Tribal Backing for Saudi Rulers Ebbs as al Qaeda Creeps Closer

Though similar in operational method to the May 12 triple suicide attack in Riyadh, al Qaeda’s suicide assault on the Muhaya housing complex in the Saudi capital Saturday night November 9 exposed two new features. Osama bin Laden’s terrorists have taken a threatening step closer to one of their premier targets, the Saudi royal house; and their recruitment base of non-Saudi zealots is expanding.
US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, who flew into Riyadh for security talks with Crown Prince Abdullah from Baghdad, said Monday, November 10, to Al Arabiya TV: “It is clear to me that al Qaeda wants to take down the royal family and government of Saudi Arabia.”
The final casualty toll was impossible to confirm Monday, November 10 because, for one, rescuers were still digging through the rubble of the destroyed 200-villa compound that housed highly-paid professional foreigners from Arab countries; for another, Saudi officials were as usual at pains to minimize the death and destruction. The figure is certainly is the range of hundreds. The killer team reportedly gained entry to the fenced compound by posing as Saudi security officers and opening fire on the guards before driving in and blowing up their bomb car – or cars.
The attack, occurring one day after the United States shut down its diplomatic missions in the kingdom, struck a district close to the diplomatic compound and, even more significantly, around half a mile from the homes of top royal princes, including Prince Nayef, the interior minister responsible for the kingdom’s crackdown on al Qaeda.
Saudi security forces are braced for further terrorist attacks before Ramadan ends next week. They have beefed up security strength in Mecca, center of Muslim shrines and pilgrimage, after a series of clashes in the city prefaced the Muhaya bombing – in an exact parallel to the May 12 assaults.
On November 3, Saudi police killed two armed men and captured six. On November 6, two terrorists blew themselves up in a shootout to evade capture. On the same day, the Riyadh police shot a third terrorist who had reached the capital from Mecca. November 9, the suicide bombers struck.
The Saudis found to their surprise that, while two of the captured terrorists, were Saudis, four were Nigerian. They revealed under questioning that their al Qaeda commanders had exploited the stream of Ramadan pilgrims making for the Muslim shrines to plant several African killer cells in the kingdom, assuming Saudi counter-terror agents would be watching out mainly fro Muslims from Arab states or the Far East. Each of these cells has two or three Saudi “escorts”, who take them to hideouts where they pick up weapons and explosives and are then led to target. The number of these infiltrator-cells is unknown. They are thought to have scattered among the pilgrimage cities of Mecca and Medina as well as other cities, primarily Riyadh.
The two terrorists who blew themselves up in Mecca on November 6 turned out to be the remainder of the cell which moved to Riyadh. The investigation is probing to find out if this cell executed or supported the attack on Muhaya. Two of its members preferred to die rather than betray the operation scheduled three days hence, the third got away.
Similarly, three or four days before the May 12 attacks, Saudi and US intelligence discovered and encircled the bombers’ hideout in advance of their operation, but enough escaped to regroup at prepared alternative secret bases and pounce from there.
This time too, the Americans and Saudis knew a fresh assault was imminent. On November 8, Washington released information that terrorists had moved from the planning to the operational stage and shut all diplomatic missions in the kingdom.
debkafile‘s terrorism experts note: The sequence of events lays bare a major obstacle in the capabilities of the royal Saudi authorities and the intelligence resources at their command to fight al Qaeda. On top of the conventional terror prevention methods, like human and electronic surveillance and intelligence gathering, the Saudis are confronted with the need to bargain perpetually for the cooperation of local tribal, clan and clerical leaders in handing over al Qaeda suspects. Saudi security officers in pursuit of terrorists dare not venture into a district before the local chiefs and imams have been won over. The alternative is wholesale war against one or more of the tribes that are the backbone of the kingdom’s population.
Shortly after the May 12 attack, our sources reported that Crown Prince Abdullah and other influential princes rebuked Prince Nayef, accusing him of falling down on the job of prevention. This charge would not be warranted now. Nayef and Saudi intelligence performed to the limit of their ability to prevent the Muhaya attack. Their efforts this time were defeated by the widening rift between the throne in Riyadh and the local chieftains and clerics, especially the teachers at the local madressas. The situation now is that local leaders often let security forces believe they are are operating in friendly territory when those leaders give the game away to their al Qaeda quarry and help them elude capture.
This lack of local sympathy for the royal house and its efforts to fight terror is particularly striking in the southern provinces and the Hijaz region of Mecca and Medina on the Red Sea coast, where the Ramad Tribe reigns. For the decades that the Sudeiri branch of the royal house has ruled the government in Riyadh, the southern and eastern tribes have been left in the cold while royal favors were bestowed on the tribes of the central Nejd region. The alienated tribes, long denied privileges and senior positions in central government, are now settling their scores with Riyadh by granting solidarity to the anti-royal resistance posed by al Qaeda.
The Saudi Interior minister’s efforts to clamp down on terrorists and foil attacks are seriously cramped by this lack of support in key regions of the kingdom.
A further danger is posed by al Qaeda’s success in developing another center of recruitment, Kuwait. debkafile‘s counter-terror sources reveal exclusively that since mid-October, hundreds of al Qaeda recruits in Kuwait are entering Iraq directly or through Saudi Arabia. The scale of this traffic is beginning to rival the movement of Arab and other al Qaeda fighters into Iraq from Syria. The Kuwaitis find it easy to enter Iraq posing as merchants with business in Baghdad. At the border, they are picked up by former Iraqi military intelligence officers loyal to Saddam Hussein and transferred to flashpoint zones in Baghdad, Ramadi, Falluja, Samarra and Tikrit where they join the battle against the coalition.
Both the Saudi and Kuwaiti authorities have not been able to stop this dangerous cross-border movement.
The Muhaya bombing exposed the breadth of al Qaeda’s Middle East operations and objectives. Operating from bases in Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf, Syria and Lebanon, the fundamentalist extremists are acting on a broad front against America and its allies, the Saudi throne and Israel.

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