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Paper no. 1017          07. 06. 2004

by B. Raman 

In my Paper no. 878 of January 1,2004, on the "State of Jihadi Terrorism" available at , I had stated as follows: "The happenings in Saudi Arabia should be a matter of serious concern not only to the West, but also to all countries in Asia, which are dependent on Saudi Arabia for their energy requirements.  Taking advantage of the thinning out of the US military presence there, Al Qaeda has stepped up its activities there in a dramatic manner.

2."Despite large-scale arrests and recoveries of cached arms and ammunition by the Saudi authorities, the motivation of Al Qaeda terrorists there remains unaffected. If the Saudi statistics of arms and ammunition captured during raids in different parts of the country are correct, it speaks poorly of the vigilance of the Saudi security agencies.  Such large-scale smuggling, mainly through Yemen, and networking inside Saudi Arabia would not have been possible without the complicity of sympathisers inside the Saudi security apparatus and amongst retired officers.

3."While a lot is known about Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and its nexus with jihadi terrorists, very little is known about the nexus of the Saudi security agencies with Al Qaeda.  It wants to have the present rulers of Saudi Arabia to be replaced by its own rule. Al Qaedisation of Saudi Arabia is its objective.  Al Qaeda wants to use Saudi Arabia as a base for its future operations directed against the US and Israel and for operating against the coalition troops led by the US in Iraq.  For the present, it is using Pakistan and Yemen as the rear bases for its operations in Saudi Arabia and has left the operations in Afghanistan totally in the hands of the Taliban and Hizbe Islami." (Citation from my previous paper ends)

4. Despite periodic claims of success in their counter-terrorism operations made by the Saudi authorities, the terrorists of Al Qaeda and the International Islamic Front (IIF), led locally by Abdul Aziz al-Muqrin, alias Abd-al-Aziz Isa Abd-al-Muhsin al-Muqrin, alias Abu Hajar continue to be as active as ever. Their morale is high and their local command and control intact. I am using the word local because there is as yet no evidence to show that the decisions on individual operations are being taken outside Saudi Arabia.

5.The Al Qaeda set-up in Saudi Arabia has been split into a number of small cells, which have been operating autonomously of each other within an over-all framework of objectives laid down by the externally-based leadership of the IIF. They have been avoiding  communication with each other to make it difficult for the Saudi and US intelligence agencies to collect technical intelligence. Their fierce determination and devotion to their cause have made penetration and collection of human intelligence verey difficult. The modus operandi followed by the cells in Saudi Arabia led by al-Muqrin are  similar to those followed by the cells in Iraq commanded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

6.The Al Qaeda and the IIF are projecting oil as a new Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD), which is already within  the easy reach of the jihadis and which,  if skilfully exploited, could bring about the destruction of the Western economy and  the end of the US-UK occupation of Iraq and help the Palestinians and the people of Kashmir achieve their objective.

7. The terrorist strike in the last week of May  in the Saudi oil industry town of Al Khobar, which led to the death of 22 persons, many of them, including seven Indians, foreign nationals working and living in the town was in pursuance of this objective. The success of the terrorists speaks disturbingly of their motivation, capability and determination and poorly of the counter-terrorism capability of the Saudi authorities.

8. While there is no evidence till now  to show that the Indians were specifically targeted, the unusual brutality directed at the Indian nationals after their nationality was established by them  and the projection  subsequently made by organisations associated with Al Qaeda in their web sites of the attacks on them as a retaliation for the attacks by the Indian Security Forces on the people of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) are another  indicator of the anti-India turn in the thinking of Al Qaeda.

9. Till the end of 2002, the statements of Osama bin Laden, his No. 2 Ayman Al-Zawahiri and other leaders of Al Qaeda were free of anti-India references or even references to J&K. Subsequently, bin Laden referred to the alleged support of the USA to India on the Kashmir issue as one of the reasons for the Muslims' anger against the US.

10. While bin Laden himself has not so far made any strong  criticism of India in a direct manner, statements attributed to al-Zawahiri have been increasingly replete with anti-India and anti-Hindu remarks.

11.It is not so far clear as to why the statements attributed to bin Laden and al-Zawahiri are so different in their contents and tone. Are they co-ordinating their statements or are they operating from different places with no possibility of such co-ordination? Have differences cropped up between the two as an increasing number of usually well-informed people in Pakistan claim on the issue of the direct targeting of the Saudi ruling families? Are al-Muqrin and al-Zarqawi operating under the direction of bin  Laden or al-Zawahiri or independently?

12. The answers to these questions are not yet clear. Whatever be the answers, the jihadi terrorists are far from being vanquished and the international community is in for many more months of bleeding at the hands of terrorists spawned in the terrorist triangle of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

13. If they manage to lay their hands on the oil weapon and wield it effectively, India is likely to be a major sufferer not only because of the possible drying-up of oil supplies and the consequent increase in prices, but also because of a possible exodus of valuable foreign exchange earning non-resident Indian community from the oil-producing centres of Saudi Arabia and other countries of the region. 

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-Mail: )