Asharq Alawsat runs two opinion pieces today discussing the Al-Khobar barracks bombing of 1996 and the recent arrest of one of the perpetrators. Though the first is not yet mounted at the paper’s website, it can be found at Al Arabiya TV. In both pieces — and we can take this as unofficial reflection of Saudi policy — Iran is lambasted for its support of the bombing, if not its planning. Both pieces rail against Iran’s historic and continued use of terrorism as part of its official statecraft.
In the first, Abdulrahman al-Rashed reviews the history of the attack as well as of Iran’s meddling in the region…
The significance of arresting the 1996 Khobar bomber
Who would have thought that the head of the terrorist cell that carried out the Khobar bombing in Saudi Arabia would be arrested after being on the run for 19 years? Arresting Ahmed al-Mughassil in Beirut and handing him over to Saudi authorities in Riyadh has turned the page on one of the most important and dangerous security and political cases. This is because the operation was plotted in Iran, the victims were from the U.S. and the crime was committed on Saudi territories. This case also involved other countries such as Canada, Syria and Lebanon because of the presence of the suspects on their territories.
It is said that the violent attack in the summer of 1996 was so big that the explosion was heard from Bahrain. The force of the bomb caused a10-meter crater in the ground and destroyed one side of the Khobar towers. Nineteen U.S. forces were dead and about 500 others were injured. Perhaps it would have ranked the worst terrorist operation in the world, in terms of injuries, if the perpetrators did not put the bomb in a water truck, which reduced the force of the explosion.
In the second piece, Salman Aldosary asks the whereabouts of others involved in the attack. He again points to Iran…
Where are the other three Khobar Towers suspects?
All the 19 years he spent living in hiding, under assumed identities, did not protect Ahmed Al-Mughassil from being eventually caught. Mughassil, who thought he had escaped from justice, was caught by the Saudi authorities in a complex intelligence operation this month. It is not surprising that Mughassil was living in Iran, using forged Iranian ID cards all along. What would have been really surprising is if the scenario was different: that Iran had no hand in the terrorist bombing that killed 19 US airmen and injured 372 others and that it did not provide the perpetrators with shelter over the past two decades. Following the discovery and arrest of Mughassil, three out of the 14 suspects remain at large. Where are they? Who operates their movements and hides their identities?
Guesswork aside, the other three suspects presumably live in Iran, the country accused of standing behind the terrorist bombing. Even if they were not there, they must have received orders from Tehran to return immediately since Mughassil’s arrest. There is no country in the whole world capable of defying the United States and the international community, sheltering fugitives and terrorists, but Iran. It previously did that with Al-Qaeda members—something which could be supported with evidence. It cannot be imagined that the suspects—Ali Al-Houri, Ibrahim Al-Yacoub and Abdel karim Al-Nasser—who are also members of the so-called Hezbollah Al-Hejaz, an Iran-allied group, have escaped the Interpol’s clutches without some country providing them with shelter and legal cover.
Al Arabiya TV reports that Saudi Arabia has extradited from Lebanon a prime suspect with responsibility for the 1996 bombing of a US barrack in Al-Khobar. Ahmed al-Mughassil, who has also been indicted by the United States, was captured in Beirut and transferred to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is holding the main suspect in the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers residence at a U.S. military base in the country, pan Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat reported Wednesday.
The newspaper said Ahmed al-Mughassil, leader of the Hezbollah al-Hejaz who had been indicted by a U.S. court for the attack that killed 19 U.S. service personnel and wounded almost 500 people, had been captured in the Lebanese capital Beirut and transferred to Riyadh.
Both Saudi Arabia and the United States have accused Iran of being behind the truck-bomb attack, although Iran has denied any responsibility.
Asharq al-Awsat quoted official Saudi sources as saying the country’s security service had received information on al-Mughassil’s presence in Beirut.
“The discovery of Mughassil and his arrest in Lebanon and his subsequent transfer to Saudi Arabia is a qualitative achievement, for the man had been in disguise in a way that made it hard to identify him,” Asharq al-Awsat said, without elaborating on when he was captured and who captured him.
Following meetings between the Russian and Saudi Foreign Ministers, Al Arabiya TV reports, there’s no agreement about the future of Syria’s President. Neither side is budging over its views about Assad, though both do agree that something needs to be done regionally about ISIS.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Tuesday Riyadh’s position on the conflict in Syria has not changed and that there was no place for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the future of the country.
He was speaking after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, a long-standing ally of Assad in the conflict, amid a renewed diplomatic push to end the conflict in Syria because of gains on the ground by ISIS.
Another mosque has been bombed in Saudi Arabia. This time, the target appears to have been security personnel — 17 of whom were killed — rather than Shi’ite congregants. The bombing took place in the southern city of Abha.
At least 17 security officers were killed Thursday after a suicide bombing targeted a mosque used by the emergency forces south of Saudi Arabia, Al Arabiya News Channel reported.
The incident took place in Abha, capital of Asir province.
In July, Saudi Arabia arrested 431 people as part of a crackdown on a cluster of cells linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group.
Al Arabiya TV carries an Asharq Alawsat column by Abdulrahman al-Rashed exploring how the group variously known as ISIS or Daesh is very wittingly playing word games to its benefit. By insisting on the use of the name “Islamic State,” the group attempts to give itself unearned legitimacy, wrapping itself in the honor of Islam. This, al-Rashed says, is doubly pernicious. Not only does it delude young Muslims into thinking the group righteous, but it provide an easy example for Islamophobes to point out and say, “See what Muslims really are?!”
ISIS: Why should we care about the acronym?
Many governments have begun urging the media to not use the “ISIS” acronym. The terrorist organization started using this acronym two years ago, when its leader declared himself a caliphate and changed the name of his group from ISI (Islamic State of Iraq) to ISIS in order to expand from Iraq to include Syria.
When the group’s formation was announced in April 2013 under the appellation of the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”, the media and specifically Al Arabiya News Channel decided to call it as “Daesh” (the Arabic abbreviation of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). We are all aware that ISIS wants to use us, as media platforms around the world, to build a picture that serves its purposes. A lot of people objected to the appellation and the coverage because it is insulting the true defenders of Islam against the Western occupiers or the oppressed Sunni community. It offended the defenders of the people of al-Anbar or the rebels against al-Assad regime in Syria. In fact, ISIS activities confused people initially, but most of them discovered later on that ISIS is nothing but the same al-Qaeda evil group, despite adopting rightful issues.
ISIS (Daesh in Arabic) is not a cynical label as said and written in the Western media. It is just the acronym of the appellation. The group is certainly against this acronym because it intentionally wants to be known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, to rally around it Muslims from all over the world.
Saudi authorities have arrested 431 people for their alleged involvement in terrorist attacks in the Kingdom, Al Arabiya TV reports. Those arrested come from ten countries, including Saudi Arabia. They are accused of playing a role in the attacks on Shi’a mosques and other Shi’ite areas in the Eastern Province, including attacks in 2014.
Saudi Arabia arrested 431 people as part of a crackdown on a cluster of cells linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group, the kingdom’s Ministry of Interior (MOI) said.
Authorities also thwarted seven mosque attacks that had been planned by the suspects in the capital Riyadh as well as the Eastern Province, MOI Spokesman Gen. Mansour Al Turki said in a press conference carried by Al Arabiya News Channel.
Among the arrested were Saudi nationals and suspects from nine other nationalities, he said adding that the cluster of cells was divided by tasks and target, he told reporters.
In one cell, made of five members, their task was to prep suicide bombers while another five-member cell had the mission to manufacture explosive belts.
Of the 431 arrested, 190 made up the four cells suspected to behind the Al-Qadeeh and Al-Unoud mosques’ bombings which claimed the lives of dozens of worshippers in May.
A suicide bomber killed himself and injured security personnel at a checkpoint in southern Riyadh, Arab News reports. The checkpoint was on the way to Al-Ha’ir high-security prison from the capital. The bomber was identified as a Saudi national.
RIYADH: A suicide bomber blew himself up on Thursday at a security checkpoint in Al-Hair neighborhood of the capital city, killing himself and wounding two policemen, the Interior Ministry said.
The blast went off when policemen manning the checkpoint on Al-Ha’ir Road stopped the car at the time of Maghreb prayer for a routine inspection, a spokesman for the ministry said.
“The bomber, Abdullah Fahad Al-Rashid, 16, a Saudi national, blew up the car and killed himself,” he was quoted as saying. The policemen were taken to hospital and were in a “stable condition,” the spokesman said.
In an op-ed for Asharq Alawsat, Abdulrahman Al-Rashed says that trying to shut down social media (typified by Twitter) won’t do much to address the real problems caused by ISIS or other extremist groups. Social media are just that: media. They’re the channels through which information is flowing. Blocking the channels won’t alter the information; won’t make the groups or their ideologies any less dangerous. Block one channel, and another one will appear.
Blocking social media will, however, annoy and inconvenience multitudes of people who aren’t involved in extremism for no good purpose. It’ll be just another ham-handed government effort that burdens citizens, including those who use social media to fight against extremism.
Blocking Twitter is not the solution
Many counterterror experts believe they have pinpointed the source of the problem when it comes to terrorism and extremism. They believe social media networks are to blame because they play a hand in inciting extremism and help with the recruitment of militants. Some experts have even called for blocking these sites in order to starve the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its ilk of their primary means of communicating with sympathizers and potential recruits.
Despite the rush of calls to shut down Twitter and other social media sites, this is not an ideal solution, because these groups will just end up using alternative platforms. It’s also not fair to punish millions of ordinary users in order to get rid of the thousands of militants or militant supporters online. It is a known fact that the world is battling against extremist ideologies, and therefore it is understandable that this sometimes requires giving up our privacy and freedom. However, even the necessities of war aren’t enough of a reason to restrain millions of people just because the problem was not dealt with from another angle. Reform education, reform da’wah (the preaching of Islam), and spread Islam’s real and beautiful values, then you’d realize that extremist concepts are an exception and are actually rejected. If such steps are implemented, moderation would become a real ideological movement that everyone adopts.
Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other websites are a means of communication that can either eliminate extremism or help spread it. What distinguishes extremists is that they are an active and determined party with a cause which they believe is righteous. They are capable of adapting to technological changes. They exploit religious communities, which they don’t belong to, and try to lure people into their extremist ideologies. There are hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of militants who spend hours surfing these websites in search of lost, angry, or curious youths, attempting to “guide them” to jihadist solutions and then recruit them as soldiers who await orders.
Writing at Asharq Alawsat, Mshari Al-Zaydi finds a difference in the recruitment of would-be extremists for Al-Qaeda and for ISIS. Candidates for the former, he suggests, come through ideological channels. Recruitment for the latter, through social media taking advantage of the dumb and ill-educated.
The Rapid Spread of ISIS
One of the differences between Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) lies in the way members join each of these ultra-radical groups.
Those wishing to join Al-Qaeda are often exposed for a long period of time to the writings of the group’s ideologues. The process would take several years before recruits are no longer content with the mission of merely calling for “jihad.”
However, with ISIS recruitment is much easier—but more dangerous. An ISIS member could be someone who had no Islamist links weeks or even a few days before joining the radical group. An ISIS recruit could be a normal youth who supports, say, Real Madrid or FC Barcelona, or a fan of pop stars. Such recruits usually go unnoticed by state security until they detonate themselves or engage in a shooting spree, taking by surprise official bodies who fail to predict their activities, particularly what they say on social media.
Two such examples are Seifeddine Rezgui, the Tunisian criminal who carried out the Sousse beach massacre, and Fahd Suleiman Abdul Mohsen Al-Qaba’a, the 23-year-old Saudi national who attacked the Imam Al-Sadiq Mosque in Kuwait.
Rafik Chelli, senior Tunisian security official, said the perpetrator of the Sousse attack was a university student who “had no criminal record.” The Saudi Interior Ministry said in a statement that Qaba’a was born in 1992 and was not previously involved in any terror-related activities.
This means that ISIS poses a hidden danger whose elimination requires from all those concerned, whether governmental or civilian organizations, in Muslim and non-Muslim countries to take preemptive measures against potential ISIS members.
Asharq Alawsat reports that the government of Kuwait is looking into the possibility that the Saudi responsible for the suicide attack on a Shi’ite mosque may have ties with an Al-Qaeda affiliate, “Peninsula Lions.” The government believed it had crippled the group back in 2005, but documents found in the house from which the recent attack was staged show some relationship to the group. On the other hand, ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack. It is, however, conceivable that the group has migrated toward ISIS, away from Al-Qaeda.
Kuwait City, Asharq Al-Awsat—Kuwait is investigating whether the perpetrator of last week’s deadly attack on a Shi’ite mosque had links to the “Peninsula Lions,” an Al-Qaeda-linked group that staged a series of attacks in the oil-rich country in 2005.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, a Kuwaiti security source said there were reports that jailed Peninsula Lions members shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) upon receiving the news of Friday’s deadly attack on the Imam Al-Sadiq Mosque in the neighborhood of Sawabir in Kuwait City.
The incident has prompted the authorities to investigate whether the perpetrator of the attack had any links to the Peninsula Lions group whose members have been killed, imprisoned or fled Kuwait.
Kuwait dismantled the group in 2005 and jailed 37 of its members on charge of belonging to Al-Qaeda.
Nine members were killed during clashes with Kuwaiti police in early 2005 and six were given death sentences.
Kuwait has identified the suicide bomber as Fahd Suleiman Abdul Mohsen Al-Qaba’a, a 23-year-old Saudi citizen who crossed into the neighboring country on the same day he carried out the attack.
H.A. Hellyer, writing at Al Arabiya TV, notes that there’s something wrong with the (partial) condemnations of sectarianism popping up in the regional media. Whether is obliviousness, disengenuity, or out-and-out machinations, what is condemned is only that which comes from the other guy. “Our guy” gets a pass, if not actual support.
The short-sightedness (to put it at its most gentle) is appalling. There seems to be utterly no conception of the possibility that today’s majority might not remain so tomorrow. And when that happens, all the methods, tricks, interpretations, and the like that are used to justify violence in the name of today’s majorities will be used to justify similar actions against them when they’re in the minority. Even the most cursory reading of history should inform one that things do not stay the same forever.
It’s Ramadan. Against the backdrop of Muslims observing the obligatory performance of the fast, sheikhs and religious authorities will remind the faithful of the saying of the Prophet: “There has come to you Ramadan, a blessed month which God has enjoined you to fast, during which the gates of heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed, and the rebellious devils are chained up.” Sages in the past would comment – and warn believers that if there were sins they persisted in the month, they had to take them seriously. For in this month, the whispers and murmurs, beckoning souls to wretchedness – well, that’s all on them. Because the devils, as the adage goes, are locked up.
One would hope, then, that in this month, there would be an absence of truly horrendous actions – if from no one else, than from Muslims themselves, particularly those that claim to raise high the banner of Islam. Alas, the last few days show that while some human beings don’t require the murmurs and whispers of baser beings at all – they can do rather evil things all on their own.
… Is the principle really ‘sectarianism is bad’ – or is the principle ‘sectarianism is bad… until it is my side doing it?’
Is there anyone who will take seriously within the region that be it Sunni on Shiite sectarianism; or Shiite on Sunni sectarianism; or Sunni on Sunni sectarianism; or Muslim on Christian sectarianism; that these are all just bad ideas? That differences of views can, and should, be expressed – but that the incitement that finds itself in words will, far too often, be eventually conveyed in acts of violence and terrible consequences? Or have too few not reached the point of realizing that rotten discourse does not have rotten consequences?
Are there leaders in these communities who know they must rise, in order to be clear once and for all, not simply in rhetoric but in action, to avert further catastrophe by declaring – if you will seek to promote hate and incitement, you will not be tolerated? Are there leaders who will pursue that path, not as a way to crackdown on legitimate dissent and varying opinions that do not win favor with the palace – but as a way to ensure and develop the health of their communities and societies?
Saudi Gazette carries an Agence France Presse article reporting that Kuwait officials have identified a Saudi national as responsible for the bombing of a Shi’a mosque in Kuwait. The attack seems to have been well-planned, with the bomber entering Kuwait only on the morning of the attack. Others involved has been arrested, including the owner of the house from which the plan developed, as well as the driver and the owner of the vehicle used to transport the bomber to the mosque.
Kuwait mosque bomber a Saudi national, say probers
Omar Hasan | AFP
KUWAIT CITY: Kuwait on Sunday identified the suicide bomber behind an attack on a Shiite mosque as a Saudi national, after a series of arrests in connection with the blast that left 26 dead.
Friday’s attack also wounded 227 worshippers in the first bombing of a mosque in the tiny Gulf state, and Kuwait’s security services have vowed to catch and punish those responsible.
The Daesh (Arabic acronym for the group calling itself Islamic State) group’s Saudi affiliate, the so-called Najd Province, claimed the bombing and identified the assailant as Abu Suleiman Al-Muwahhid.