In his column for Asharq Alawsat, Mshari Al-Zaydi concludes that religious terrorism is going to be with us for a long time. It will take a serious look within Islamic societies to understand the causes of extremism and to begin the attempt to bring it to rein.
Opinion: We must live with terrorism
Could religious terrorism be eradicated?
Not for the foreseeable future, no. The problem with religious terrorism is that it basically relies on a narrow discourse that negates all other viewpoints. It is a confident dialogue that is also repressive, angry and crazy. Its proponents will not be satisfied until the temple comes down on the heads of all its occupants.
It is a discourse that believes perfection is missing and legitimacy is absent, and that we live temporarily in this immorality. Its followers believe all we should do in life is work on bringing back legitimacy.
It is therefore relatively easy to see an ordinary young man suddenly turn into a suicide bomber without previously being religious or being a member of these groups. This was the case with a young Saudi man who went by the name of “Sambatik” and who once posted photos on a social network showing off his modern hairstyle and making fun of others. All of a sudden, he said goodbye to his family and went to Syria to fight alongside Al-Qaeda’s Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). This, of course, would please Bashar Al-Assad and his brother, Maher.
For decades—even before 9/11—waves of religious terrorism have been hitting us. A new wave starts as soon another ends, which weakens the already weak explanation that these terrorist phenomena are the result of losing political liberties, Western hegemony, and the Israeli occupation of Palestine. As we said a decade ago—and as we repeat now—these were factors that helped terrorist recruitment, not factors that created terrorism itself.
The creation of a terrorist cannot be stopped without destroying the social and cultural climate that facilitates its creation, and this climate cannot be destroyed without a hard look at ourselves. There is no denial of identity here, no slighting of our culture, but rather a defense of it and those who drive us all to collective suicide.
The Washington Post picks up on a Reuter’s news story about a rift in US-Saudi relations. The Post article notes six factors that serve to push the two countries apart, starting with Egypt, Syria, and Iran, but also including oil markets, Afghanistan, and Iraq (plus two that draw them together). The Saudis see the US as trying to treat the events in Syria and the US seeking rapprochement with Iran as two separate issues where the Saudis believe them to be one and the same: Iran’s extension of its power in the region.
Still, the US and Saudi Arabia have very much the same interest when it comes to terrorism and the fight against it. Both will continue to cooperate, whether in Afghanistan or Yemen, in Syria or the greater Arab world to quash the influence of Al-Qaeda.
Ever since the United States and Saudi Arabia fell into something of an alliance in the late 1970s, the world’s most unlikely partnership has had lots of down moments. Another big one came this weekend, when Saudi intelligence chief Bandar Bin Sultan Al-Saud told European diplomats that his country would step back from cooperating with the United States on Syria, according to the Wall Street Journal and Reuters. Bandar said that his country’s recent decision to refuse a seat at the U.N. Security Council was meant as a show of public protest against the U.S.
This very public Saudi jab at the U.S. is the latest in a series of increasingly frequent disputes between the longtime allies. They are probably not on the verge of breaking up, as observers have been predicting since 1990, when the kingdom was roiled by popular outrage against the alliance. But many of the mutual interests that have brought the two countries together seem to be falling apart.
Here’s a partial list of those interests and how they’re changing in ways that could turn the two countries against one another, very roughly ranked from the biggest disagreement to the smallest. The first six are bad news for the relationship, the last two are good news:
The UAE’s Gulf News reports that Saudi Arabia has agreed to a GCC treaty calling for cross-border cooperation among the Gulf States on matters of national and collective security. As a result, each member state is to treat warrants issued by other states as legally actionable. Further, each state agrees to share information on criminal and security matters.
Saudi Arabia ratifies GCC security treaty
Habib Toumi Bureau Chief
Manama: Saudi Arabia has ratified the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) security treaty, endorsed by the GCC Supreme Council at its 33rd summit in Bahrain in December and promoted as crucial in boosting collective security among the six-member states.
The Saudi cabinet at its session on Monday said that it had taken into consideration the decision of the Shura (Consultative) Council to approve the treaty. Some of the major features of the pact that were mentioned in the official Saudi media communiqué included cooperation among the state parties to prosecute those who break the law or order and those wanted by the states parties, regardless of their nationality, as well as taking the necessary action against them.
According to the treaty, each state party takes legal action in what is considered a crime, according to its legislation in force, whenever its citizens or residents interfere in the internal affairs of any of the other states’ parties, the Saudi cabinet said. The treaty stipulated that each state party would “cooperate to provide the other parties — upon request — with information and personal data on citizens or residents of the requesting state, within the terms of reference of the ministries of the interior”.
Gulf News also reports that the GCC states have agreed on a mutual approach in dealing with terrorism. They will work from a unified understanding of both criminal and financial transaction laws to limit the spread of terrorism and to work against it within their borders and the region as a whole. The statement issued on this also reiterates that the GCC, as the EU, consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
Dubai: Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states have reached “a full agreement” on measures to be taken against all terrorist organisations, a senior Kuwaiti security official has said.
“The GCC security officials agreed on a set of recommendations and suggestions aiming to ensure security and stability in the GCC member states,” Interior Ministry Undersecretary Ghazy Al Omar told the Kuwait News Agency (Kuna) following a meeting of the undersecretaries of the GCC interior ministries in Riyadh on Sunday.
The official stressed the significance of unifying security positions and policies and executive security plans and measures by the GCC member states to handle regional events and changes, Kuna said.
The recommendations will be presented to interior ministers at a meeting in Bahrain for further discussions, the Kuwaiti security official added.
The recommendations include measures by all GCC member states to control terrorist organisations, he said.
Saudi Gazette reports that the Saudi government has removed an imam from his mosque due to his preaching extremism and encouraging young Muslims to fight jihad in Syria and Egypt. This, the government says, is unacceptable and goes far beyond what Islam permits. In doing so, the government reasserts its position that only rulers can call for jihad. The article states that the (unnamed) imam was arrested and that he faces further punishment, but does not provide any details.
Firebrand imam arrested after Eid sermon
Saudi Gazette report
RIYADH — The imam of a Riyadh mosque has been arrested for allegedly encouraging young men to carry arms and go wage jihad in war-torn areas during his Eid Al-Fitr sermon, Al-Hayat newspaper reported Thursday.
The newspaper did not name the imam but said he delivered his sermon at Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdul Wahab Mosque in Al-Salam district of east Riyadh.
The Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Dawa and Guidance has moved in quickly to suspend the imam, who also called for the release of a Saudi woman terrorist nicknamed the “Al-Qaeda Lady”, who has been jailed on charges of supporting terrorists.
The ministry’s Undersecretary for Mosque Affairs Dr. Tawfiq Al-Sudairy described the imam’s actions as “unacceptable” because he violated Islamic norms in his sermon.
He said the ministry has suspended him from leading prayers or delivering sermons and added that further punitive measures would be taken against him.
Financial Times reports that two men were arrested in Saudi Arabia — a Yemeni and a Chadian — who were involved in the threat that led to the closing of American and other embassies across the Middle East.
The report says that a suicide attack was planned, but exactly where and what or who was being targeted is not stated.
Saudi Arabia arrests linked to al-Qaeda threat
Abeer Allam in Abu Dhabi
Two suspected members of al-Qaeda have been arrested in Saudi Arabia in connection with the recent terror threat that forced the closure of western embassies in the region, Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry said late on Thursday.
Surveillance of exchanges on twitter and emails between two suspects, one from Yemen and the other from Chad, revealed that they were plotting a suicide attack and led to their arrest late July, the Saudi media reported, citing General Mansour al-Turki, interior ministry spokesman.
“The security authorities through monitoring and follow up of published messages of incitement and hatred through social networks managed at the beginning of the last ten days of the holy month of Ramadan to arrest two expatriates,” the ministry said in a statement. “The two recruited themselves in the service of deviant thought.” “Deviant’’ is the Saudi term for a member of al-Qaeda.
The ministry said items proving the link to al-Qaeda, including computer hardware, electronic media and mobile phones, had been seized.
Saudi Arabia’s program to rehabilitate religious extremists and jihadists has ‘graduated’ another 272 individuals, Arab News reports. The controversial program — at least as far as outside observers are concerned — has a success rate of around 80%. This is an excellent result in terms of behavior modification programs, but many see it as insufficient when it comes to terrorism.
Terror contained: 272 ‘reformed,’ freed
Jeddah: Arab News
A total of 272 militants and Al-Qaeda sympathizers have been released after undergoing a long-term counseling program conducted by experts at Prince Muhammad bin Naif Counseling Center in Riyadh and Jeddah, an Interior Ministry spokesman said.
“These militants represent the first group of the 32nd counseling program and first group of the seventh program (with 217 members) as well as the second group from both programs (55 members),” the spokesman said.
He said the militants were set free after they showed positive signs of benefiting from the counseling programs, which included Islamic, professional, technical, psychological and sociological courses.
The spokesman said all the 272 were released during Ramadan. “We’ll invite them to attend a follow-up program for emotional rehabilitation and reintegration into society,” he said, adding that these special programs would be conducted after Eid Al-Fitr.
Last May, the center released 166 militants. The rehabilitation program and release are designed to encourage the individuals to adopt the moderate path of Islam.
Gulf News from Dubai runs a Reuters report on the US government’s interest in Ibrahim Al Asiri, a Saudi national wanted for his role in several bomb plots directed against the US. Saudi Arabia wants him too. Al Asiri’s bomb-making expertise has reached even into surgically-implanted bombs. At one time, the US believed it had killed Al Asiri in the drone attack that killed American terrorist Anwar Al-Awlaki in Yemen, but this proved to be erroneous.
Al Asiri had plotted to blow up Saudi oil production facilities in the Eastern Province and had been jailed earlier by the Saudis for going to Iraq to fight Americans.
(Reuters) ASPEN, Colorado: The United States believes the Saudi man suspected of designing underwear bombs for Al Qaida’s Yemeni affiliate has trained a small number of people on his advanced bomb-making techniques, a senior US official said on Friday.
The remarks by John Pistole, who heads the US Transportation Security Administration, were some of the most detailed public comments to date about Ebrahim Hassan Al Asiri and the thwarted May 2012 plot by Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, to blow up a plane with an underwear bomb.
“There is intelligence that he has unfortunately trained others and there’s a lot of effort to identify those folks,” Pistole told the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.
Asked by Reuters afterward about the nature of that intelligence, Pistole said Al Asiri was believed to have trained a small number of people. He added that the intelligence was “credible.” Believed to be in his early 30s, Al Asiri, who survived a US drone missile attack in 2011, has drawn scrutiny for his skill at fashioning hard-to-detect bombs and hiding them in clothing or equipment.
In a piece published at Al Arabiya TV — originally appearing in the Arabic daily Al-Hayat — Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi calls on Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi to do the right thing.
Qaradawi, an Egyptian-born cleric now residing in Qatar, is considered among the most influential conservative clerics. He has his own television program on Al-Jazeera TV as well as a very popular website, IslamOnline.
Recently, Qaradawi apologized for the error he made in backing Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based, Iran-sponsored group that has entered the conflict in Syria. He said that he had been ‘deceived’ by the group and its supporters.
Now, Khashoggi is calling on him to acknowledge another error in his judgment, the support of suicide bombings that have killed countless Muslims for the most venal of reasons. The bombers, be they Al-Qaeda oriented or otherwise, have seized upon his fatwa to justify attacks on civilians and mosques in what has become sectarian war. From Pakistan and Afghanistan, to the mountains of Lebanon and the cities of Syria and Egypt, his authorization is being used to justify slaughter of Muslims. Khashoggi thinks it high time for Qaradawi to back off of this erroneous judgment as well.
What will be Sheikh Qaradawi’s next bold move?
Not a single week passes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and all the Muslim countries of which Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi is fond of without a suicide bombing happening. A religious man washes up, prays to God, wraps an explosive belt around his waist, then a cleric or someone alleging to be a cleric or a preacher embraces him bidding him farewell and reminding him of the hereafter and the bliss awaiting him. They cry together, and the alleged cleric tells him: “We meet in heaven…we meet in heaven” and then he lets him go to blow himself up among other Muslims just because they are affiliated with the opposing camp.
The people he might blow himself up amongst may be guards at a checkpoint or even people praying at a mosque in Pakistan or Iraq. Religious places where Shiites gather became a favorite destination for suicide bombers even if the people targeted are civilians, women and children. Of course, Sheikh Qaradawi will never issue a fatwa allowing such action. I dare say that he would even issue a fatwa forbidding them and describing them as a crime worthy of punishment.
In her column for Asharq Alawsat, Diana Moukalled writes to remind that not everyone opposed to a tyrannical regime is necessarily a good guy worthy of unquestioned support. Oversimplification of problems creates its own problems.
She points out that certain anti-regime factions grouped within ‘the opposition’ in Syria are no better — and probably worse — than the current government. The ‘Al-Nusra Front’, a spinoff of Al-Qaeda, is both repressive and brutal, representing the worst that travels under the banner of Islam.
Her point is not dissimilar to that made by Abdallah Schliefer at Al Arabiya TV earlier this week that took a closer look at the ‘rebels’ in Turkey.
Opinion: An Injustice to the Unseen and Unheard
“God help us triumph over them,” chanted the girl carried on someone’s shoulders, before she tilted her head a little, cried, and then pulled herself together to chant again. This young girl has previously chanted against the regime of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad, but now she protests against the unjust treatment of others.
This girl was chanting against the Al-Nusra Front. This young Syrian girl led the residents of Al-Raqqah in protest against the extremist front that has implemented radical, bloody methods in dealing with residents in areas where they are deployed, ever since it infiltrated the Syrian revolution. The front arrested the girl’s father for no clear reason, and refuses to release him or others who are now in jail suffering from lashes, bullets and knives.
In a video published by activists on YouTube, young girls and veiled women scream in front of the Al-Nusra headquarters, condemning the group and the crimes it is committing under the banner of the revolution. The angry residents attempted to restore the spirit of the first days of their revolution, and so they chanted “peaceful, peaceful” and announced that they will escalate their activity against this group.
Saudi Gazette editorializes about the US government’s decision to become involved in Syria’s civil war. The paper finds there to be compelling reasons for US engagement, even as it casts doubts on whether the Syrian government has used (or even has) chemical weapons, the ‘red line’ that triggered the US decision.
The piece argues that light weapons aren’t the answer the opposition forces are looking for. It says that a ‘No-Fly Zone’ is too dangerous. It acknowledges that the US has concerns that heavy weapons might fall into the wrong hands as the opposition does have some bad actors (including Al-Qaeda) among its ranks. But, it argues, the US must do more!
What’s signally lacking the the editorial is any discussion about what Saudi Arabia is doing or ought to do. Press reports over the past few months have suggested that Saudi Arabia is providing arms — what sort, we don’t know — to the rebels — just who, we don’t know. We’ve no verification of this, though. Perhaps the government of Saudi Arabia would like to step up and inform the world just what it is doing and is prepared to do. Lacking such information, this very much sounds like someone on the perimeter of a fight urging the combatants on while staying safely out of reach.
After more than two years of showing little appetite for intervention on a large scale, President Obama’s decision to begin arming Syria’s rebels marks a turning point for the US which up to now had avoided getting drawn into the conflict militarily. But the decision does not appear to have the impact needed to tilt the balance in favor of the rebels. US support which looks likely to involve the supply of only light arms and ammunition is not enough. Obama’s concern about high-powered weapons ending up in the hands of terrorist groups and his opposition to sending American troops into Syria offsets AK-47s which have little effect on tanks.
The reason for the decision, the “game changer” in US policy as Obama previously cited, is the estimated 150 people killed in multiple chemical weapons attacks in Syria. The White House said it had “conclusive evidence” – although it has not made the evidence public. The first reaction when America announces that it has “proof” of an Arab country possessing chemical weapons is to remember when America wrongly claimed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That “evidence” led to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq and all the ruin and wreck that followed.
Even if Washington is incorrect about Syria’s chemical weapons, even if it turns out Bashar Al-Assad is not using his sarin stockpile or does not have any in the first place, does Obama need chemical weapons as an excuse to enter the Syrian conflict? Is not the fact that at least 93,000 people have been killed – most of them civilians – enough reason to help? For almost one year, the number of people killed has averaged more than 5,000 every month. Even at the height of the bloodletting in Iraq in 2006, the monthly death count only twice went over 3,000. If any more distressing numbers are needed, then 1,700 children in Syria under the age of 10 have died.
Asharq Alawsat reports that Saudi Arabia has begun to offer anti-terrorism training to a number of European and other countries. Based on the success of the Saudi rehabilitation program for those arrested on terrorism charges, other countries are interested in learning how it’s being done. While the rehab program, Munasha, is far from perfect, it has produced a lower recidivism rate than most behavior modification programs. It will be interesting to learn whether this success is based on the multifaceted program itself, or whether success is specific to the Saudi cultural milieu.
Saudi Arabia begins international police anti-terror training
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia’s success in tackling terrorism has led eight European countries, in addition to Turkey, Singapore and South Africa to send police officers to train in the kingdom.
More than 40 counter-terrorism police officers from around the world have been enrolled at Prince Naif University for Security Sciences (NAUSS) in Riyadh to receive training in anti-terrorist operations.
Khaled Al-Harfash, NAUSS spokesman, told Asharq Al-Awsat that Saudi instructors from the university began a five-day training program yesterday for police officers from Germany, Spain, Romania, Singapore, France, Austria, Britain, Turkey, South Africa, Netherlands, and Sweden.
The university has signed over 120 cooperation agreements with security institutions and academies all over the world to develop the abilities of police officers, he added.
“By sending their counter-terrorism police officers to be trained by specialized Saudi academic cadres, these countries want in the first place to acquaint themselves with and adapt the Saudi experience in fighting terrorism through the Munasaha rehabilitation system devised for terrorists. The trainees will familiarize themselves with the rules of crisis management during a terrorist attack, develop their skills in influencing terrorism through media, as well as recognize the dangers of world terrorism. At the same time, the training program will deal with terrorism from the perspective of the Islamic Shari’a law.”
Saudi Gazette carries a story from Agence France Presse reporting that Manssor Arbabsiar, the Iranian-American who was plotting to kill Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States, has been sentenced to 25 years in jail. This follows a guilty plea he made in US Federal Court in New York.
NEW YORK — Iranian-American citizen Manssor Arbabsiar was sentenced Thursday to the maximum 25 years prison by a US judge who said his role in a bizarre plot to kill Adel Al-Jubair Saudi Ambassador to Washington could not be “tolerated.”
Arbabsiar, 58, pleaded guilty last October to conspiring with Iranian military elements to hire assassins from the Mexican drug mafia to kill the Saudi envoy.
New York federal Judge John Keenan said Arbabsiar “fully realized his act. He must learn the lesson. That cannot be tolerated.”
Defense lawyers said Arbabsiar suffered from bipolar disorder, but Keenan said he’d been found fully competent and he dismissed lawyers’ request for a sentence of just 10 years.