The Ongoing Struggle Against Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula
3 MINS READMar 31, 2006 | 00:03 GMT
Editor's Note: The following text has been modified to correct an error in reference to the Abqaiq facility that appeared in its initial publication. Saudi security forces conducting a series of raids throughout the kingdom in March arrested 40 suspected militants, uncovered caches of explosives and weapons, and seized two vehicles rigged with explosives — likely thwarting an imminent attack. The raids, in Riyadh, the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, and near the recently attacked Abqaiq oil processing facility, demonstrate Saudi success against al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula. The fact that another attack was in the making, however, also indicates the significant threat the jihadist network continues to pose in the country. The two vehicles seized March 28 near the facility bore the markings of the Saudi Arabian Oil Co. (Saudi Aramco), similar to the ones used in the Feb. 24 Abqaiq attack. The advanced stage of construction of the car bombs suggests that an attack was forthcoming, and the Saudi Aramco markings could indicate the target was another oil installation. Because Saudi Aramco vehicles arouse little suspicion in Saudi Arabia, however, the bombs could have been intended for any number of targets. The swift Saudi response to the Abqaiq attack and the success of these latest raids are signs that the Saudis are making good use of their counterterrorism intelligence capabilities. Within days of the attack, Saudi security forces had conducted raids and arrested suspects in the plot. During one raid in suburban Riyadh on Feb. 27, security forces engaged militants in a two-hour shootout, killing five militants and uncovering weapons and explosives. These raids provided intelligence that led to the March raids. In addition, Saudi success in killing off a number of the country's al Qaeda leaders shows that Saudi intelligence has penetrated the jihadist network in the country at its highest levels. Given Saudi Arabia's almost complete religious homogeneity, the jihadists and their supporters are able to intermingle freely with the different cross-sections of society, including the security forces. They have taken advantage of this common thread to discover what the security system is up to. The process, however, works both ways: Authorities can use this intermingling to keep tabs on their foes as well. Although the Saudis are taking advantage of their intelligence capabilities to pre-empt attacks, at least some of their success is due to the militants' poor operational security. The fact that intelligence gained during raids on militant cells often leads the Saudis to uncover other plots by different cells indicates that the militants are not compartmentalizing their information. The disruption of a new plot near the Abqaiq facility indicates that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula remains a serious threat, despite its lack of operational security. Should the local network begin to learn such skills from Saudi jihadists returning from Iraq, however, the Saudis could find their job more difficult. While the raids were taking place, the Saudis increased security around compounds housing Western expatriates in Riyadh, perhaps as a precaution in case the raids were to spur an unknown militant cell into action. This could mean that while the Saudis have a good handle on al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, they might not have the jihadist network completely compromised.