According to a November 6 report in al-Sharq al-Awsat, Saudi authorities have recently made sizable seizures of large quantities of weapons and explosives at the kingdom’s borders, including its border with Iraq. The report by the Interior Ministry’s Border Guard Directorate-General details seizures made only during the third quarter of 2006 along all of the kingdom’s borders throughout the Arabian Peninsula. The seizures included one rocket propelled grenade, four anti-tank rockets, 46 hand grenades, 900 sticks of dynamite, 900 detonation wires, half a kilo of high explosives, nearly 200 guns and more than 100,000 rounds of ammunition of various calibers. The confiscations were tabulated cumulatively for the past three months, and no information was provided as to where the seizures were made. The Border Guard Administration also reported a number of other drug and alcohol smuggling interdictions in its annual statistical report and noted that during the last three months, 236 infiltrators and six smugglers were captured on the Iraqi side of the border.
There is little reliable open source data available on this subject, and it has been difficult to quantify the size of either cross-border smuggling or the number of guns and amount of explosives available in the kingdom. During the past several years, there have been periodic reports of the discovery of caches of arms and explosives in Saudi Arabia. Most recently, Saudi security forces discovered an underground weapons cache in al-Taif (al-Jazirah [Riyadh], November 10).
The quantities of weapons and explosives captured by Saudi authorities in the third quarter of this year are placed into some perspective when compared with the data from the entire year of 2005. For all of 2005, the border guards seized six rocket propelled grenades, 11 hand grenades, 14,040 sticks of dynamite, four unspecified explosive compounds, 14,090 detonation wires, 67 kilos of high explosives, 53 pistols and more than 500,000 rounds of assorted calibers (al-Sharq al-Awsat, November 6). It is not clear what percentage of the total overall smuggling these figures represent, nor is it known how much smuggling goes undetected. It is also unknown what accounts for the differences in quantities seized in the third quarter of 2006 versus the amounts seized for all of 2005. According to these figures, either the overall volume of smuggling has decreased, the composition of weapons smuggled into the kingdom has changed, or Saudi security forces have made fewer discoveries during the previous three months. As it is not known what was seized during the first six months of the year, a proper comparison is not possible. In order to truly evaluate the scope of the problem and its impact on the security situation in Saudi Arabia, more specific data, such as the location and composition of each seizure, would be required.
The spillover from the war in Iraq and smuggling from Yemen are presumed by analysts to account for the majority of foreign weapons and explosives smuggled into Saudi Arabia. This has in part contributed to the $12 billion MIKSA border security project and the construction of a security fence on the border with Iraq (Terrorism Focus, October 10). A recent report by the Saudi National Security Assessment Project asserts that the four main routes used to smuggle arms, explosives, militants and narcotics into Saudi Arabia have been identified by Saudi security forces. The report goes on to note that increased intelligence and surveillance of the Yemeni frontier have resulted in the capture and interdiction of hundreds of smugglers and infiltrators .
In related news, Saudi authorities are investigating claims made on a jihadi website that two suspected terrorists that escaped from al-Malaz prison in Riyadh last July were killed in Iraq in clashes with security forces (al-Watan, November 11; Okaz, November 11; Saudi Gazette, November 12). Abdul Aziz Abdullah al-Mas’ud and Abdul Aziz Mohammed al-Fallaj were both being held on suspicion of terrorism when they escaped with five other suspected militants. When al-Mas’ud was first apprehended earlier this year, he was also attempting to enter Iraq. This development shows the threat faced by the Saudi government from militants crossing the border and from the flow of new weapons smuggled into the kingdom.
1. “Remnants of al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia: Current Assessment,” briefing given by Nawaf Obaid, managing director, Saudi National Security Assessment Project, at the Council on Foreign Relations, November 3.