As news circulated on the arrest by Saudi authorities in Riyadh of yet more terrorist suspects in connection with the failed attack on the Abqaiq oil facilities last February, chatter on the jihadi forums has turned to considering whether the al-Qaeda organization is still functioning or whether it has transformed itself and embarked on a strange new route (https://www.aawsat.com).
Participants on the Tajdeed forum (https://www.tajdeed.org.uk) were disconcerted by the charges launched in al-Qaeda’s last declaration against the forum’s director and notable Saudi dissident Dr. Muhammad al-Mas’ari (Terrorism Focus, April 11). Comments ranged from confusion that al-Qaeda “has nothing better to do than expose “errors of heresy'” while avoiding attacking Americans, to fears that the movement had lost its momentum. “Frankly, after all that has happened,” wrote one contributor on April 20, “the mujahideen and their Ansar have to choose: either a positive jihad in the country, or if they cannot do that, they can vent their spleen on the forums. Trying to do both will end in disaster.”
The virulence of an attack on al-Mas’ari, including one from the al-Hesbah website which ran “I ask that God let us get at the necks of al-Mas’ari, all the Arab and foreign tyrants,” induced some to ponder whether al-Qaeda was planning an all-out takfir (anathematization) of all Muslims and was taking the violent turn that the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA) made under the leadership of Anton Zouabri. “I am certain that the new al-Qaeda leader will finish off the organization and turn it into a Khariji [i.e. antinomian extremist] group fighting Muslims…and will besmirch the image of the jihad in the Land of the Two Shrines [Saudi Arabia],” wrote one “al-Madi” on April 21; “maybe he will go so far as to blow up the [Shi’a] graves in al-Qatif and leave the Saudis safe in their palaces. Anyone publishing such a declaration cannot be expected to be able to put together a sermon let alone lead the organization [of al-Qaeda]!…I think that the leadership has fallen into the hands of a criminal butcher and a fool at one and the same time.”
An alternative explanation was also offered: that the Organization of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula making these uncharacteristic noises is a rival or fake organization fabricated by Saudi intelligence. Noting the change of emphasis from active combat of Americans to the war upon “heretics,” one Abdallah al-Ghamdi on April 21 on the Tajdeed forum made his own predictions: “You will soon find that the Organization [of al-Qaeda] will seek license from some religious scholars to kill [al-Mas’ari], and you will witness the new (counter-intelligence) organization making attacks on impudent and indecent people, such as singers. And their reason for doing so?—to turn people away from al-Qaeda to the point that they begin to say that they are real terrorists, with no intention to kill Americans and with no other aim than to spill blood. This is what the [fake] Organization [of al-Qaeda] will do if its way is left open and if the [real] al-Qaeda or the Ansar fail to stand in its way” (https://www.tajdeed.org.uk, April 21).