Saudi anti-terror sweep

Hundreds of ISIS suspects from several nationalities are arrested
Friday 24/07/2015
Saudi Special Forces taking part in anti-terrorist exercises

LONDON - On the second day of the Muslim holiday Eid al- Fitr, Saudi Arabia an­nounced the arrest of 431 people, including the man suspected of links with the Islamic State (ISIS) who alleg­edly sent death threats to come­dian Nasser al-Qasabi.

The Interior Ministry said securi­ty forces rounded up the individu­als in the past “few weeks” while also thwarting planned suicide at­tacks on mosques, diplomatic mis­sions and security organs in Riyadh and the Eastern province.

“The number arrested to date is 431, most of them citizens, in addi­tion to participants from other na­tionalities … six successive suicide operations that targeted mosques in the Eastern province on every Friday timed with assassinations of security men were thwarted,” the ministry statement said.

Other nationalities rounded up in the sweep included: Yemeni, Egyptian, Syrian, Jordanian, Alge­rian, Nigerian, Chadian and others yet to be identified.

Among the suspects rounded up, 144 are accused of supporting the network by “spreading the devi­ant ideology on the internet and recruiting new members”, includ­ing a Twitter user named Jalabeeb al-Jizrawi, who threatened Qasabi, a Saudi satirist, after an episode of his Ramadan comedy programme Selfie poked fun at the terrorist or­ganisation.

Jalabeeb al-Jizrawi wrote; “The holy warriors will not rest until they cut your head from your body, in just a few days hopefully.”

The use of the internet and social networks in particular as methods of recruitment by terrorist organi­sations has led to many in the king­dom calling for a ban on sites such as Twitter, which has more than 2.4 million Saudi users, the highest number of users in the region.

But at a news conference in Ri­yadh, Interior Ministry spokesman Major-General Mansour al-Turki said the closing or blocking of Twit­ter was not a solution in dealing with terrorism even though terror networks have been able to take advantage of these social networks to promote and recruit impression­able youth.

“Security authorities have, over the past few weeks, worked to dis­mantle a network of cluster cells linked to ISIS.

They were following a scheme managed from troubled spots abroad with the aim of inciting sec­tarian strife and chaos in the king­dom,” Turki said.

Saudi authorities said the group had set up a militant training camp in Sharurah, a small town in Najran province in southern Saudi Arabia, where members were in contact with elements in neighbouring Yemen.

ISIS has made its presence known in recent months in Yemen through a number of bombings in the capital Sana’a.

Additionally, authorities said the ISIS point man in the kingdom, who was identified as Saudi na­tional Hadi Kotaim Shaibani, was arrested during the latest sweep.

Jamal Khashoggi, general man­ager of the Al Arab news channel, said although the arrests were good news, they also highlighted that ISIS was capable of recruiting members inside the kingdom. In an interview on Al Jazeera, Khashoggi said as chaos in Syria and Iraq is addressed, the “frenzy of recruit­ment” will continue.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neigh­bours last year joined a US-led mili­tary coalition bombing of ISIS in Syria, which some feared would re­sult in a regional jihadist blowback.

In May 2015, after suicide bomb­ing attacks targeted Shia mosques in Qatif and Dammam, Saudi In­terior Minister Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz said that Saudi Arabia’s security re­mained “under control”.

“Incidents such as this will not destabilise us. We have been through bigger ones,” he said. He had led a successful crackdown on al-Qaeda militants from 2003-07.

The statement said those ar­rested were also behind an attack in late May, when a bomber dis­guised as a woman blew himself up in the parking lot of a Shia mosque during Friday prayers, killing four people.

The Interior Ministry also blamed the terror cell for the November 2014 killing of eight worshippers in the eastern Saudi Arabian vil­lage of al-Ahsa and revealed it had thwarted a suicide bomb attack on a mosque, large enough to accom­modate 3,000 worshippers, in east­ern Saudi Arabia.