I note that I’ve been writing Crossroads Arabia for ten years now. I actually started in May, 2004, but by July had settled into this format and platform.
A lot has gone on over these ten years. A new King in Saudi Arabia, increased attacks on Saudi Arabia by Al-Qaeda and Al-Qaeda related groups as well as the effective Saudi counter-offensive. Reforms in social policies, in the legal system, and in lightening the hand that seeks to control women have all taken place. Saudi women have taken part in the international Olympics. New laws and regulations have been adopted that have bettered the working conditions of foreign workers while others have served to chase many of those workers out of the Kingdom to be replaced by Saudi workers.
Saudi Arabia remains a work in progress and I look forward to recording that progress over the coming years.
As though the presence of ISIS in Iraq wasn’t enough to cause Saudi jitters, Saudi media are reporting attacks on the country’s southern border with Yemen. These attacks are assessed to be by Al-Qaeda and its surrogates.
Al Arabiya TV:
Two suspected al-Qaeda militants blew themselves up early Saturday in southern Saudi Arabia after police surrounded them inside a government building.
Reports on casualties were not immediately available.
Saudi Arabia launched a massive crackdown on Al-Qaeda following a spate of deadly attacks in the kingdom from 2003-2006.
The incident comes a day after al-Qaeda linked militants attacked a border post near the border with Yemen. Al Arabiya News obtained on Friday exclusive pictures of the bodies of the gunmen who attacked the border post killing one Saudi border security officer and one Yemeni soldier.
3 attackers of Saudi border post killed
JEDDAH: MD Al-Sulami
A Saudi security officer and a Yemeni soldier have been killed in two separate attacks on border posts between the two countries, officials said.
The Interior Ministry said a border security patrol came under fire near the Wadia post in the southern province of Sharura, killing the unit’s chief.
Security forces gave chase, killing three of the attackers, while a fourth was wounded and captured, a ministry spokesman said.
Asharq Alawsat reports that Saudi Arabia, in coordination with the GCC, is starting to impose financial sanctions on Hezbollah, the Shi’ite groups flagged by the Kingdom (and others) as a terrorist organization. The Saudis particularly dislike Hezbollah’s role in destabilizing Lebanon and its engagement in the Syrian civil war.
The Saudi government has promised greater investigation into the financial transactions of supporters of the group and is willing to withdraw business licenses, work permits, and residency visas as measures to reduce illicit funding.
Saudi Arabia launches financial sanctions on Hezbollah
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia this week implemented the first financial sanctions on Hezbollah’s commercial activities within the Kingdom, part of a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) move to target the Lebanese militia’s interests abroad.
The Saudi Interior Ministry withdrew the business license of a Lebanese national with ties to Hezbollah, part of a larger campaign to crack down on the financial activities of the Lebanese militia in Saudi Arabia, a source told Asharq Al-Awsat.
The Interior Ministry will also beef up its security procedures surrounding the issuance of financial and commercial licenses, in a move targeting Hezbollah’s commercial and financial activities in the Kingdom, the source added.
This comes after the GCC agreed to designate the Lebanese militia a terrorist group in mid-2013 over its presence in Syria and assistance to the Assad regime. Speaking last year, GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif Al-Zayani confirmed that the Gulf body would seek to target “individuals affiliated to Hezbollah, as well as its financial and commercial affairs.”
A Reuters story carried by Al Arabiya TV reports that Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti has joined the OIC and Al-Azhar University in condemning the actions of the Nigerian terrorist group, Boko Haram, for their kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria. The group, whose name translated to approximately “forbidding Western education”, seized the girls and has threatened to sell them as slaves and/or wives.
The condemnations all point out that this behavior is utterly un-Islamic and blackens the name of Islam and the faces of Muslims.
Saudi Grand Mufti condemns Boko Haram over girl kidnapping
Sami Aboudi | Reuters, Dubai
Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti, the top religious authority in the birthplace of Islam, has condemned Nigeria’s Boko Haram as a group “set up to smear the image of Islam” and condemned its kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls.
Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh said the radical movement, which says it wants to establish a “pure” Islamic state in Nigeria, was “misguided” and should be “shown their wrong path and be made to reject it.”
His remarks came as religious leaders in the Muslim world, who often do not comment on militant violence, joined in denouncing Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau for saying Allah had told him to sell off the kidnapped girls as forced brides.
“This is a group that has been set up to smear the image of Islam and must be offered advice, shown their wrong path and be made to reject it,” he told the Arabic-language newspaper al-Hayat in an interview published on Friday.
“These groups are not on the right path because Islam is against kidnapping, killing and aggression,” he said. “Marrying kidnapped girls is not permitted.”
Asharq Alawsat reports that the Saudi government has made its first arrests of members of the group ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’ (ISIS) within the Kingdom. The group, which splintered off of Al-Qaeda and is currently fighting against it in Syria, takes an even more fundamentalist line.
Among those arrested are a Saudi, Palestinian, and Pakistani. According to the report, while the Saudi was the notional leader of the group, the actual head was the unnamed Palestinian. Both had seen combat in other theaters prior to their Syrian involvement. Indeed, the Saudi had already been arrested and sentenced, then released. Forty four others are being sought.
Saudi Arabia arrests first ISIS-related terror cell
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday it had apprehended the first terrorist cell affiliated to the outlawed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, arresting a total of 62 suspects, including 35 Saudi nationals previously detained on terrorist-related charges. Riyadh designated ISIS, an Al-Qaeda splinter group, as a terrorist organization in early March.
Saudi Interior Ministry security spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki said the ISIS cell was in contact with Al-Qaeda cells in both Yemen and Syria. He told reporters: “The competent [security] services managed to detect suspicious activities that led to the discovery of a terrorist organization through which members of the deviant group [Al-Qaeda] in Yemen communicate and coordinate with members of other deviant groups in Syria and other misguided elements in a number of regions of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
ISIS has most recently been fighting against Al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, the Al-Nusra Front, prompting Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri to call for a truce, which has subsequently broken down. Saudi Arabia has successfully cracked down on Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) over the past decade, forcing the group to relocate to Yemen, with many analysts viewing ISIS–AQAP coordination as a significant threat.
Turki confirmed that Saudi authorities arrested the “emir,” or leader, of the ISIS cell in Saudi Arabia, adding that three foreign nationals were among those held, including a Palestinian, a Yemeni and a Pakistani national. Forty-four others are believed to be on the run.
Saudi Gazette reports that a total of 62 people were arrested in the security sweep:
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.