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The latest Riyadh suicide attack

11/10/2003

The significance of the latest suicide attack in Riyadh is difficult to gauge. Saudi Arabia is still in many respects a closed society, and reliable information about what happens within its borders is hard to come by. But here are a few impressions.

(1) Al-Qaeda remains active throughout the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; indeed, even if the bombing (or bombings) had not taken place, we would know this from the many raids, shootouts, and arrests reported since early May 2003. Despite being an international network of diverse Sunni Islamist groups and cells, al-Qaeda also has become and remains a Saudi domestic terrorist organization boasting a significant degree of local support.

(2) The choice of targets in both May and November -- residential compounds in Riyadh where Americans live or have lived until recently -- shows that these seemingly contradictory identities are the two sides of the same coin. They reflect the fundamentally anti-Western, anti-American agenda of the attackers. Most of all, they hate America for having intruded into the heartland of Islam -- America, with its economic, military, and cultural power. "Soft power" is the most oppressive kind of power.

(3) Still, this weekend's bombing was significantly less successful than the May 12 attacks, which hit three compounds, not just one, and killed many more Westerners, although we don't know how many. Most had moved out of this particular compound at some previous point, indicating either that the attacks did not have the time or resources to conduct effective reconaissance, or they had relatively few choices of targets that were desirable yet reasonably vulnerable to attack.

(4) Western intelligence continues to get good warning -- witness the closure of the US embassy in Riyadh and the consulates in Jeddah and Dhahran shortly before the attack. But the Saudi authorities apparently have not been able to put it to good effect.

(5) An attack in Riyadh that kills mainly foreign Arabs does the Qaeda cause less good than one that kills many Americans. But it reminds Saudis that the organization remains able to inspire loyalty and conduct devastating attacks in the capital. Its run is probably not over just yet.

(6) It also reminds Saudis that their country is not the pure Islamic kingdom that its princes claim. Dotted with these compounds, whose walls hide Western lifestyles like a stage set or a woman's veil, Saudi Arabia is also a country with a modern industrial and commercial infrastructure that is tied into the global economy and still depends on Western, non-Muslim expertise -- notice the recent new gas exploration contracts with major European energy firms. Notice also that the U.S. military gets called in whenever the neighborhood, never all that peaceful, starts to look a little too menacing.

(7) All this has been true for a long time now. This elaborate pretense is the essence of the modern Saudi state. But the rise of al-Qaeda is a sign of just how little some Saudis now believe that this is a good and honorable arrangement that they have some stake in.

Analyst

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000106.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Analyst @ 07:51 AM CST [Link]

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