Thomas Hegghammer, of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, offers a look back at the May, 2003 bombings of three residential compounds in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He cites ten lessons that have been learned as a result of that bombing, ranging from the limited ability of terrorist groups to destabilize a country to the effectiveness of narrowly-targeted responses to terrorism. The Asharq Alawsat article is worth reading in full.
The Riyadh Compound Bombings: Ten Years, and Ten Lessons, Later
Stanford, Asharq Al-Awsat—Ten years ago yesterday, the Saudi capital, Riyadh, was rocked by three near-simultaneous suicide bombings at housing compounds for expatriates. Over 30 people died and 160 were injured in what was, and remains, the deadliest terrorist attack in the kingdom’s history. The bombing came as a shock to most Saudis and robbed the country of its relative innocence as far as internal violence was concerned. After decades of calm, Saudi Arabia suddenly became the scene of a dramatic and protracted terrorist campaign that would claim many victims and worry many an oil investor before Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was finally crushed in 2006.
It is hard to overestimate the political impact of the Riyadh bombings. These caused a major shift in Saudi attitudes toward Islamist extremism and a complete overhaul of the Saudi internal security apparatus. The terrorism campaign—and the Saudi response to it—also did much to change Western perceptions of Saudi society, many of which, in retrospect, were biased and flawed. Finally, the campaign backfired against Al-Qaeda, leading to its demise as an organization in the kingdom. In short, the learning curve was steep for everyone involved. Specifically, the experience taught us ten important things about terrorism and Saudi Arabia.
First, we learned that terrorist campaigns need not have deep, structural causes. In the summer of 2003, many observers attributed the violence to a fundamental malaise in Saudi society, derived from some combination of economic sclerosis, lack of political participation, and religious indoctrination. However, as I showed in my book, Jihad in Saudi Arabia, the causes were mostly exogenous: the terrorists had radicalized and trained abroad, and the timing was dictated by events in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Like many terrorist campaigns, this one was the result of developments within an organization.
Saudi Gazette reports on the arrests of a Saudi national and three men from the UAE, as well as several Tanzanians alleged to be involved in the bombing of a new Catholic cathedral in the city of Arusha, in northern Tanzania. Initial reports had pointed to four Saudis. Both Saudi and Emirati embassies have been in contact with the detainees.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but news reports suggest that it may have been in retaliation for military actions taken in neighboring Kenya against Islamic militants.
ARUSHA, Tanzania — Tanzania has arrested three Emirati men and a Saudi national over a deadly church bombing, officials said Wednesday, clarifying earlier reports they were all from Saudi Arabia.
Five Tanzanians have also been arrested following the Sunday attack on a packed church in the northern city of Arusha that killed three people.
“There are three nationals of the United Arab Emirates and a Saudi… they were arrested while trying to cross the border” into Kenya, Arusha’s governor Magesa Mulongo told AFP.
None of those arrested have been charged yet, he added.
“Investigations are continuing. They are only suspects at this time. They can be released or brought to trial, it will depend on the results of the investigations.”
Also from Saudi Gazette:
Arab News provides its own coverage:
Arab News reports that the 61st group of graduates of Saudi Arabia’s terrorist rehabilitation program have been released back into society. This cadre, numbering 166, will continue to be monitored and to take part in programs to help reintegrate them into society. They will be offered help in job placement and, if the past is any indicator, even to get married in order to find a more stable life.
The program — Munasaha — has been largely successful, with a 20% recidivism rate, excellent by most standards of rehabilitation. Unfortunately, those who fall back into their extremist ways tend to be extremely dangerous. Improved monitoring can make a difference, but it’s not a real guarantee.
166 ‘reformed’ militants freed
RIYADH: GHAZANFAR ALI KHAN
Saudi Arabia released yesterday 166 former Al-Qaeda members and repentant militants after they underwent a long-term state-sponsored counseling program (Munasaha) aimed at reintegrating them into society, said Gen. Mansour Al-Turki, spokesman of the Ministry of Interior.
The rehabilitation program and release are designed to encourage the individuals to adopt the moderate path of Islam. A total of 104 former militants were released in Riyadh, Al-Turki said.
“A group of 62 members of the deviant group were released in Jeddah after they completed the counseling program at the Prince Mohammed Bin Naif Center for Counseling and Care,” said Al-Turki.
The ministry did not provide details of their past affiliations with the terrorist groups.
Al-Turki, contacted by Arab News, said there were no women in the groups that were released.
Arab News runs a report based on a Saudi Press Agency release noting that over two thousand jail sentences have been handed out over the past four and a half years to terrorists tried in Saudi Arabia’s special security courts.
The trials and the reporting on them have been examples of the lack of transparency. No names have appeared in the media; no clear indication of exactly what charges were made have been reported. This lack of transparency has left the door open to allegations that the ‘terrorism’ label has been applied too broadly and has been used to rein in those who have engaged in simple political protest. Given how little information has been made available, there’s just no way to tell what has been going on nor who has been involved.
I find it interesting — though impossible to put into any context — that none of those found guilty have been given death sentences.
2,145 jail sentences issued for terrorism by security court
RIYADH: ARAB NEWS
A special security court has issued 2,145 jail sentences for “supporting terrorism” since it was formed four and a half years ago, according to the Justice Ministry.
The Specialized Criminal Court often tries suspects accused of affiliation with Al-Qaeda’s local branch, which operates in the region.
Spokesman Fahd bin Abdullah Al-Bakran told reporters that the Specialized Criminal Court has already ruled in 1,080 cases and is still looking into another 419 cases that involve 2,800 suspects.
The general prosecutor, however, demanded death sentences in all the cases against Al-Qaeda defendants but the court didn’t issue any death penalty. All defendants were either handed jail terms or deported if they were foreigners.
The British tabloid Daily Mail is reporting that the government of Saudi Arabia gave explicit warnings to the US government that it should be cautious about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the elder of the two brothers accused of executing the Boston Marathon bombings. The US Department of Homeland Security is reported to have denied ever having received such warnings.
I don’t find the Daily Mail the most credible of newspapers and The American Media Institute, listed as one of the authors of the piece, is not particularly known for its coverage of foreign affairs or security issues. It is focused on US First Amendment issues involving free speech. Nor has it issued a press release in the past two years, according to its website.
I’d like to see a lot more confirmation of this before I give it any credence.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sent a written warning about accused Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2012, long before pressure-cooker blasts killed three and injured hundreds, according to a senior Saudi government official with direct knowledge of the document.
The Saudi warning, the official told MailOnline, was separate from the multiple red flags raised by Russian intelligence in 2011, and was based on human intelligence developed independently in Yemen.
Citing security concerns, the Saudi government also denied an entry visa to the elder Tsarnaev brother in December 2011, when he hoped to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, the source said. Tsarnaev’s plans to visit Saudi Arabia have not been previously disclosed.
In his Asharq Alawsat column, Hussein Shobokshi writes about the new dedication of King Abdullah to rid Saudi Arabia of extremism. While the country has conducted a commendable battle against terrorism, the battle to remove extremist thought now remains. Shobokshi correctly identifies a strain of clerics that preach extremism. He might have noted the non-clerics who teach extremist interpretations of Islam in Saudi elementary and secondary schools. This is a by-product of placing so much emphasis on religion in school curricula: there are too many teachers offering their own views with little oversight of the actual messages they are transmitting.
The article does not go into what steps are to be taken to rein in the extremists. While censoring them is not at all an ideal solution, stripping them of their government salaries would certainly be appropriate. Quick responses to their dangerous utterances would also help to clear the air.
A Campaign against Extremism
Saudi Arabia has made the significant decision to ramp up its efforts to eradicate terrorism and deceptive strains of thought. Saudi Arabia intends to wage a “war” against the extremists who poison the minds of Saudi youth; before, it had primarily concentrated on arresting and prosecuting members of terrorist groups.
These intelligently-waged security campaigns against terrorist cells have produced commendable results, which have since become hallmarks of the security forces’ effectiveness. But despite these successes, more young people continue to fall prey to divergent strains of thought. Some of these victims relapse after having completed a rehabilitation program aimed at deconstructing the insidious concepts of militant extremism that are perverting their minds and replacing them with healthier worldviews. It has become clear that the seeds of these misleading, destructive and fatal philosophies still find fertile ground in the minds of Saudi youth.
The gravity and urgency of this threat makes King Abdullah’s statements during a meeting with Saudi clerics and scholars all the more significant. He said, “Whosoever deludes our youth and our children must answer to God; for them, imprisonment alone is much too lenient a penalty.” In that sentence, the king revealed a significant shift in Saudi counter-terrorism policy. His statements are a clear indication of the seriousness with which the Saudi political establishment intends to pursue the extremists who use television, public venues, publishing houses and social networking sites to disseminate the malicious fatwas that have claimed the lives of many. Many of these extremists who delude our youth are mistakenly perceived as clerics and intellectuals, and some have risen to near-celebrity status and enjoy all of the prestige and financial benefits that come with it.
That commentators at the FOX News Service can be idiots shouldn’t come as a surprise. Asharq Alawsat reports on the latest bit of stupidity to come from the mouths of one of them, Bob Beckel, who calls for Muslims students to be banned from US study.
What the article fails to make clear, however, is that Beckel is on FOX to represent the liberal side of arguments. He was a member of the Carter Administration and worked in Democratic Party politics until he became a pundit. He has developed a bit of notoriety for speaking before thinking, however, as his Wikipedia article makes clear.
A media pundit from Fox News has said “we should keep any more Muslims from studying” in the United States because “so many people hate us [Americans],” in his show aired on Monday evening.
“The Five,” a regular segment on the news channel, this week featured show host Robert ‘Bob’ Beckel branding Muslim communities around the world as anti-American.
“We know now. There has been enough research done. The bottom line: In the Muslim communities around the world, they do not like us. They recruit people from poor areas and they try to turn them into terrorists,” he asserted.
Further to the statement, Beckel claimed that American authorities should stem the influx of Muslim students from around the world.
“We’re going to have to cut off Muslim students from coming into this country for some period of time, so we can at least absorb what we’ve got, look at what we’ve got, and decide whether some of the people here should be gone, sent back home or sent to prison.”
Writing at Saudi Gazette, Hussein Shobokshi discusses the meaning of the Boston bombings, not from the angle of what the bombers may have meant by their actions, though. Instead, he talks about what the process of unraveling the attack means to everyone, including those nowhere near Boston.
He notes, of course, that first-responders and the various law enforcement agencies were prepared to deal with a tragedy like this. The manhunt that followed the bombing was incredibly intense and professional and did result in an arrest in a matter of only four days. The media, too, he notes, did a fairly good job of staying within the lines of what was known, not drifting off into wild speculation. There were exceptions: he points to FOX news and the New York Post for leaping to some conclusions about a young Saudi injured in the attack. He could also have noted CNN’s blunder in asserting an arrest had been made a full day before that had happened. Filling voids in broadcast time while there are voids in factual information is something we’re going to have to learn to deal with.
Shobokshi highlights the role that social media played in the aftermath of the bombings. I think there’s no doubt that the tens of thousands of photos and videos, taken by bystanders and turned in to the authorities, played a big role in the end game of the pursuit. Tweets and other personal observations very frequently beat the journalists to particular aspects of the story, including eye-witness statements about what they saw going on around them. It seems that many news broadcasts are now incomplete unless they have a Twitter feed somewhere on the screen. Print media, in their online avatars, run Twitter feeds as well.
The writer misses, though, one of the downsides of the social media: a complete lack of professional filters. Not only were the authorities constantly reminding people to not Tweet about the locations and disposition of police, but at time the social media approached and passed the borders of vigilante action. The notorious website 4Chan ran a lengthy analysis of photos taken near the finish line of the marathon. The editors helpfully circled the faces of people who, they believed, were suspicious and warranted further investigation. None of the ones they circled were involved, but several innocent people, including a 16-year-old high school student, suddenly felt the weight of the world heaped on their backs. A similarly unhelpful tack was taken on the website of the conspiracist Alex Jones, who seemed to be determined to find the hand of the US government behind the attack.
It is true, though, that the world has changed. Social media does play an important role and it will continue to play an important role. It can advance security, but it can also compromise it. It can be faster than traditional journalism, but it can also be more wrong, more often, and also much faster in doing so.
Boston drama gone global
The entire world, well almost the entire world, was utterly glued to their television sets following the news stories on the bombings in the city of Boston during its famous marathon run. America amazingly still manages to dominate the “headline story”!
I followed the tragic story like everyone else, saddened by the fatal events, particularly because it happened in a city that I admire and in a country that I love.
There were some very important and significant points to be taken from what happened. The media was this time clearly very careful in not jumping to conclusions and blaming the usual suspects (Al Qaeda and other extremists groups), with the exception, of course, of the very irresponsible and biased reporting of Fox News and the New York Post which were quick to accuse a “Saudi suspect” in a silly and completely irresponsible manner that will forever be highlighted as a case of irresponsible journalism.
Boston police, with the Federal support, provided the world with a practical and most dramatic demonstration of “crisis management” in full motion. It was as exciting as watching a Hollywood thriller; the big difference however is that this one is very much the real thing.
The entire city of Boston went into full gear; its police, civil defense and medical facilities were all united to treat the victims of the bombings and find the suspects. All residents, educational institutions and commercial establishments were in complete cooperation. The city was on a standstill for 48 hours to totally focus on getting the suspects arrested as soon as possible.
Related: “Atlantic Wire”, the online presence of “The Atlantic” magazine, reports that the FBI had to take active measures to counteract the influence of both traditional and social media when they were publishing unverified and, it turned out, false information:
In an opinion piece for Asharq Alawsat, Yousef Al-Dayni notes with relief and some gratitude that US officials and most media did not leap to conclusions about the identity of the Boston Marathon bomber(s) and instantly blame it on Saudis or other Arabs. He’s right. There is more caution being practiced, even among those authorities who might profit in some manner from leaking unverified information. Officials in particular and most media in general took a ‘wait and see’ or ‘too early to tell’ approach. Sadly, Al-Dayni does a little conclusion-leaping of his own when he states that the attack “was most likely carried out by a right-wing domestic group”. It’s a little too early to reach that conclusion, also.
There is extensive analysis going on right now. Various authorities — as well as non-authorities — are going through the imagery captured on the thousands of cameras that were in use at the time of the explosions. Certain individuals have piqued curiosity and are wanted for at least interviewing purposes.
Opinion: The Boston Bombings and Islamophobia
It is too early to speak about the Boston Marathon bombings, at least from a professional perspective. We must wait until the end of the investigations into this incident despite of all the noise that has been raised following the explosions in terms of the new media rushing, as expected, to begin the battle to settle scores and politicize this event. Some parties are also exploiting this to send political messages as part of a wider phenomenon where any local or international incident is taken as a pretext for political squabbling and attempts to undermine the other side.
More than 10 years have passed since the 9/11 attacks, and it is clear that the Western media, and the US media in particular—if we exclude the combative right-wing media—have learned their lesson. They did not rush to characterize the Boston bombings based only on suspicion; they have been very cautious not to harm the reputation of one of America’s most important social components, their Arab and Muslim citizens—not to mention foreign students from the Gulf, and particularly Saudi Arabia. Indeed, more than 6,000 such students are currently residing in the city of Boston, which is known for its excellent higher education institutes.
President Obama’s discourse following the bombing has been rational, while the statements of police commanders and spokesmen, along with security officials, have also reflected a lot of maturity. They have been very careful not to point fingers at any side when talking about this incident. This maturity deserves praise. As for the Arabs, we continue to suffer from something of a “guilt complex” following the 9/11 attacks. This results in feelings of horror whenever a terrorist incident takes place. The natural reaction to this is feelings of self-suspicion, and then exoneration.
Writing in Saudi Arabia’s Arab News, Abdulateef Al-Mulhim wonders whether Muslims are the best exponents of Islam, whether to non-Muslims or even to themselves. If one is to practice what one preaches, Muslims, he says, are doing it wrong. They are an abject failure when it comes to protecting Islam and, in fact, are its greatest enemies.
While the Muslim world gets upset when a lone (and loony) American Christian preacher burns a copy of the Quran, who is decrying the burning of thousands of Qurans in Muslim-on-Muslim violence within the Muslim world? Who is showing intolerance and Islamophobia when sectarian violence is killing thousands of Muslims within Muslim countries? Who is showing respect for knowledge and education when 14-year-old girls are attacked for wanting to go to school?
These are all excellent questions. It’s a pity there are so few good answers.
Do Muslims really understand Islam?
The total number of the Muslim population is around 1.6 billion or about 25 percent of the world population. Generally speaking, most of the Arab population is
Muslims, but not every Muslim is an Arab. For example, Pakistan and Bangladesh are not Arab countries, but they have more Muslims than all 22 Arab countries combined.
Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. Muslim population is growing at a steady pace in many non-Muslim countries especially in the US and Europe. All it takes to be a Muslim is to announce that there is no God, but Allah (SWT) and Muhammad (peace be upon him) is his messenger.
So, if the number of Muslims is on the rise, then why do Muslims feel insecure and threatened and why Muslims always think the others are after them at a time when there are more Muslims being killed by Muslims than there are Muslims killed by non-Muslims? And is a Muslim killed by non-Muslim considered a bigger crime than if he is killed by a Muslim?
In his column for Asharq Alawsat, Mshari Al-Zaydi notes that Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQIP) is seeking to use sympathy toward women as a political lever. He says that a recent YouTube video by Ibrahim Al-Rubaish (a former Guantanamo detainee and now on Saudi Arabia’s ‘most wanted’ list) is seeking to use emotions to rally support for the group’s politics.
Al-Qaeda Mufti Sets Sights on Women
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—In what could be perceived as a shift in tactics, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has appealed directly to women to exploit public sympathy for their Cause and incite others to carry out jihad.
In an interview posted on YouTube, senior Al-Qaeda leader, Ibrahim Al-Rubaish, called on the general public to join the protests calling for the release of some detainees. However Rubaish went further than this, asserting that Al-Qaeda must continue its armed confrontation, calling on any released detainees to continue the fight.
He said: “Their Cause should not end with their release from prison, they should send a message, they entered prison for the sake of their Cause, and they should leave defending, fighting for, and protecting this Cause.”
Rubaish, who is wanted on terrorism charges by the Saudi authorities, also called on these detainees to exploit the general public’s sympathy. He said: “The detainees should exploit the people’s sympathy for them and call them to carry out jihad” adding “they must become callers (to jihad).”
The Al-Qaeda commander was including female detainees in this category, making this a rare statement from Al-Qaeda addressing women.
This call came one day after Qassim police announced the arrest of a number of people who had taken part in an illegal demonstration calling for the release of security detainees.
Rubaish referred explicitly to female detainees held on security charges. During the interview, he asked: “What have these [detained] sisters done wrong? If we look at their cases, we find that their only guilt is that their husbands, or relatives, are mujahedeen, or that they support the mujahedeen.”
Arab News reports that Saudi Arabia’s government is now teaching the ‘proper’ concept of jihad to middle schoolers. This is an attempt to head off erroneous information about the concept before it has a chance to settle and grow within young minds. Given that teens are active on the Internet, that they seek out ‘exciting’ things, and that the government’s efforts to block websites is full of holes, this is a good move.
The effort has been shifted to middle schools because the government believes it is too late to do it in secondary schools, which was norm.
The curriculum, the report says, will emphasize “that jihad is only permissible when defending against aggressors, and with the approval of the country’s ruler and parents.”
Concept of jihad to be made clear to younger students
JEDDAH: Khadija Habib
In a move likely to be welcomed by parents and educationists, the Ministry of Education has decided to introduce the concept of jihad in Islamic jurisprudence textbooks at the intermediate school level.
Abdullah Al-Dukhaini, a spokesman for the Education Ministry, told Arab News that the ministry decided to move the teaching of jihad from the high school level to intermediate school because intermediate students are prepared to learn the “correct concept of jihad” before “erroneous concepts” reach them.
“Textbooks will include all relevant information on jihad including a definition when it becomes a duty, and the role of women,” Al-Dukhaini said.
“The information on jihad was developed by the Ministry’s Curriculum Development Project for intermediate-grade fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) textbooks.”
He said the government decided to introduce the subject for intermediate-level students earlier this year because it was important for young students to understand what is allowed under Islamic law.