Saudi Arabia faces increasing terror threats

Policemen stand by on a main street in Riyadh

Dubai: Trapped between Al Qaida in Yemen and Isil (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) in Iraq, Saudi Arabia is facing a looming terrorism threat across the border, warn experts on terrorism.

Hundreds of Saudi fighters joining other groups abroad makes the external threat to Saudi Arabia “bigger” than the internal threat from ‘sleeping cells’, they added.

Saudi security officials, meanwhile, have raised alerts to deal with the increasing threats.

Terrorism is threatening everybody, and “Saudi Arabia is a target, definitely”, said Hassan Abu Hanieh, a researcher and analyst of Islamist groups based in Amman.

Referring to the high number of “Saudi jihadists” abroad — the term researchers use to refer to Saudi fighters in extremist groups in Yemen and Iraq — Abu Hanieh added, “I believe the biggest danger to Saudi Arabia is coming from abroad much more than within.”

While it seems difficult to eliminate the growing threat of Al Qaida in Yemen and Isil in Iraq in the foreseeable future, the expert warned that the “rebound of this danger, with the presence of Saudi fighters, grows”.

According to Abu Hanieh, there are nearly 1,400 Saudis among the ranks of Isil in Iraq and Syria, and there are some 700 Saudis among the ranks of Al Qaida in Yemen.

Alarmed by the high number of citizens fighting alongside extremists abroad, Saudi authorities had announced earlier this year it would jail up to 20 years anyone who fights in conflicts abroad.

February’s decree also included prison sentences for anyone who joins, or endorses or gives moral or material aid to groups classified as terrorists or extremists inside and outside the kingdom. Isil has been listed as a terrorist group in Saudi Arabia.

On Monday, a Saudi court sentenced four people to jail for between two to five years and six months for trying to go to Iraq to enrol in the fighting there and for supporting Al Qaida operations.

Last week, ten people were killed in an attack against a Saudi security post near the border with Yemen, according to Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news channel. Five were security officers and five were militants.
Commenting on researchers’ warnings of “bigger external” threats, Major General Mansour Al Turki, security spokesman for the Saudi interior ministry, told Gulf News, “We realise this, and we trust our abilities, preparations and readiness to deal with all different possibilities, and [we also trust] our preventive measures to preserve security and stability in the kingdom.”

Maj Gen Al Turki explained that the Saudi authorities are implementing a comprehensive national strategy to combat terrorism, including raising the readiness of security agencies and implementing measures to protect borders and vital installations.

Yet, experts on the subject believe the more alert and tough the security agencies become, the stronger the extremists grow.

Already, the nature of the extremist groups has changed in the past few years, Abu Hanieh said.

“The third generation of Al Qaida born in Iraq is more radical and violent than the first generation. The second generation, which was born in Syria, made the extremist group more “global”, with the arrival of nearly 15,000 fighters to join the ranks of extremists in Syria.”

Today, the extremist groups have wider targets — local, regional and international — receiving local support and have become better trained, added Abu Hanieh.


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