Saudi Arabia continues to physically battle the dragon it created, while refusing to deal with the underlying ideological problem in the Magic Kingdom – the support of the radical Wahhabi strain of Islam, the foundation of al Qaeda and the wellspring of Islamist extremism. A three day battle in the heart of the Wahhabi stronghold of Al-Ras ended with the death of 14 al Qaeda terrorists, including two of the most wanted men in Saudi Arabia, Kareem al-Mojati, a founder of al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia and explosives expert with international contacts, and Saud al-Otaib. This was followed by the killing of another of Saudi Arabia’s most wanted, Abdulrahman al-Yazji.
This listing of the 26 most want al Qaeda operatives (while in need of updating), is instructive on the importance of the terrorists bagged by Saudi security forces. Al-Otaibi was a leading ‘ideologue’, al-Mojati was likely second in command of al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia behind Saleh al-Aufi, and al-Yazji is a senior member or the organization (Jihad Unspun, the propaganda organ of the Islamists, has some background on al-Yazji’s politics). There are unconfirmed rumors al-Aufi may have been killed or wounded in the gun battle in Al-Ras, which would mean another commander of al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia has been eliminated, creating yet another leadership vacuum to be filled by less experienced personnel.
These are certainly important military victories against al Qaeda, as its experienced fighters in the Arabian Peninsula are being liquidated. However the longer term problem of the Wahhabi ideology must be addressed. Arthur Chrenkoff notes a surprising fact about foreign jihadis killed in Iraq over the past six months – the absence of Egyptian fighters, which is attributed to Egypt’s policies against the most radical elements in their midst – the Muslim Brotherhood, the forefathers of al Qaeda.
Wherein lies a lesson for the Saudis, too: crackdowns do work, but the political-religious establishment also needs to get serious about the problem. In the end, though, while turning off the tap of jihadis is a very positive first step, the only real solution to the underlying problem is democratization and liberalization of the Middle East which would channel people’s energies away from violence, hatreds and resentments into more productive avenues of political expression and economic growth.
Two more Saudis terrorists, along with a Yemeni, a Syrian and an Afghani, were killed in Iraq today.
Despite its long battle with al Qaeda, Saudi Arabia, like Pakistan, is not a fully ally in this war until the ideological dimension of Wahhabism is addressed. Saudi Arabia has been the target of al Qaeda’s terrorism for some time, and Osama bin Laden has openly called for the overthrow of the regime and attacks on its oil industry. The United States has withdrawn its forces from the Land of the Two Mosques and deployed its forces outside the country. The Saudis must now directly confront their own problems, without outside intervention, and this certainly changes the calculus in how they will tolerate extremism. The House of Saud has done a decent job of hunting al Qaeda members in country and protecting its oil infrastructure from attacks, but it sits upon a ticking time bomb of its own making, and will never resolve this problem until the poison of Wahhabism is confronted head on.
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