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Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia: The Long Fight Ahead

3 MINS READJun 22, 2004 | 15:45 GMT
Saleh Mohammed al-Oufi, a 38-year-old former Saudi police officer and veteran of the Afghan, Bosnian and Chechen wars, has succeeded the slain Abdel Aziz al-Muqrin as al Qaeda military commander in Saudi Arabia, according to a statement posted on jihadist Web sites. STRATFOR sources close to the Saudi government expect al Qaeda militancy to continue under this new commander — likely aided by al-Oufi's knowledge of — and, more importantly, his connections to — Saudi security forces. Al-Oufi is al Qaeda's fourth known military commander — after Yusuf al-Ayeri, Khaled Ali al-Haj and al-Muqrin — and, like his predecessors, he is a professional fighter. He returned to Saudi Arabia in 1995 after being wounded in battle in Chechnya. He also is considered one of al Qaeda's founding members in the kingdom. His cousin, Majid Mishaan Moqed (al-Oufi) al-Harbi, 22, took part in the hijacking of American Airlines flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon during the Sept. 11 attacks. The fact that al-Oufi hails from the western Hijaz region, specifically the holy city of Medina, will likely aid his recruitment efforts in the more downtrodden areas of the kingdom: the outskirts of Medina, the Hijaz countryside and the southwestern Asir region. Al-Muqrin's Death Saudi security forces killed al-Muqrin and three associates June 18 after militants beheaded U.S. hostage Paul Johnson. STRATFOR sources close to Saudi internal security say authorities had located al-Muqrin largely by a stroke of luck, and then had him on their radar screen for nearly a week. The sources say security forces deliberately waited until after Johnson was killed to pursue him — since the regime wanted the West, and particularly the United States, to understand the gravity of the Islamist-militant threat in the kingdom. It also wanted to prove to Washington that it is capable of dealing with the threat on its own. Washington, however, is unlikely to be convinced. STRATFOR sources differ with the Saudi government regarding the circumstances surrounding al-Muqrin's death. Apparently, the militants were leaving Riyadh to return to desert camps when they stopped for food at a small restaurant. Contrary to the government's version, no shootout took place. Security forces opened fire when they had the militants in sight, and the militants never knew they were being targeted. The hesitancy on the part of the security forces to engage Islamist militants in an actual firefight — and their preference for waiting for a timely ambush — indicates they are intimidated by the better trained, more experienced and more cold-blooded militants. In another example of militant strategic planning, al-Oufi's appointment so soon after al-Muqrin's death indicates that al Qaeda has pre-determined its leadership succession — in case of sudden death. He likely was appointed by a committee of the political leadership, which in turn could be following a line of succession transmitted in advance by Osama bin Laden. It appears the Saudi government is in for a long battle with al Qaeda in the days ahead — no matter who is in charge.

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