Saudi anti-terror sweep
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.