Al-Qaeda may focus future attacks on the Gulf area, insiders warn




By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent, in Kuwait

Financial Times, 15 May 2003

The bombings in Riyadh have led western and Arab intelligence and security officials to reassess the capabilities and strategy of al-Qaeda, widely believed to have been behind the attacks.

The attacks are seen, both in intelligence circles and among Islamists opposed to the Saudi royal family, as evidence that al-Qaeda has decided to focus its attention on the Gulf area.

Islamists with knowledge of al-Qaeda’s strategy say that Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader, has given a “green light” for attacks in his homeland.

However, insiders also say the terrorist cells responsible for Monday’s attacks would have operated with substantial autonomy, and may have sought the al-Qaeda leader’s approval just prior to the strikes.

The US is investigating alleged links between two suicide bombings this week in Chechnya and the Saudi attacks.

Senior western counter-terrorism officials said yesterday that international action against al-Qaeda had reduced it from a global network to more localised cells of the kind that now appeared to be operating in Saudi Arabia.

“The operatives are parts of networks, but the linkage now between the local groups and al-Qaeda has fallen away to some extent. Al-Qaeda has also lost some of its credibility among Islamists, because they did suggest that they would do something linked to the war in Iraq. But they didn’t do it,” the officials said.

The loss of its base in Afghanistan, and the arrest of key operatives such as Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged co-mastermind of the September 11 attacks in the US, is widely seen by security services as having forced al-Qaeda to fall back on groups across the Islamic world from which it had attracted support before the US attacks.

Since the launch of the US-led war in Afghanistan in October 2001, al-Qaeda operatives have been traced returning to the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia alone has charged 90 Saudis with belonging to al-Qaeda, and is currently interrogating around 250 other suspects.

Al-Qaeda’s supporters in Saudi Arabia are threatening a “guerrilla war” against the kingdom’s leaders and their western allies, according to a communiqué sent to Al-Majalla, a London-based, Saudi-owned magazine.

It says it has been told by an alleged al-Qaeda operative that an extensive network of terrorist cells has been established inside the country.

“What the al-Qaeda people are saying is ‘The best is yet to come’,” says Saad al-Fagui, an exiled Saudi Islamist who has criticised al-Qaeda but has contact with its supporters in Saudi Arabia.

“It seems there is going to be a series of suicide attacks, though with intervals between them. The al-Qaeda leadership behaves in a very cool, calm way, and they will only come back with an attack when nobody is expecting it,” says Mr al-Fagui, though he voiced scepticism of Al-Majalla’s claims.


© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.