In its roundup report on the most recent Cabinet meeting, Arab News highlights the ban on all solid, nitrogen-based fertilizers for a three year period. Farmers will be restricted to using liquid fertilizers exclusively. This comes in response to the recent arrests of 172 militants last week. News reports have not been clear that fertilizer-based explosives had been found during the anti-terror sweep, but one must assume it based on this action.

The Cabinet also discussed regulations concerning the general importation of chemicals into the country; it commended the security forces who conducted the sweep; it also notes that Saudi Arabia has reached 9 of 11 UN Millennium Development goals ten years ahead of time.

Restrictions on Sale of Bomb-Making Chemicals Declared
P.K. Abdul Ghafour, Arab News

JEDDAH, 1 May 2007 — Saudi Arabia yesterday issued new regulations curbing the sale of industrial and agricultural chemicals that can be used to make explosives. The move comes days after the arrest of 172 terror suspects planning to carry out attacks on oil facilities, military bases and public figures.

April:30:2007 - 20:34 | Comments Off | Permalink

If nothing else, Arab News articles by Sarah Whelan can be relied upon for being loony. Today, she outdoes herself in trying to draw links between civilian acts of violence in the US and the existence of the US military. Whether it was the American Civil War or Iraq, Whelan sketches an exceptionally tenuous relationship to violence and attempts to draw a conclusion. Columbine as My Lai; Virginia Tech as Iraq; Charles Whitman at the University of Texas and ‘Operation Phoenix’? The Arab News should know better. It should also provide its readers with columns written by coherent writers. This is simply not responsible journalism.

Are Virginia Tech’s Victims Iraq War Victims As Well?
Sarah Whalen, Arab News

The young, troubled student dropped in and out of American colleges, drifting between California and Colorado. He had a drug habit, and was arrested for selling them. Through his horrified family’s intervention he was spared prison, and went back to dropping in and out of universities. He traveled. He did more drugs. He had an American girlfriend he’d left behind, and he called her from time to time.

April:30:2007 - 20:24 | Comments Off | Permalink

Christian Science Monitor runs this piece on how Saudi society has changed its opinion about Al-Qaeda since that group started attacking Arabs, Muslims, and Saudis within the country. While family are reporting members who they suspect have gone to join terrorist organizations and while the Saudi security services have vastly improved their effectiveness, Saudis do not yet see a comprehensive, government-wide effort to staunch the appeal of the jihadists. They particularly criticize the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs for not getting with the anti-terror program sufficiently.

It’s not any easier for the Saudi government to institute its policies or ideology than it is for the US government (witness the foofarah about the US Attorneys’ firing). But it certainly does need to do more to weed out the extremists who inhabit those ministries despite government policy.

New Saudi tack on Al Qaeda
The arrest of 172 suspected militants reveals a Saudi public that is helping in the fight against the terrorist group
Dan Murphy

Cairo – Some had trained abroad to become pilots and were planning to hijack airplanes to destroy oil refineries, Saudi Arabian officials said over the weekend, revealing alleged details of a foiled Al Qaeda plot on the kingdom.

Government officials announced on Friday the arrests of 172 suspected militants, one of the largest such roundups inside the country and the result of months of work involving informants and intelligence gleaned from captured militants.

While the arrests may have thwarted a 9/11-like plot, stopping the attacks in the planning highlights how successful the country’s security services have been in restricting the group’s ability to operate since 2004. By then, dozens of Saudi nationals and foreign-born residents had been killed by Al Qaeda’s adherents as the group appeared to be growing in strength and support.

What happened, analysts say, is that the Saudis came to view Al Qaeda as a legitimate threat as average Saudis – who had been somewhat supportive of Al Qaeda when its attacks seemed targeted at driving the US out of Afghanistan or Iraq or focused on foreigners in the kingdom – grew disgusted with bloodshed on their own soil.

“…there has been a change in Saudi society,” says Alani. “Al Qaeda made a strategic mistake by attacking Saudis, Arabs, and Muslims. For the sake of killing one foreigner, they are killing five or 10 Saudis. The average man no longer believes it is jihad. Any attacks in Saudi Arabia they see as unjustifiable, illegitimate, and terrorism, not jihad.”

That shift in local attitudes, he says, has made policing the country easier.

“Society became the main source of intelligence … there are many cases when the information is coming from the family. Someone calls and says my son or brother has disappeared and I believe he has been recruited,” Alani says.

April:30:2007 - 10:55 | Comments Off | Permalink

Lebanon’s Daily Star runs this commentary by Afshin Molavi of the New America Foundation.

I think he right in pointing out the while sectarian differences play a role in the competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran, they do not define that competition. Both countries are vying for the role of political leader in the Gulf region and beyond. The differences that count are political: Who will be the power?

The piece provides a history of the sometimes tendentious relations between the countries, starting with the Khomeini revolution and the Iran-Iraq War. It notes that both Saudi Arabia and Iran have worked to defuse the sectarian violence on their doorsteps. Both countries have been exchanging visitors, officially and not.

Rather than trying to see the competition between Riyadh and Tehran as an effort to achieve the ascendancy of either Shi’ism or Sunnism, I think it more useful to focus on the politics and economics of the competition. That makes for less flamboyant stories, of course, but it has the virtue of being more accurate.

Iranian-Saudi ties defy the caricature narrative
Afshin Molavi

As Arab presidents, emirs and kings lined up alongside the United Nations secretary general and the Pakistani, Malaysian and Turkish heads of state in last month’s Arab League summit in Riyadh, one key player was missing at the highest level: Iran. Its nominal head of state, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was not invited to the summit. Instead the relatively weak foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, attended on behalf of the Islamic Republic.

On the surface, this fits the caricature narrative that has emerged in policy and media circles on both sides of the Atlantic and in the Mediterranean: Saudi Arabia, the bulwark of Sunni Islam, is caught in a battle for regional hegemony tinged with sectarian hues against Iran, the bulwark of Shiite Islam.

April:30:2007 - 10:38 | Comments Off | Permalink

Andrew Hammond, with whom I had the pleasure of working when I was at the US Embassy in Riyadh, writes this piece which is being picked up by newspapers globally.

He correctly notes that trying to read what is happening within the Saudi royal family is exceptionally difficult. Not only are the Al-Saud closed mouthed about family affairs, but when one does speak it’s unclear whether he is reporting factually or merely promoting his own point of view. In the end, it pretty much comes down to ‘which rumor will I accept as factual’.

This piece reports on the rumor that Pr. Salman, Governor of Riyadh, is going to be a future king of Saudi Arabia. The piece accurately states, however, that it’s all a guessing game.

Andrew contradicts himself, however, when he calls the Kingdom an ‘absolute monarch’ while noting how consensus is an absolute requirement for governance and holding a position. Still, this is a useful piece to read.

Saudi “Kremlinology” heats up with king talk
Andrew Hammond

RIYADH (Reuters) – In Soviet Russia, it was called “Kremlinology.” The intricate and ultimately futile analysis of an opaque ruling system dominated by ageing men in suits, who made a career out of giving little away.

In Saudi Arabia, for suits just read “white robes.”

Interpreting minuscule movements in the political geography of Saudi Arabia’s closed system of government is a favorite parlor game among journalists, diplomats and businessmen, as well as the ambitious hoping for appointments to state bodies.

But a ripple of excitement has shifted the sands in recent months with indications that Prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz, the governor of Riyadh and half-brother of King Abdullah, is positioning himself as second-in-line to the throne.

April:30:2007 - 10:21 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat runs this piece analyzing Al-Qaeda training materials appearing on the Internet that make use of a Saudi terrorist who was killed in 2003. It appears to be that Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is attempting to create the image of a heroic martyr to inspire the next generation of would-be jihadists. On the other hand, it could also be that the current organization simply lacks anyone competent to do the recruiting job.

Yusuf al-Ayiri: Al-Qaeda’s Voice from the Grave
Huda al Saleh

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- In an audio recording posted on a “jihadi” website, Yusuf al-Ayiri the al-Qaeda ideologist and media coordinator who was killed in a security manhunt in Hayil (northern Saudi Arabia) in 2003, gives “new recruits” a lecture on tactics of structuring terror groups in the form of cells or “clusters”.

Al-Ayiri explained that both subtypes share the quality of being able to multiply and split into more than one group and cluster, all with separate leadership and unknown to the other cells. Each is headed by an “Amir” who is nominated to lead a limited number of individuals in his cell. This was the organizational pattern adopted by groups hunted down by Saudi authorities, according to the statement of the Interior Ministry which announced on 27April the uncovering of the largest terrorist plot in the Kingdom. The statement said seven separate cells were busted with a total of 172 members from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. They were united ideologically but split organizationally.

April:30:2007 - 09:46 | Comments Off | Permalink

While still declining to name them, the spokesman for the Saudi Ministry of Interior notes in this Asharq Alawsat interview, that the suspected terrorists who were arrested last week were being trained in several other countries. He notes that those arrested seemed, at least in part, to be gathering equipment indiscriminately to be used in various types of attacks, though earlier press reports have mentioned plans that were near completion. He notes that the groups did not have a ‘hit list’ of individuals targeted for assassinations, but a more generalized idea of the levels of officials to be killed. Names of those arrested are still being withheld.

Saudi Interior Ministry Spokesman on the Latest Terrorist Arrests
Turki Al-Saheil

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Major General Mansur al-Turki, official spokesman for the Saudi Ministry of Interior, revealed that of the 172 terrorists the ministry had announced arresting recently , 132 are Saudis, while the remaining 40 are foreign nationals, whose nationalities he did not specify.

Al-Turki told Asharq al-Awsat that the Saudi Government has notified the countries whose military bases were being targeted of the intentions of those groups, and that it informed the countries in which the terrorists had received pilot training of that training. This all comes in light of Saudi Arabia’s announcement yesterday that it apprehended seven terrorist cells.

He explained that Saudi Arabia is keen on fulfilling its role before the entire world “and is cooperating with all countries in combating terrorism.”

Major General Al-Turki said that the government “has been in contact with the countries whose military bases were being targeted by the armed groups, the countries in which those had received pilot training, and the countries in which those groups had received field training.” He expected those countries to reciprocate and provide Saudi Arabia with any information they might have on plans and schemes being hatched on their lands against the kingdom.

The Interior Ministry’s official spokesman noted that members of one of the terrorist cells had received pilot training in secure countries, while members of the remaining cells had received field training in turbulent countries.

April:30:2007 - 09:41 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette, citing the Arabic daily Al-Watan as it source, publishes a claim that the groups arrested in the recent sweep by Saudi security officials are linked to the 1979 attempt to take over the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

It’s not at all clear whether this is meant metaphorically, simply finding a similarity in the goals of the two groups, or literally. If the latter, it would be profoundly interesting, linking the current spate of Islamic terrorism with fundamentalist movements that pre-date what is generally considered the source of contemporary jihadism, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

I hope to see more on this story, even if only to clarify what’s a pretty murky allegation.

Terror Link to ’79 Raid
Abdullah Al-Hariri

A SAUDI man is being held on suspicion of leading one of the seven terrorist cells which were smashed by police when they discovered plots to attack oil facilities and military bases, Minister of the Interior Prince Naif Bin Abdul Aziz said in comments published on Saturday.
“Unfortunately, he is a Saudi. He was arrested along with the others,” Prince Naif told the Arabic-language daily Al-Riyadh, referring to the recent round-up of 172 suspects.

Additionally, security forces informed Arabic newspapers Al-Watan and Al-Hayat that the arrested leader had been the recipient of pledges of allegiance reportedly recited by his followers near the Holy Ka’abah in Makkah.

Dr. Abdul Rahman Al-Hadlag, Supervisor of the Advice Committee in the Ministry of the Interior, told the Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat the Saudi is among those nationals who have returned from fighting with the Taleban in Afghanistan.

He added that the man whose identity has not been released by authorities is in his 50s and denied reports that he is from the Central Region of the Kingdom.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bin Abdullah Bin Muhammad Aal Al-Sheikh, Grand Mufti of the Kingdom and President of the Board of Senior Ulema and Religious Research and Ruling (Ifta) Administration, said in a statement to the Saudi Press Agency that the suspects’ pledge of allegiance and subsequent obedience to their leader constitutes an act of disobedience to the Saudi rulers and is similar to the actions of the Kharijites (Al-Khawarij).

Asked if it is correct to refer to this person as a “new leader of Al-Qaeda in the Kingdom,” Prince Naif said it is not known if this person believed this, but nobody gives the pledge of allegiance to someone unless he has proclaimed himself a leader and has followers.

An Al-Watan Arabic daily source linked the extremist group with terrorist acts that took place in Makkah in 1979 under the leadership of Jehaiman Al-Otaibi, who with several extremists stormed the Grand Mosque in Makkah where they swore allegiance to the so-called Mohammed Abdullah Al-Qahtani who claimed he was the awaited Mahdi (Al-Mahdi Al-Muntadhar).

April:29:2007 - 21:28 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Hajj in Mecca is an event unlike any other. Millions of people come to the city of Mecca at the same time in order to perform the same rituals in the same, specific order. This presents a task of crowd management unique in the world. The success of that endeavor depends upon the infrastructure, of course, as the accidents that have claimed hundreds of lives over the past decade have show.

With this latest round of expansion, the Grand Mosque in Mecca is to be expanded so that it can safely hold one million worshipers at the same time. The entire enclosed mosque is to be fully air conditioned as well. By expanding the structure by some 25%, neighboring buildings are going to be demolished as well. The need to expand the mosque (and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina) will conflict with the need for historic preservation, inevitably. It’s pretty clear that the decision has been made to preserve the crucial elements of the religious center in Mecca over more secular sites outside it.

Further Expansion of Grand Mosque Planned
P.K. Abdul Ghafour & Badea Abu Al-Naja, Arab News

JEDDAH, 30 April 2007 — Plans have been made to increase the capacity of the Grand Mosque in Makkah by 35 percent in order to accommodate the growing numbers of pilgrims and worshippers especially during the peak Haj and Umrah seasons, sources close to the project said.

The sources said that the Makkah Development Authority, the Makkah Municipality and the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques’ Affairs are currently conducting intensive studies concerning the expansion project to be completed by 2020.

The Makkah Development Authority has approved the master plan for the development of the city’s central region. The plan aims at accommodating three million residents and eight million pilgrims. The Saudi Binladin Group has begun work on the expansion of the running area (masaa) between Safa and Marwa. The project aims at reducing overcrowding and will be completed before the next Haj season. Plans are under way to air-condition the entire built-up area of the mosque.

April:29:2007 - 21:18 | Comments Off | Permalink

Christian Science Monitor runs an article about ’99′, the Islam-oriented comic book I wrote about last year. The story reports that the comic has been well received in the Islamic world—except in Saudi Arabia, where it is banned, of course. Current publication runs at around 10,000 copies per issue, in Arabic. Distribution is world wide, with about 40% of the press run being sold in Egypt, the article notes. The comic is expected to become available in the US this fall, with a cover price of $2.99.

The Saudi ban—based on religious views, of course—is that as the characters, in emblemizing the 99 names of God, are ‘putting a face on God’, something the strict, conservative version of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia finds blasphemous. I have no doubts, however, that copies are finding their way into the country, just not through government-regulated channels.

A comic about truth, justice, and the Islamic way
Muslim superheroes populate a new comic book designed to entertain – and serve a serious purpose
Megan A. Wong

he year was 1258. Mongol leader Hulegu Khan had invaded Baghdad – a city that was then a pinnacle of civilization and learning. Legend has it that the attackers set their sights on Baghdad’s crown jewel, the Dar al-Hikma library, tossing thousands of manuscripts to a watery doom in the Tigris River.

Fortunately, cunning librarians spirited to safety the precious Noor Stones: 99 gems containing the library’s ancient wisdom. The stones remained hidden in the Muslim kingdom of Granada until 1492, when King Ferdinand’s Spanish army destroyed the mosque housing the gems. The Noor Stones were scattered around the globe, lost for centuries.

Sound melodramatic? Kind of like the plot of a comic book? It is.

Since October, youngsters throughout the Middle East have been discovering the legend of the Noor Stones in a new monthly comic book called “The 99.” The series is inspired by Islamic culture and history – the title refers to the 99 names and traits attributed to God in the Koran – and aims to spread a universal message of teamwork along with plenty of action, adventure, and “kapow!”

April:29:2007 - 10:49 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

The New York Times has a piece today looking at the influence of former Saudi Ambassador to the US, Pr. Bandar bin Sultan. It’s useful to read this article along side that of Martin Indyk, appearing in today’s ‘Outlook’ section of The Washington Post.

Both pieces note, correctly, that Bandar represents and has represented Saudi Arabia and its own interests. He has served as a middle man in trying to find ways to conceptually coordinate US and Saudi ideas on what policies to make and how to implement them. Where there have been strong differences between the two countries, that hasn’t always worked out well. This piece notes, also correctly, that Bandar has a way of leaving ‘room for interpretation’, letting the listener hear what he wants to hear, while never actually contradicting stated policies.

The article notes, too, that Saudi advice to the US prior to the war in Iraq, was ignored. Things like cautions about ‘de-Baathification’ and firing the Iraqi army, have shown themselves to be correct, alas in hindsight.

This article is definitely worth reading.

A Saudi Prince Tied to Bush Is Sounding Off-Key

WASHINGTON, April 28 — No foreign diplomat has been closer or had more access to President Bush, his family and his administration than the magnetic and fabulously wealthy Prince Bandar bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia.

Prince Bandar has mentored Mr. Bush and his father through three wars and the broader campaign against terrorism, reliably delivering — sometimes in the Oval Office — his nation’s support for crucial Middle East initiatives dependent on the regional legitimacy the Saudis could bring, as well as timely warnings of Saudi regional priorities that might put it into apparent conflict with the United States. Even after his 22-year term as Saudi ambassador ended in 2005, he still seemed the insider’s insider. But now, current and former Bush administration officials are wondering if the longtime reliance on him has begun to outlive its usefulness.

Bush administration officials have been scratching their heads over steps taken by Prince Bandar’s uncle, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, that have surprised them by going against the American playbook, after receiving assurances to the contrary from Prince Bandar during secret trips he made to Washington.

April:29:2007 - 10:00 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

The craze for combining Mentosâ„¢ and Diet Cokeâ„¢ has reached the Saudi pre-teen population with predictable explosive force. There’s just something about boys and things that go bang, I guess. As could also be predicted, there are ‘concerned parents’ who worry that physical harm might result or that children will explode if they combine the two in their stomachs. I’m a little surprised that it’s taken so long for this fad to his Saudi Arabia, though.

Mentos Eruption Is New Pastime for Youth
Sarah Abdullah, Arab News

JEDDAH, 29 April 2007 — The fad among many Saudi youth these days has nothing to do with the newest video games or the latest electronic gadget, but instead involves the mixing of Mentos mint candies, diet coke and the creation of a “Mentos Eruption” that has been gaining popularity throughout the Kingdom as a common after-school pastime.

April:28:2007 - 19:54 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink
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