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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

May 14, 2003

Al-Qaeda: the next phase

This week's suicide bomb attacks in Saudi Arabia have all the hallmarks of a meticulously planned and executed Al-Qaeda operation. JID's leading anti-terrorism expert analyses the implications of the latest atrocity for the USA's 'war against terrorism' and the future of the Saudi regime.

Given the timing of the explosions, a matter of hours before US secretary of state Colin Powell was scheduled to arrive in Saudi Arabia, the message could hardly be clearer: the bombers intended to prove that despite stepped-up security within one of the world's most closed societies, they still have the capability to strike at will against foreign targets, even in guarded compounds.

That major acts of terrorism within the Kingdom were being planned can hardly come as a surprise. At the beginning of May, JID warned that intelligence reports reveal the extent to which weapons are being smuggled into Saudi Arabia (see JID 2 May 2003). Just a week before the latest attacks Saudi security police fought with suspected terrorists and uncovered a large arsenal of arms and explosives. However, the suspects managed to evade capture and the group is believed to have been involved in this week's bombings that may have killed more than 34 people, as well as injuring around 200 others.

It now seems probable that Al-Qaeda and its local cells within Saudi Arabia have decided to take advantage of the growing vulnerability of the ruling House of Saud to launch a major campaign of terror with the aim of toppling the increasingly unpopular royal government with an ultra-hardline Islamic regime.

In order to lay the foundations for the overthrow of the royal family, the terrorists appear to have calculated that a series of highly co-ordinated suicide attacks would serve to demonstrate that the Al-Qaeda network is fully operational within the Kingdom.

As leading anti-terrorism experts point out, Al-Qaeda enjoys far wider support across all levels of Saudi society than either the West or the royal authorities are prepared to acknowledge. Indeed, the Saudi government has only recently abandoned its official position of denying that Al-Qaeda had any serious support base in the Kingdom, despite evidence that substantial funding for the group has its origins in the country and that no less than 15 of the 19 hijackers responsible for the 11 September attacks were Saudi citizens.

As JID has pointed out on earlier occasions, Washington's decision to pull out most of its 5,000 troops from the Kingdom represents a major shift in US regional policy. It is also being seen in militant circles as an important victory for Bin Laden, justifying his campaign to expel non-Muslim forces from the country. This week's attacks against foreign civilians may be seen as the next phase of Al-Qaeda's strategy of 'cleansing' the Kingdom prior to ousting the ruling House of Saud.
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