On Friday afternoon, a significant victory was won with the death of senior Saudi al Qaeda leader Abdelaziz al-Muqrin. Al Muqrin and three other terrorist colleagues–Faisal al-Dakheel, Ibrahim al-Duraihem, and Turki Al-Mutairi–were reportedly gunned down by Saudi security forces at a gas station in the al-Malaz neighborhood of Riyadh after they began firing automatic weapons. The Saudis had previously described al-Muqrin as the last remaining al Qaeda leader of consequence left alive in their kingdom, and insisted that his death would herald the end of the latest wave of violence in the region. Unfortunately, the optimism from Saudi spokesmen is overshadowed by a number of serious ongoing security concerns that persist despite the news of al-Muqrin’s passing.
Less than 24 hours after the death of al-Muqrin, al Qaeda’s Committee in the Arabian peninsula released almost 100 new pages of original Arabic-language propaganda and recruitment materials on the Internet–and even rolled out a new contact e-mail address. Commenting on Muqrin’s death, a communiqué from the group explained that al Qaeda’s forces in Saudi Arabia are absolutely undeterred by last Friday’s events and will “continue in the jihad for Allah’s sake until they achieve one of the two honors [victory or martyrdom].” Mohsen al-Awaji, a former radical Islamist-turned-government adviser, likewise cautioned, “We should be even more careful [now]. The rest of this group may strike indiscriminately.”
The latest edition of the “Voice of Jihad” magazine–published by al-Muqrin’s former group–is now reporting further details regarding the kidnapping and murder of American expatriate Paul M. Johnson Jr. The magazine claims that Johnson was first picked up at a fake police checkpoint set up by terrorists on a road leading to the airport in Riyadh. In order to carry out this task, Johnson’s abductors were allegedly provided authentic Saudi police uniforms and vehicles by “a number of accomplices in the security apparatus who are sincere to their religion… We ask Allah to reward them and that they use their power to serve Islam and the mujahideen.” There is good reason to believe that the account is accurate–at least one of Saudi Arabia’s 25 most-wanted al Qaeda suspects over the past year was also a reputed member of the kingdom’s feared religious police–the Committee for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue.
While al Qaeda’s “official” Committee in the Arabian peninsula appears to be the predominant terrorist group active in the region, other pro-Osama bin Laden splinter factions have recently surfaced in Saudi Arabia, taking credit for terrorist operations publicly disavowed by the ruthless al-Muqrin. In late April, the “Al-Haramain Brigades” took credit for the devastating car bombing of the “command headquarters of emergency and antiterrorism forces of the Interior Ministry of the apostate Saudi government.” In their public statement, the Al-Haramain Brigades added, “since the heroic and noble al Qaeda mujahedeen who follow leader Shaykh Bin Laden…are occupied with the war against the Crusaders, we are dedicating ourselves to fighting you God willing, and revenge by bombings and assassinations and other means shall not stop.” While alive, Abdelaziz al-Muqrin had gone to lengths to distance himself from the April car bombing, insisting, “we are not responsible for the bombing of the emergency security building in Riyadh although we believe it is an expected result of the infidel, unjust and oppressive policy of the [Saudi rulers].” If this is indeed the case, al Qaeda’s violent ideology may now have sufficiently infiltrated Saudi society as to create the phenomenon of “leaderless resistance.”
These contradictions make clear that the war on terrorism in Saudi Arabia is only now beginning. The onus is squarely on the Saudi royal family to prove to its own people and to the world that it is capable of fighting and winning this difficult battle. Clearing the Saudi security apparatus and religious police of al Qaeda sympathizers is only the beginning. To win in this war will require a firm commitment from the kingdom to fully acknowledge and combat the influence of radical Islam from within; blaming horrific terrorist attacks inspired by Osama bin Laden on supposed “Zionist” conspiracies only perpetuates the long-term problem.
–Evan Kohlmann is an International Terrorism Consultant and author of the upcoming book, al Qaeda’s Jihad in Europe: the Afghan-Bosnian Network (Berg Publishers, June 2004). His website is located at www.globalterroralert.com.