Many loose ends are left dangling after the big battle that raged this week between Saudi security forces and an al Qaeda group in the oil town of Dammam, in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Region. The official account by the interior ministry in Riyadh certainly falls short of representing the course of events and the size of the casualty toll on both sides.
It describes Saudi security forces as killing two militants on Sunday, including the third most wanted terrorist, Zaid Saad Zaid al-Samari.
The incident began when the terrorists holed up in a seaside house and captured security officers. The official Saudi news agency then reported from the same source that by midday Tuesday, the operation in the Almubarakia neighborhood of Dammam was over. Four policemen were killed, 10 wounded and an unspecified number of terrorists had lost their lives. Burnt remains were all that remained on the site.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s terror experts question this account. They can hardly believe that senior al Qaeda operatives like Zaid al-Samari would find safe refuge in a Shiite town where everyone knows everyone, at a time when al Qaeda is massacring Shiites in Iraq. Westerners who left Dammam and Dahran immediately after the battle told our sources a completely different story.
An al Qaeda team burst into Amir Muhammad Street in the city’s upscale Hamra shopping district and seized buildings housing some of the Western oil firms operating in the region’s oil fields. They are presumed to have taken hostages – although this is not known for sure. The terrorists controlled the street for at least two days. Saudi forces failed to dislodge them until helicopters were brought in to shell the buildings. Commando forces then landed on the rooftops and flushed them out. Some buildings were set on fire.
Did they land by sea?
Monday, Sept. 5, the security troops drove the terrorists off the street and into a luxury building located on the waterline of the Persian Gulf coast and put them to siege.
They then dragged in tanks and armored bulldozers, meaning to flatten the building together with the barricaded terrorists inside. But the besieged men kept up a steady barrage of fire and anti-tank weapons, which prevented the Saudis from bringing the heavy equipment close enough to use. In the end, the Saudis hit the building with rockets fired from helicopters and tank artillery until it caught fire and the al Qaeda men holed up inside were all killed.
The size of the al Qaeda team was certainly a lot larger than the Saudi official communique indicated. They may also have landed from the sea before advancing on Amir Muhammad Street, rather than hiding in the town, because a number of unclaimed small fast boats were found tied up on the shore. They may also have been meant as getaway craft.
Reaching a land target from the sea would be a departure in al Qaeda’s normal tactics and raises the question of where they came from.
Another sensational departure in the fundamentalist group’s tactics surfaced for the first time in the battle of Dammam. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources were bowled over by the discovery that al Qaeda had for the first time in its history filmed a battle live and in real time. The cameraman or camera team which shot the battle did not appear to be filming from inside the barricaded building but, astonishingly, from a point to the rear of the Saudi forces mounting the assault.
One segment, for example, showed the wanted terrorist Zaid al-Samari running out of a house on Amir Muhammad Street his face to the camera. He sprayed Saudi commandos with gunfire and killed them. The commandos were filmed dropping from behind.
The al Qaeda film unit makes its debut
Ten to 15 minutes after they were shot, the videotapes were forwarded by e-mail to adherents around the world, including Iraq, with commentaries that refuted the Saudi official account of the battle. Correspondents on al Qaeda’s mailing list received stills excised from the tape.
Five intriguing points are worth mentioning in this regard:
1. It was clear from the camera angles that the tapes were shot from the rear of the Saudi assault force.
2. Some were taken from the street – not from inside – which means the cameramen kept on rolling in the middle of a gun battle without fear of being hit by either side.
3. How was this accomplished unnoticed by the Saudi assault force on the ground and aloft in helicopters? The photographers would most certainly have been killed had they been caught.
4. How did al Qaeda get the footage with commentary out to the world so fast? They must have used powerful mobile wireless computers of top quality or satellite phones. Our sources report that such laptops were seen recently in the hands of al Qaeda fighters in the mountains overlooking Jalalabad in northeast Afghanistan.
5. How come that Saudi intelligence, which is alert for the slightest electronic murmur on computer networks and the Internet, missed the transmission of film and failed to jam it?