reports reaching Washington that the Saudi royal family’s Sudairi branch, led by the interior minister, Prince Nayef, the governor of Riyadh province, Prince Salman, and the ailing king’s youngest son, Abdulaziz bin Fahd, had broken their promise to cut off their dialogue with al Qaeda’s allies in the kingdom (a promise first revealed in DEBKA-Net-Weekly 163).
According to our intelligence and counter-terrorism sources, the Sudairis decided to defy Abdullah after a close reading of the situation in Iraq. They became convinced that Iraq’s new president, Ghazi al-Yawar, a member of the Shammar tribe to which Abdullah belongs (See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 160 of June 4, 2004), will become progressively weaker while al Qaeda’s operational capabilities and position in the country will grow correspondingly stronger.
In his capacity as internal security overlord in Saudi Arabia, Prince Nayef receives a welter of intelligence reports on the situation within al Qaeda’s cells in Iraq, the Gulf and Saudi Arabia, which he rarely shares with Washington.
These reports have told him that most of the fighting strength, explosives and weapons entering Saudi Arabia for the use of al Qaeda originate in Iraq. They are smuggled in along two routes: The first, via Jordan, and the second, which is larger in volume, via southern Iraq and Kuwait.
Saudi intelligence believes the second conduit is managed by a separate al Qaeda cell operating independently of the fundamentalist units in Fallujah and Ramadi. They strongly suspect that Imad Mughniyeh, the Hizballah-al Qaeda master terrorist who obeys Tehran, has surfaced again at the head of a new autonomous terror network created for operation in Saudi Arabia. The Sudairis reckon therefore that Abdullah’s amnesty offer has come too late, which is why only four al Qaeda operatives have so far surrendered to the Saudi authorities.
Lacking faith in the ability of the new Iraqi government, the Americans or Iraqi Shiites to deal with al Qaeda, the Sudairis decided not to drop their indirect exchanges with Osama bin Laden’s network via its extremist clerical associates.
Abdullah’s amnesty experiment has therefore been brought to collapse by the removal of its sine qua non, the cutoff of all dialogue between the royal house and the terrorists. Saudi Arabia now faces a fresh wave of violence.