Saudi Govt. Forces Prepare For Return Of Jihadists From Iraq.
*** Some US Officials Agree; But Others Say Most Of The Human Bombers Are Not Iraqi
*** American Troops Discover A Huge Underground Hiding Place With Weapons & Ammunitions Near The Western City Of Falluja, In The Lethal Sunni Triangle
NICOSIA - The Saudi government is developing a special commando force to fight Salafi jihadists (Muslim holy warriors) who will be returning from Iraq in the coming months. Although most of them prefer to remain and die in Iraq, the government anticipates an influx to begin from late 2005 as the number of Iraqi government forces being trained by the US begins to increase in a big way.
Saudi Salafi volunteers returning from Iraq will be in two main categories: extremely dangerous and well trained jihadists who will be requested to go home by the leaders of Al-Qaeda's branch in that country, whom the Riyadh government will confront with the special force; and far less effective and weak youths running away from the Iraqi war front, who will be easier for the government to re-indoctrinate and thus help re-integrate into the Saudi society.
The subject of Salafi terrorism and the need for Saudi Arabia and its Arab neighbours to co-ordinate on this matter was the top issue discussed on May 28, during the seventh consultative summit of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC). King Hamad Bin Eisa Al Khalifa of Bahrain chaired the summit as the island state held the chairmanship of the GCC. The summit also looked at internal reforms, and developments in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon. The results of the US and French visits of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah Ibn Abdel Aziz, were also discussed at the GCC summit.
While the Saudi government is preparing for a major war with returning jihadists, however, the Salafi insurgency in Iraq is gaining in sophistication as foreign militants step up suicide bombings and guerrillas improve surveillance techniques (see overleaf). May was the bloodiest month in Iraq since the downfall of Saddam's Baathist regime (see ood6bIraqUNoilJun6-05).
Two years after the outbreak of a bloody wave of attacks, Saudi authorities say they have broken the back of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, whose last strike dates took place in December. On May 29 Agence France Presse quoted a Saudi Ministry of Interior spokesman as saying: "we have accomplished the mission by either killing or capturing [the local member of Al-Qaeda]". But "we cannot say we have reached the situation where we can ensure that no terrorist crime could be implemented in the kingdom. We are not saying that".
In a major coup for the Saudi authorities, 15 suspected militants were killed, including two Al-Qaeda chiefs, in early April in a gun battle with security forces in Al-Rass, north of Riyadh. From a list of 26 most-wanted militants published in December 2003, only three remain at large, including Saleh Al-Awfi, an ideologue of the movement whom reports at the time had said was killed in the Al-Rass clash. But the Interior Ministry spokesman told AFP: "He is still alive and he is still wanted".
Behind official statements on a job well done, the Al-Qaeda threat remains. This is part of the reason for development of a special Saudi commando force. This force is being prepared not only for the local remnants of Al-Qaeda and the volunteers who will be returning from Iraq, but also for the next generation of Salafi militants.
The Saudi volunteers in Iraq will come back battle-hardy and trained in urban warfare, with the kind of experience comparable to the Afghan example.
Thousands of Saudis, including Al-Qaeda's Leader Osama Bin Laden, were trained in Afghanistan by fighting the Soviet army in the 1980s.
The so-called Saudi "Afghans" underwent heavy-duty training, whereas now the youngest and least well-trained Saudi volunteers in Iraq are being used as cannon-fodder in the suicide bombings. The latter's job in Iraq is mainly to drive the car which is prepared for them to the target. But the number of the well-trained Saudi volunteers in Iraq is smaller than that of the younger and less experienced - although to the Saudi authorities, the former are far more dangerous than the latter.
Most of the highly-skilled and battle-hardy fighters have beem killed in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Chechnya. The Saudi jihadist volunteers in these countries were in the thousands. When they joined the jihad in Afghanistan from the 1980s they were encouraged to do so by both the governments of Saudi Arabia, the US and Pakistan on the one hand and the Afghan mujahedin on the other. But now the total number of Saudi volunteers in Iraq is much smaller.
Al-Qaeda, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, operates on the basis of a Salafi ideology. Their ultimate objective is the re-establishment of a universal Sunni "Caliphate", a goal which has alarmed most governments in the Muslim world (see news22bbQaedaMay30-05).
Suicide bombings have become the Iraqi insurgency's weapon of choice, with a staggering 90 attacks accounting for most of the 750+ deaths at the militants' hands last month, according to tallies by the US military and news agencies. Suicide attacks outpaced car bombings almost 2-to-1 in May. In April, there were 69 suicide attacks - more than in the year preceding the June 28, 2004, handover of sovereignty. The frequency of suicide bombings in Baghdad is unprecedented, exceeding the practice through years of the Palestinian uprising against Israel and other militant insurgencies such as the Chechen rebellion in Russia. Baghdad alone saw five suicide bombings in a six-hour span on May 28.
US officials and Iraqi analysts say the insurgents' resources are increasing on several fronts: money to buy cars and explosives, expertise in wiring car and human bombs and intelligence leaks which help the insurgents target US and Iraqi forces. Navy Commander Fred Gaghan, in charge of the Combined Explosive Exploitation Cell in Iraq which studies bomb scenes for clues to insurgent tactics, was on June 4 quoted by The Washington Post as saying: Suicide attacks were on the rise because the explosive devices were "simple to construct and easy to operate, thus making suicide bombers difficult to detect". He added: "At this time, there is nothing to indicate that the availability of volunteers is on the decline", noting the media coverage and videos of suicide bombings posted on the Internet which fuel extremist recruitment.
The Post quoted Sa'd Obaidi, a retired Iraqi major general and security expert, as saying: "One aim of the US military once it invaded Iraq was to lure all insurgents and terrorists from all over the world to confront them here". The first suicide bombings of the insurgency were attributed to foreign infiltrators, but Obaidi believes that has changed, saying: "The Iraqi way of thinking in the past totally rejected that someone would kill himself. But once they realised how powerful this weapon is and saw its effectiveness, Iraqis started getting involved in suicide operations". Some US officials agree. Other US officials say they still believe that foreign fighters are responsible for most of the suicide attacks.
While foreign fighters are said to make up only around 5% of the overall insurgency in Iraq, they are causing disproportionate damage with suicide attacks. Reuters on May 29 quoted a senior US military intelligence officer as saying: "Suicide bombings are their precision guided weapons in terms of the damage against Iraqi civilians".
Suicide bombings, the biggest killers in Iraq, are the most difficult attacks to prevent. After indoctrination training, militants cross into Iraq from countries such as Syria and quickly pass through a network of handlers before blowing themselves up. The US intelligence officer added: "Their trip has several parts. They are dropped off at one point and then they are picked up. They don't stay long". Syria has denied Iraqi accusations that it allows insurgents to cross into Iraq to carry out attacks.
Other experts say the human bombers are part of a complex, loosely connected insurgency which also includes former members of Saddam's Baath Party, Sunni Arab nationalists and Iraqis tied to the fighting by tribal, family and personal connections. While suicide bombers are inspired by everything from Internet holy war messages to the Qaeda leader in Iraq, Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi, Saddam loyalists with years of intelligence experience are seeking to regain power.
The intelligence officer, who estimated insurgents number between 12,000 and 20,000 in the "worst case scenario", said guerrillas were not getting stronger, despite an upsurge of violence a new government was formed in late April. But he said they have significantly improved their surveillance techniques. "They are taking more pictures now".
Iraqi forces recently launched their biggest security crackdown since the fall of Saddam with the start of Operation Lightning, a sweep by 40,000 troops who sealed off Baghdad and hunted for insurgents. They were hoping to find sites like a factory in Baghdad which fits cars with bombs in an hour, a type of explosives assembly line, that officials said was discovered already.
The intelligence officer said he was not concerned about the possibility of a civil war between the Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq, stressing that "it is in nobody's interest" and more Sunnis were pursuing the political process. Iraqi officials have accused Zarqawi of ordering suicide bombings to spark a civil war. The US believes Zarqawi has been wounded, as his group's Website has said.
Shaikh Saleh Aal-Al-Shaikh, Saudi minister of Islamic affairs, endowments and call and guidance, on June 3 urged Muslims to make all-out efforts to defend the Holy Qur'an. He said the enemies of Islam had been targeting charitable societies for memorisation of the Qur'an all over the world by describing them as breeding grounds of terrorism. He said: "The Qur'an schools run by these charitable societies are the lighthouses of the Muslim ummah and should not stop".
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|Publication:||APS Diplomat News Service|
|Date:||Jun 6, 2005|
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