The latest al-Qaeda arrests in Saudi Arabia have triggered angry responses on jihadi websites. On April 27, the Saudi Interior Ministry announced its security forces had arrested 172 al-Qaeda terrorists (Terrorism Focus, May 1; al-Jazeera, April 27). The spokesman for the ministry said that the 172 terrorists, who comprised Saudis and foreign nationals, were part of seven al-Qaeda cells, some of which were training to fly airplanes and plotting to attack Saudi oil industry infrastructure. On the forums, jihadis were quick to refute the credibility of the Saudi report by stating certain points to prove the Saudi government wrong. A user by the nickname “Abu Ahmad” argued that the members of the jihadi community in the land of the two sanctuaries—Mecca and Medina—have never been arrested in the past without fierce confrontation. In prior instances of arrests, for example, the suspects have even taken their own lives through the use of explosive belts. As a result of this record, Abu Ahmad asks, “how could they arrest such a large number of people without any confrontations?” Abu Ahmad ends his argument by challenging the Saudi Ministry of Interior to arrest the militants who targeted the Interior Ministry’s building on December 29, 2004, even though Saudi authorities claimed that they had killed all seven terrorists involved in that 2004 attack (https://tajdeed.org.uk, April 27).
In the same forum, other users corroborated Abu Ahmad’s argument. According to one user, if the Saudis had claimed in the past that the kingdom was free of terrorists, then why are they still making large-scale arrests? (https://www.alhanein.com, April 27). Doctor Saad al-Faqih, a Saudi opposition leader (who was interviewed by The Jamestown Foundation in 2005), also denied the credibility of the Saudi claims in a 15-minute audio file. In the transmission, al-Faqih said, “for three years, the jihadis did not surrender…It doesn’t make sense to arrest 172 jihadis without any resistance. Do the authorities think they are pushing a herd of goats? We will find out the reasons behind this fabrication soon.” Answering al-Faqih’s speculation about the reasons behind the arrests, two frequent writers in various jihadi forums, Abu Yaqoub and Fata al-Jazeera, say the purposes of the “charade” are as follows: a message to Saudi reformists that it is not yet time for reforms; to slander the jihadis’ image in Iraq because public opinion connected the arrests with the violence in Iraq; a pretext for more arrests in Saudi Arabia; to alleviate U.S pressure on Saudi Arabia; and to justify certain media policies in the country aimed at eliminating jihadi ideology.
Intelligence wise, the Saudi arrests appear to show how the authorities have managed to penetrate cells set up by al-Qaeda-affiliated militants. Regardless of the claims on the jihadi forums, it is unlikely that Saudi security forces would fabricate reports of such a large security operation. It is common practice for online jihadis to accuse the security forces of deceit to prevent morale deterioration among their members.