Following the tiff that saw Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar, the GCC has found a way to bring the states back together. The exact steps to be taken are — annoyingly — unreported. But all is well, we’re told by Saudi Gazette.
RIYADH — Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council brokered a consensus Thursday after a rift that saw Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar. During a meeting in Riyadh, GCC foreign ministers conducted a “comprehensive review of measures relating to foreign and security policies,” according to a statement from the Gulf group. “[Participants] agreed to adopt measures that ensure working at a group level and that policies of any individual state should not affect the interests, security or stability of any other member state and without affecting the sovereignty of any of its states,” the statement said. Last month, in an unprecedented split between Gulf Arab allies, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar, saying Doha had not implemented a GCC deal reached in Riyadh in November to avoid interfering in each other’s affairs.
The three countries, led by Saudi Arabia, accused Doha of interfering in the internal affairs of countries in the Gulf region by backing Islamist movements in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere. Qatar denied it interferes anywhere but vowed to stick to its foreign policy.
The September 11, 2001 attacks on the US continue to be ground in the mills of the American courts. My local newspaper reports on a local suit to obtain information from the FBI concerning its investigation of a Saudi family that had been living in Sarasota, FL prior to the attacks. The article also notes ongoing suits in New York trying to find a lever to sue the Saudi government and some of the charities it established. Congress, meanwhile, is seeking the release of 28 pages that had been redacted from the official report on 9/11.
Judge waits for FBI’s Sarasota Saudi documents
Michael Pollick | Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Relatives of 9/11 victims are eagerly watching the legal struggle over information held by the FBI concerning a Saudi Arabian family in Sarasota with possible ties to terrorists, even as calls in Congress ramp up for more disclosure about how the attackers were funded.
On Friday, a federal judge in Fort Lauderdale was expected to receive FBI documents pertaining to the agency’s investigation of the Saudi family that abruptly left Sarasota just before the September 2001 attacks.
Late Thursday, the government asked for more time to submit the records, saying the materials that need to be searched comprise 23 boxes totaling 92,000 pages in the agency’s Tampa field office.
Government lawyers proposed a May 2 deadline.
Arab News publishes another uninformative article reporting that 18 people have been sentenced to jail, fines and travel restrictions following their conviction for an assortment of terroristic crimes. No names are published and the crimes for which they were convicted are reported only in general terms. These range from weapons procurement to smuggling people across borders to terrorism financing.
A special court in Riyadh has sentenced 18 terrorists to a collective 104 years in jail for various subversive and illegal activities including attempts to smuggle missiles into the Kingdom from Yemen.
They received sentences ranging from two months to 27 years. One of the convicts was jailed for 13 years, local media reported Friday.
Arab News reports that Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Education, Pr. Khaled Al-Faisal, is alerting schoolteachers that they, too, fall under the Kingdom’s new anti-terrorism law. This has been a weak point in Saudi Arabia’s anti-terrorism efforts. While the government may take a particular stance, it has permitted teachers — those with primary access to young minds — to teach pretty much whatever they want, however they want, so long as they pay official obeisance to the curriculum. There has been very little monitoring of what actually goes on in the classrooms and Saudi parents have complained.
The article does not state that any particular measures are being taken to increase monitoring. Lacking enhanced monitoring, I can only assume that the Ministry intends to act on parental complaints. The Ministry will, however, be contacting school principals to ensure they’re aware of their responsibilities.
Education Minister Prince Khaled Al-Faisal has urged all schoolteachers to abide by the Kingdom’s new anti-terror laws and ensure they teach their students about correct Islamic practices and to remain loyal to their country.
His comments come in the wake of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, through the Interior Ministry, banning several extremist and terrorist organizations, and instituting jail terms of up to 20 years for citizens fighting in conflicts abroad.
“The ministry has warned people against joining, supporting or funding any groups that have been listed as terrorist organizations.”
The minister said that it was necessary to safeguard Islam, the unity of the Ummah, and the Kingdom’s security and stability.
Saudi Arabia is moving forward in a full-court press to limit, restrain, and punish those promoting extremist forms of Islam, Asharq Alawsat reports. After the expiration of a two-week grace period, the government is acting on a broad front to enforce its decision to stop a number of groups it has identified as “terrorist organizations”. Among the groups are Al-Qaeda and its regional affiliates, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Saudi Hezbollah. Notably, the Houthi movement in Yemen is also declared a terrorist group. While only a handful of groups are currently listed (see below), the government says more groups will be named.
In the article, numerous Saudi officials charged with overseeing security and religious affairs are all stating their support and eagerness to get on board. The article also notes that several preachers have been arrested for violating the new law.
Riyadh and London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Following Saudi Arabia’s official decision to designate a number of local and regional organizations, including the Muslim Brotherhood, as terrorist groups, domestic and regional figures and analysts have moved to respond. Many local and regional figures have praised the decision, while also warning against potential future challenges.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Saudi Justice Minister Mohamed Issa affirmed the government’s duty to take all necessary legal measures to ensure domestic security and stability.
Issa praised the royal decree, which he said is based on protecting national security, adding that the recent escalation in the ideologies of such groups has been extremely harmful to public tranquility and the state has no choice but to seek to confront this.
The Saudi Justice Minister confirmed that the spread of these terrorist groups and their ideologies has harmed social cohesion in Saudi Arabia.
In another piece, Asharq Alawsat provides the text of the government’s statement, including a list of offenses and groups currently banned.
While designation of terrorist groups is useful, there are several elements of the statement that are troubling. The very first item on the list of offenses, for example, condemns those who promote “atheistic ideologies”. I’m not aware of any atheistic terrorist groups that are threatening Saudi Arabia at present.
The eighth item, “The pursuit of unsettling the social and national fabric, or the call for, participation in, or promotion of sit-ins, demonstrations, gatherings, collective statements, or any actions that touch the unity and stability of the Kingdom under any reason and in any form,” is also fraught with the potential for abuse. “The unity and stability of the Kingdom” is overbroad and open to interpretations that meet political ends at the expense of freedom of thought and expression. If it chose to do so, the government could make this to mean any criticism of the government, its members, or its actions. Calling for women to be given the right to drive could well fall under this rubric as, clearly, there are many in Saudi society who do not like the idea at all.
Given its past record of behavior toward Shi’ite groups, the government will have to be very careful that its designation of Shi’ite groups is not just another measure of abuse.
Saudi Arabia has formally declared the Muslim Brotherhood to be a terrorist organization. Belonging to, supporting, or offering public sympathy toward the group is now against the law, Al Arabiya TV reports.
At the same time, the government has criminalized membership in or support of Hezbollah, as well as the al-Nusra Front and ISIS organizations now active in Syria.
Saudi Arabia blacklisted on Friday the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group among three other militant groups in the Middle East, Al Arabiya News Channel reported, citing a royal decree.
The Saudi terrorism list also includes the kingdom’s branch of the Shiite Hezbollah movement and the Syria-based Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the al-Nusra Front.
Hundreds of Saudi fighters are believed to have joined ISIS and al-Nusra in Syria. The Saudi authorities have extended a deadline for those fighters to return home.
The royal decree also criminalized taking membership in, supporting and sympathizing with any of those groups.
In a surprise move and somewhat against the interest of Gulf Cooperation Council unity, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE have withdrawn their ambassadors from Qatar. The reasons stated, according to this piece in Arab News based on news agency reports, is that Qatar is not getting with the program of toning down Islamic extremism in places like Syria. In particular, Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood runs counter to the policies of many of the GCC states. Also, by allowing people like the cleric Yusuf Qaradawi, resident in Qatar, to criticize the workings of individual state governments, Qatar is violating the rule about interfering in member states’ internal affairs.
While not stated, I suspect the chronic irritation of Qatar-backed Al-Jazeera TV is also a factor.
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain said on Wednesday they were withdrawing their ambassadors from Qatar because Doha had not implemented an agreement among Gulf Arab countries not to interfere in each others’ internal affairs.
The three Gulf Arab states followed what the local press described as a “stormy” late Tuesday meeting of foreign ministers from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Riyadh.
In a joint statement, the three states said GCC members had signed an agreement on Nov. 23 not to back “anyone threatening the security and stability of the GCC whether as groups or individuals — via direct security work or through political influence, and not to support hostile media.”
Qatar had been a backer of the Muslim Brotherhood movement that is banned in most Gulf states.
“Al Majalla” magazine runs an interview with Abdullah Anas, a former mujahideen in Afghanistan and companion of Usama bin Laden during the fight against Soviet occupation. Anas is unabashedly proud of the effort and the way in which it was conducted. He finds that the so-called jihad now being promoted in Syria can only be described as barbaric and hugely unlawful. Interesting reading.
Jihad, Then and Now
The Majalla speaks to Abdullah Anas
As the situation in Syria grows worse and simultaneously more complicated day by day, the fears of observers of the conflict have become more focused on the foreign jihadists who have travelled to the war-torn country to take part in the fighting. With the chaos unleashed by some of the “Arab Afghans” who joined the struggle against the former Soviet Union’s presence in Afghanistan in the 1980s still fresh in the minds of the world’s intelligence and security services, it is worth looking back once more at the experiences of the members of this group. Few are more familiar with the Arab Afghans and their struggle than Abdullah Anas.
The son-in-law of Abdullah Yusuf Azzam—who became Osama Bin Laden’s mentor when he arrived in Afghanistan—Anas was second-in-command at the Bureau of Services office in Peshawar that supported the Arab Afghans and Afghan Mujahideen. Today, Anas remains proud of the decade he spent involved in the Afghan struggle, and counts Ahmad Shah Massoud and Osama Bin Laden as former comrades in arms.
Before meeting Azzam, Anas was already a founder of the Islamic movement in southern Algeria and worked with Algeria’s leading Islamists Mahfoudh Nahnah and Abbas Madani. He remains a part-time imam and a teacher of the Qur’an, having studied in Saudi Arabia and Algeria. Following his religious studies he took a degree in international politics in the UK. His journey to Afghanistan began when he came across a legal opinion written by Azzam, who argued that it was obligatory for Muslims to fight in Afghanistan. By chance he later met Azzam in Mecca and was invited to travel to Afghanistan with him.
After the departure of the Soviets from the country and the assassination of Azzam in 1992, Anas grew disillusioned by the takfirist ideas that had become increasingly prominent thanks to new arrivals such as Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the current leader of Al-Qaeda. Anas’s role had been to focus on the logistical needs of the Afghan Mujahideen, while the organization that came to be known as Al-Qaeda had a larger agenda, which would become infamous in the years that followed. As infighting broke out among the Afghan Mujahideen, Anas left for Algeria, though his affiliation to the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and the subsequent military crackdown that followed its election success in 1992 forced him into exile in France and then the UK.
Today, Anas says he is in the process of writing his memoirs, running a TV channel and working with young people.
The UAE’s Gulf News runs a report on the rise of Prince Mohammad Bin Naif, Minister of the Interior, as a replacement for Prince Bandar Bin Sultan as the point-man for Saudi efforts in Syria. Mohammad, who established the Saudi rehabilitation program for returned/captured jihadists, has been working to separate Syrian rebels battling the Al-Assad regime from the extremists who are also fighting, but for entirely different reasons. The mixing of the two groups has been a serious impediment to US efforts in Syria as the US is simply unwilling to provide support if it ends up in the wrong hands.
The article notes that among those looking at Saudi succession issues, Mohammad is rated as being very much in the game.
Riyadh (Reuters): Saudi Interior Minister Mohammad Bin Nayef, perhaps the most powerful younger prince in the ruling Al Saud family, is shaping Riyadh’s new emphasis on protecting the kingdom from a fresh wave of Islamist militancy inspired by the war in Syria.
The United States pulled out the stops for him when he visited Washington last week to prepare for President Barack Obama’s fence-mending trip to Riyadh next month.
Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Central Intelligence Agency chief John Brennan, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey and National Security Agency director Keith Alexander all sat down with the 54-year-old, a veteran of Saudi Arabia’s fight against Al Qaida.
Prince Mohammad seems likely to be a central figure in the world’s top oil exporter for decades to come. Many Saudis say he is a strong candidate to become king one day.
“He’s now playing not only the role of Interior Minister, but also that of a senior diplomat and adviser to the king,” said Robert Jordan, US ambassador to Riyadh from 2001-03.
Prince Mohammad, btw, escaped being killed by a suicide bomber back in 2009 who carried his bomb within his own body.
Asharq Alawsat reports that even preachers will not be exempted from new laws criminalizing taking part in terroristic activities outside Saudi Arabia, or for encouraging others to do so. No more hiding behind the cloak of religion.
The head of the Riyadh Criminal Court has said that everyone, including preachers and Islamic Studies students, is subject to the law and will be prosecuted for violations of it. This is a hardening of the government’s stance which previously let some preachers skate with only a warning to not do it again. Joining in, participating with, or supporting groups identified by the government as extremist now bears criminal penalties, whether those activities take place within the Kingdom or outside it.
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—The head of the Riyadh Criminal Court, Judge Sheikh Saleh Bin Ibrahim Al-Sheikh, has confirmed that preachers and Islamic studies students shown to be sympathetic to extremist groups or discourse will not be exempted from new anti-terror legislation announced by King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud last week.
In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Sheikh Saleh Al-Sheikh stressed that religious preachers and students implicated in the latest crackdown on terrorism and extremist ideology will be viewed as “criminals” and will be punished under the law, regardless of their position.
The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, last week issued a royal decree providing that “whoever participates or is involved in hostilities outside the Kingdom or joins radical religious and intellectual groups or currents shall be sentenced to not less than three and not more than twenty years in prison.”
Al-Sheikh said: “Whoever is suspected to have committed a crime such as this will be transferred to court.”
The Saudi-US Relations Information Service (SUSRIS) provides that handy scorecard for the major groups now on the US government’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. The groups range from the well known like Al-Qaeda and its various affiliates to old-time groups like the Abu Nidal Organizations whose continued existence is somewhat surprising. The locations of the groups range from the Maghreb, across the Middle East and Turkey, through Afghanistan and Pakistan, and on to Indonesia.
Each group’s citation includes links to the source of information for each group’s inclusion.
… Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) are foreign organizations that are designated by the Secretary of State in accordance with section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended. FTO designations play a critical role in the fight against terrorism and are an effective means of curtailing support for terrorist activities and pressuring groups to get out of the terrorism business.
Today we take this opportunity to highlight some of the terrorist groups from the Middle East North Africa region subject to the U.S. FTO designation. Many are profiled in a useful resource at the U.S. National Counter Terrorism Center Web site. We have included the guidelines the U.S. Government uses in reaching FTO designations and for dealing with such groups.
In an interview with Saudi Gazette/Okaz, the head of Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (aka, ‘religious police’ or Ha’ia) admits what many already knew: there are religious extremists within the group. He vowed that they would be weeded out.
Extremists in Haia ranks: Al-Asheikh
Muhammad Al-Mohaidi and Muhammad Sobti | Okaz/Saudi Gazette
ARAR – Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Asheikh, President of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Haia), admitted the presence of extremists in its ranks.
He labelled them as “advocates of sedition” and vowed to eliminate them. “There are advocates of sedition within the Haia, and we will deal with them in accordance with the law and regulations. We will eliminate whoever urges sedition in this country,” he warned.
Replying to a question from Okaz/Saudi Gazette whether he was satisfied with the functioning of the Haia, Asheikh said that it is not up to his satisfaction.
“Reaching the summit as well as maintaining the stay on the summit are both difficult. However, we are moving forward in line with the aspirations of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah.”
Referring to the calls for waging jihad in neighboring countries, the Haia chief said that such calls for jihad are void.