Saudi media run stories based on a report from the government’s Saudi Press Agency (SPA) that two Americans were shot at a gas station in the east of Riyadh. One was killed; the other, wounded.
This is very early reporting, so few details are available. A gunman was arrested near the scene. I anticipate further reporting as the investigation continues.
At the moment, the US Embassy in Riyadh does not have any notice of the incident on its Citizen Services web page, nor does it offer any warning or analysis.
A U.S. citizen was killed and another was wounded east of the Saudi capital Riyadh on Tuesday by unidentified gunman, Al Arabiya News Channel reported on Tuesday, citing the police.
Security forces arrested the gunman following the afternoon attack at a petrol station in eastern Riyadh, a police spokesman said in a statement carried by the SPA state news agency.
“The attack resulted in the killing of one person and wounding another and it turned out they were of American citizenship,” the statement said.
Police said the attack happened when the two stopped their vehicle at a filling station in an eastern district of the capital.
The UK’s Guardian reports that the arrested assailant is a Saudi, born in the US.
Oddly, Arab News headlines an article saying the shooting was not terrorism-related, but has no story to support that assertion. Instead, the headline links to a very brief recap of the SPA statement.
Writing at Al-Monitor, Bader al-Rashed, a Saudi commentator, points out how the government of Saudi Arabia seems to be trying to draw a line between the dominant interpretation of Islam in Saudi Arabia (frequently called “Wahhabism”) and the beliefs and actions of ISIS. There are efforts being made to identify ISIS as Kharajites, referring to the 7th C. group that supported a philosophy at odds with both Sunni and Shi’a interpretations of Islam and Islamic rule and was noted for its harsh implementation of takfirism.
This is all well and good, al-Rashed writes, but is complicated by the fact that ISIS is busy handing out books written by Mohammad ibn Abdul Wahhab, whose writing are at the core of Saudi religious belief and practice. Oops.
Over the past 10 years or so, the Saudi government has tried to back away from the most severe interpretations of Islam that it had largely acquiesced to following the 1979 seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. It has managed to do so, to some extent. The government, though, has not been able to ‘convert’ all Saudis to a regime of tolerance. This is proved by its now having to arrest and imprison domestic extremists.
How Saudi Arabia is distancing itself from the Islamic State
Thirteen years after US President George W. Bush declared war on terrorism, the Middle East is no closer to victory. Instead, terrorism appears to have morphed into an even more dangerous beast in the form of the Islamic State (IS). Westerners, as expressed through the media, seem to be under the same impression as they were after Sept. 11, 2001 — namely, that the Sunni jihadist movement is linked to the Wahhabi brand of Islam emanating from Saudi Arabia. This has prompted renewed debate among Saudis about this supposed Wahhabist-jihadist connection.
After bombings in Riyadh by al-Qaeda in 2003, the relationship between terrorism and religious extremism was widely discussed in the kingdom, with the government establishing the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue that same year. During the dialogue’s second meeting, Extremism and Moderation … A Comprehensive Methodological Vision, it was agreed that religious programs in Saudi Arabia were the primary force behind the spread of extremism in society. As a result of the dialogue, school curricula, the religious curriculum in particular, were modified by the Ministry of Education. Doubts remained, however, that religious education had been sufficiently modified given that radical Islamists were believed to dominate the education sector in the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia is today taking seriously the allegations in the international media that it is the ideological root of the current jihadist groups. Some have sought to defend the country’s religious vision by trying to disassociate Sunni jihadist groups from their brand of Islam, instead castigating other groups, such as the Kharijites — an Islamic sect separate from Sunnis and Shiites that emerged from the first Islamic civil war in the seventh century between Ali Ibn Ali Talib and Muawiya Ibn Abi Sufyan following the killing of the third caliph, Uthman Ibn Affan.
Saudi media are replete with articles about the fight against IS, Nusra Front, and others. Saudi Gazette quotes Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal’s explanation of why Saudi Arabia is involved and the importance to the Kingdom of taking part in an international coalition against it. Keeping Saudi society on-side is going to be an important objective of the government.
Why did Saudi Arabia join anti-IS air strikes in Syria?
Saudi Gazette report
JEDDAH — Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Saud Al-Faisal stressed that his country will not hesitate to participate in any serious international effort seeking to mobilize and intensify action against terrorism wherever it occurs and whatever its motives.
This came in a speech delivered at the Global Counter Terrorism Forum in New York City on Tuesday as Saudi Arabia’s Air Forces participated in US-led bombing strikes against militants linked to the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria.
“We meet today as we are witnessing a concerted international effort to combat terrorism with active participation of the regional group and the United States to fight the most dangerous terrorist organization in the region inside the Syrian territories,” Prince Saud said.
He hoped that such an act will form the first nucleus of an international coalition to fight terrorism wherever it exists and whatever its justifications or reasons and without discrimination between sex, color or doctrine.
“We hope to continue this alliance for eliminating this scattered evil currently threatening the region and the world. Terrorism has distorted the image of Islam and Muslims,” he said.
Arab News reports that the son of the Minister of Defense was one of the pilots who flew in the raids. It notes that the pilots — who were named and shown in the media — have received death threats from IS supporters.
KSA throws full weight behind war on IS terror
RIYADH: Ghazanfar Ali Khan
The son of Crown Prince Salman, minister of defense, was among the eight Saudi airmen who took part in a US-led airstrike against Islamic State (IS) targets on Tuesday.
Prince Khaled bin Salman, a pilot, took part in the operations, sabq.org newspaper reported on Wednesday, much to the pride of his father, who expressed admiration at the team’s professionalism and bravery in standing up to the enemies of Islam.
A large number of Saudis, meanwhile, sent tweets praising the valor of Saudi pilots.
Saudi Arabia pledged stronger cooperation with the international community in combating terrorism.
“Saudi efforts will continue to eliminate terror outfits, including the IS,” said Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting.
And just to keep the testosterone levels in check, Arab News also reports that a female pilot led the UAE’s strike force in the raids:
Writing at The Wall St. Journal, Ahmed Al Omran — formerly known as “Saudi Jeans” — argues that Saudi participation in the raids shows that it is willing to take the risk of creating domestic unhappiness in the face of a far greater danger.
Arab News carries a story noting Saudi Arabia’s involvement in air raids against ISIS facilities in Syria. The story notes that Bahrain, the UAE, and Qatar also took part in the actions alongside the US. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal is extensively quoted on Saudi anti-terror efforts and calling for more states to join global anti-terrorism efforts.
Saudi Arabia’s air force participated in US-led bombing strikes against the so-called Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria on Tuesday as part of global efforts to eliminate terrorism, an official source said.
“The Saudi Royal Air Force participated in the military operations against IS in Syria, in support of the moderate Syrian opposition, and as part of the international coalition,” said the source. The coalition, he added, was formed to “eliminate terrorism, a deadly disease, and to support the brotherly Syrian people to restore security, unity and development in this devastated country.”
Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal, meanwhile, told a New York forum that Saudi Arabia would be in the forefront of global efforts to defeat terrorists. “We’ll never hesitate to participate in such serious international anti-terror operations,” he said.
Prince Saud expressed the Kingdom’s hope that the present campaign against IS militants would serve as a nucleus for an international coalition to strike and root out terrorism all over the world.
Long-time Middle East correspondent Chris Dickey writes at “The Daily Beast” website that the Royal Saudi Air Force was involved in last nights raids on ISIS facilities in Syria. It joined the US along with Jordanian, the Emirates, and the Bahraini air forces.
…The air strikes over Syria, participated in directly by the Saudis, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Bahrain, represent “the beginnings of a real Arab defense force,” the Saudi source said optimistically. Other Arab states, including Qatar and Kuwait, reportedly provided or facilitated logistical support.
Writing in the Arabic daily Okaz, Khalf Al-Harbe comments on a video clip that has been racing around Saudi Arabia for the past week or so. It shows a teacher tearing pages out of a text book — and instructing his students to do likewise. The photos are of female children. The teacher finds these morally reprehensible and tries to teach his male students likewise.
This, Al-Harbe argues, is how terrorists are made. They are taught to hate, to disrespect others, to take violent actions to ensure that “the good” is served. Al-Harbe goes on to note that the teacher — whom the government sincerely wishes to have a talk with — was also taught this kind of intolerance and extremist thought. As bad as this single teacher is, he is hardly alone in his extremism: it’s widespread in Saudi classrooms. And it needs to be stopped.
The making of a terrorist
Khalaf Al-Harbe | Okaz
I would be exaggerating if I say I was surprised by the video clip showing a teacher tearing a school textbook in front of his students because it contained pictures of girls. He also ordered his students to do the same.
Such behavior has been going on behind school walls for many years. The only new thing the teacher has come up with is that he filmed his action and posted it on social media.
Many other teachers must have done worse stuff than this, but they are too clever to make it acceptible for people to watch. The Ministry of Education promised to hunt down the teacher and punish him.
This shocking video may help us understand the roots of terrorism. The young man, who suddenly decides to commit a terrorist act, will not be doing that on a whim or just because his mastermind asked him to blow himself up.
The issue is not that simple. The arrival at the point of exploding oneself and the other innocent people needs a lot of effort make his mind frame that of a terrorist.
In yet another semi-coherent piece of media reporting, Saudi Gazette/Okaz report on a series of terrorism trials in Saudi Arabia. According to the story, a terror cell — termed “one of the country’s largest — had been broken up (no date given). Some 60 members (no names given) have been sentenced in the course of several trials. Seven have received the death sentence.
Given the speed at which Saudi law grinds and the reported targets, it does not appear that any of these cases involve ISIS, but instead refer to earlier group actions, likely Al-Qaeda-related, that took place several years ago.
Seven terrorists sentenced to death
Mansour Al-Shehri | Okaz/Saudi Gazette
RIYADH — Seven Saudi men have been sentenced to death for their role in one of the Kingdom’s largest terror cells, which consisted of 94 persons and aimed to target oil facilities and assassinate security officers, scholars, senior officials and journalists.
The Special Criminal Court in Riyadh awarded death penalty to three terror suspects on Monday and four others on Sunday. Forty suspects were sentenced to prison terms. On Monday, the court sentenced 20 suspects to prison terms ranging from five to 25 years, in addition to a travel ban. All the convicts are Saudis. The convicts can appeal the verdict within 30 days, the Saudi Press Agency reported. The charges against the convicts included kidnapping and killing a foreigner, armed confrontation with the security forces, embracing deviant ideology, joining Al-Qaeda, disobedience of the ruler, making explosives, and receiving training in the use of weapons.
On Sunday, the court jailed as many as 20 suspects for between two and 23 years for a variety of crimes ranging from joining a terror cell, providing shelter for terrorists to embracing a takfiri ideology (labeling others as infidels).
The four sentenced to death were convicted of various crimes.
While this Reuters (carried in Asharq Alawsat) piece does not spell out what cooperation Saudi Arabia is giving the US in its attacks on ISIS and Nusra Front targets in Syria, whatever it is, it is sufficient to cause ISIS to blame the Saudi royal family. The article does note that the Saudis are allowing the US to train Iraqi military units within its borders.
Washington and Beirut, Reuters—The United States launched air and missile strikes with Arab allies in Syria for the first time on Tuesday, killing dozens of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters and members of a separate Al-Qaeda-linked group, and widening its new war in the Middle East.
“I can confirm that US military and partner nation forces are undertaking military action against [ISIS] terrorists in Syria using a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement.
US Central Command said Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had either participated or supported the strikes against ISIS targets.
US forces also launched strikes to “disrupt imminent attack” against US and Western interests by “seasoned Al-Qaeda veterans” who had established a safe haven in Syria, it said, apparently referring to attacks against a separate group.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in Syria, said at least 20 ISIS fighters were killed in strikes that hit at least 50 targets in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor provinces in Syria’s east.
It said strikes had also targeted Al-Nusra Front, in the northern provinces of Aleppo and Idlib, killing at least 30 fighters and eight civilians. The Al-Nusra Front is Al-Qaeda’s official Syrian wing and ISIS’s rival.
The air attacks fulfill President Barack Obama’s pledge to strike in Syria against ISIS, a Sunni Muslim group that has seized swathes of Syria and Iraq, imposing a medieval interpretation of Islam, slaughtering prisoners and ordering Shi’ites and non-Muslims to convert or die.
Saudi Gazette runs a brief piece noting that the Ministry of Islamic Affairs has said they’ve identified 100 problematic imams (out of a total of 15,000 in the Kingdom) who exhibit extremist tendencies. These imams are being given a chance to get with the program of condemning extremism or find themselves out of work.
RIYADH — The Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance has identified about 100 mosque imams out of 15,000 with extremist tendencies. He said the imams are currently being rehabilitated but will be dismissed if they do not repent, the ministry’s undersecretary for mosque affairs Tawfiq Al-Sudairy announced. He said the ministry is closely monitoring the performance of all imams and their Friday sermons. The undersecretary said following the terrorist attack against a police checkpoint in Sharoorah in Ramadan, the ministry asked all mosque imams to denounce the incident and to criticize any anti-Islamic ideologies. “The response of the imams was excellent. Those who did not implement the ministry’s instructions were given another opportunity to do so,” he said. Al-Sudairy warned that any imam who conveys any extremist ideas in his sermon would be sacked.
Over the past several years, relations between Saudi Arabia and the US have become strained. The Saudis have not appreciated the American approach toward dealing with Iran, nor did they think much of the weak response from Washington to the atrocities committed by the Syrian government. The Saudis made their displeasure clear.
Now, argues Fahd Nazer in an article for “Foreign Affairs,” things may be getting back to normal. The catalyst is ISIS and the threat it represents to not just Saudi Arabia, but to the region as a whole. Recognizing a common enemy, however, is not sufficient to form new bonds or to reinforce older ones. The actions taken by both the US and Saudi Arabia will be watched closely by the other. Walking the walk is more important than talking the talk.
Making Amends in Saudi Arabia
The United States and Saudi Arabia — one, the world’s preeminent liberal democracy; the other, a conservative monarchy that declares the Koran to be its constitution — have never been the most natural allies. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that the relationship has had its ups and downs. It reached an apex in 1991, when Saudis fought alongside U.S. troops to reverse Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait, only to hit a nadir a decade later, when 15 Saudis participated in the devastating terrorist attacks in New York and Washington organized by al Qaeda. Since then, the Saudi government has become more suspicious of U.S. foreign policy, bristling at the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the encouragement of pro-democracy protests during the Arab Spring, and the ongoing attempt to strike a nuclear deal with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival.
But the sudden rise of the brutal militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS, also known as the Islamic State) could change all that. Riyadh and Washington have both recognized that ISIS poses a serious threat to Middle Eastern security and stability. By working together against the group, they might shore up the region — and their relationship. But much will depend on the Obama administration’s ability to articulate a clear long-term strategy for the Middle East — and specifically for the two countries where ISIS rose to prominence.
With the Jeddah coordinating meeting finished in Jeddah, there is a common concern about ISIS and its future in the region. As Asharq Alawsat reports, the US is looking for partners who will play an active role in trying to contain and destroy the extremist group and, so far, it is meeting with some success. Regional states face peril from the group and agree that something must be done about it. This is spelled out in the communique issued following the conference.
What is not spelled out is exactly what each country is to do. All are reluctant to put “boots on the ground” for a variety of their own political reasons.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held a series of meetings with his Arab counterparts in the Saudi city of Jeddah on Thursday to coordination military and other forms of action against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
A joint -Arab communique said the countries agreed, as appropriate, to join in “many aspects” of the military campaign against ISIS.
Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates agreed to “do their share” in the fight against ISIS.
The 10 countries pledged to stop the flow of funds and fighters to ISIS and help rebuild affected communities.
The meetings came hours after President Barack Obama unveiled his strategy to counter the militant group, which has occupied swathes of land in Iraq and Syria.
Asharq Alawsat reports on some of the reasons for Arab hesitation, or at least the lack of full-blooded eagerness to get militarily involved in dealing with ISIS. It also notes Turkey’s reluctance in the face of its nationals being held hostage in Iraq:
A significant problem seems to be that large parts of their populations approve of the group’s ends while remaining silent about their means. Once again, the intolerance taught in regional schools, madrassas, and mosques is rearing its head and threatening the stability of regimes and the region.
Syrian writer Ghassan Al Imam has an interesting opinion piece in Asharq Alawsat. He’s right, but for the wrong reasons.
Al Imam rattles on about the pipe dream of “Arab unity.” There has not been Arab unity since the first century Hijra, when the Battle of Karbala defined the first major split among Arabs and Muslims. The idea has its philosophical charms, but has been disproved in reality for over a millennium. Dreams have a value of their own, of course, but they rarely convert into useful plans of action.
What is not a dream is that by declaring itself the new Caliphate, ISIS has led to a sort of unification among the Arab states, if not precisely among Arabs. Arabs, after all, are engaged on all sides of a multifaceted conflict.
Al Imam is correct in noting that Arab audiences are ill-prepared to deal with ISIS propaganda. This is the fault of those Arab states. Each, for its own reasons, spent the bulk of the 20th C. in trying to create one “truth” for its citizens. Controlling media; controlling what could and could not be taught in schools; forcing particularized interpretations of history in the service of the state have all led to ignorance and confusion among Arabs. Intolerance of religious differences and political differences has led to people’s now finding conflict between what they’d been assured was true and what the actual world shows them to be true.
It’s not too late for the states of the region to break with the past and start promoting the value of tolerance to different views. Arab unity cannot be forced upon the citizens of 20-odd countries. But a common core of values — especially the adoption of toleration of differences — can arise, if and only if the governments permit it. These states, including Saudi Arabia, need to squelch the promotion of sectarian differences that they themselves promote.
Opinion: ISIS and Arab Unity
Ghassan Al Imam
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claims to have achieved in a few months what other projects seeking Arab unity have failed to do since Mustafa Kamal Atatürk abolished the Ottoman Islamic caliphate in 1924. In a blink of an eye, ISIS has called on 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide to move to the new “land of Islam” after they have “purged” it from Shi’ites, Christians and Yazidis, and beheaded journalists and slaughtered “crusaders.”
ISIS has called for divine governance and has taken it upon itself to ensure it is applied. It has imposed the burdens of allegiance, obedience and absolute loyalty on people in territory under its control. Without dialogue, institutions, or political parties, silence has descended on the “Islamic State.” The “caliphate” denies the need for politics, culture, or freedom.
It has modified school curricula and banned the teaching of the humanities, physical education and music. It has shut down girls’ schools and banned women from working or traveling, lest it distracts them from their domestic chores. It urges believers to receive the afterlife with satisfaction and joy, following the gloom of their temporary abode in this world.
ISIS has abolished the colonial borders between Arab countries, and declared “jihad.” It has killed more Muslim civilians than Westerners and slaughtered captured soldiers. It has arrested people from all religions and creeds. Its actions have provoked the world against it, with religious and sectarian wars breaking out on our lands.
This view of ISIS which I have just given is not mine. It is a summary of the propaganda the group itself broadcasts extensively via electronic media to reach broad segments of Arab society, given that the Arab media is reeling under ever-stricter censorship.