Saudis flooding into Iraq ‘preparing for jihad’




By Mark Huband in London

Financial Times, 19 August 2003

Increasing numbers of Saudi Arabian Islamists are crossing the border into Iraq in preparation for a jihad, or holy war, against US and UK forces, security and Islamist sources warn.

A senior western counter-terrorism official yesterday said the presence of foreign fighters in Iraq was “extremely worrying”.

A statement purportedly from al-Qaeda was broadcast yesterday by the Arab satellite television channel al-Arabiya. It claimed Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader, and Mullah Mohammed Omar, leader of Afghanistan’s ousted Taliban regime, were still alive. But it also asserted that recent attacks on US forces in Iraq were the work of jihadis. The focus of concern for US counter-terrorist officials was at first on a reconstituted Ansar al-Islam, the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group that based itself in northern Iraq before the war. But US officials have recently acknowledged that other foreign fighters were in Iraq.

Paul Bremer, the US administrator in Iraq, said recent raids, including one near al-Qaim last month, uncovered fighters “carrying travel documents from a variety of countries”.

Saad al-Fagui, a UK-based Saudi dissident, said the Saudi authorities were concerned that up to 3,000 Saudi men had gone “missing” in the kingdom in two months, although it was not clear how many had crossed into Iraq.

Saudis who have gone to Iraq have established links with sympathetic Iraqis in the northern area, where they have hidden in safe-houses, a Saudi Islamist source said yesterday.

Pressure on Islamists in Saudi Arabia has grown since the bombing of an expatriate compound in May killed 35 people. The subsequent arrest of many Islamists has forced some underground while others are trying to flee to Iraq.

“If all the avenues are closed and there is a huge gate to Iraq and it’s their life wish to fight jihad, they don’t have to go far,” said Mr al-Fagui. He said he had been told of the 3,000 “disappeared” by a security official inside the kingdom.

“Part of this movement of people has been individual, but it is getting more organised now.” Mr al-Fagui added that the loose organisation of Saudi Islamists did not have any clear link to al-Qaeda. “Al-Qaeda is there and not there. But its umbrella is huge, which is what has given it its ability to survive.”

A senior UK official said there was evidence of extremists from a variety of countries focusing on Iraq, though it remained unclear what role al-Qaeda was playing, but there was “great evidence” of al-Qaeda involvement in the jihadi cause inside Iraq.


© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.