Al-Qaeda’s Sa’id al-Shihri Seeks to Revolutionize the Saudi Military

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 34

AQAP Deputy Leader Sa'id al-Shihri

Jihadist web forums released an audio recording by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) Deputy Leader Sa’id al-Shihri (a.k.a. Abu Sufyan al-Azdi) on August 9 entitled “Ma’an li khali’ al-Sa’ud” (Together to Overthrow al-Sa’ud). The recording came as a response to a correspondence AQAP claimed it “received in the mail, and by other means of communication, from some of the members of the armed forces in the Land of the Two Mosques, and their request for guidance from us on whether they should remain at their jobs or join us in the land of jihad.” [1]

Al-Shihri emphasized “the non-belief of al-Sa’ud, their apostasy and their committing [of sins] that contradict Islam,” which have led him to the conclusion that it is not permissible to serve the royal family. He warned that the Muslim ummah (community) might engage in a war:

“Know…that the upcoming war is a war against Islam and the Sunni Muslims in the Arabian Peninsula and the Sham [Levant]. Treaties and alliances have been formed for that. The Jews want to build the Temple of Solomon and the state of Israel…The Jews and apostates from the rulers of the Peninsula are in an alliance that was set up by America. Iran and their Arab Shi’i supporters in the region are another alliance…It is expected that the Jews will begin the war against Iran, in which the battlefield will be the Peninsula and its citizens. The Jews are in the Sham and Iran in the Peninsula.”

Hence, al-Shihri called on the Saudi armed forces to abandon the Sa’ud family and turn their weapons against Israel:

“Disavow your support for the tyrant, the agent of the Crusader campaign in the region, which places you in the realm of non-belief…Declare your rebellion against the orders of the tyrant. Do not turn your guns against Muslims who have rebelled against the tyrant with their tongues, hands, protests and other acts. Aid them, and use your arms against Israel, which is only kilometers away from you, the lights of which can be seen from the al-Haqd region in the north of the Peninsula. Let those of you who are pilots seek martyrdom in the skies of Palestine. Let those of you in the navy aim your weapons at the Jews there, and attain the honor of martyrdom in the cause of God. This is better than the title “a martyr of duty” [the official title conferred upon Saudi soldiers killed in clashes against jihadists].”

Al-Shihri provided Saudi armed troops eleven “guides” to implement:

1. “Focus on uniting the ranks and calling for jihad for the cause of God within your administrations, and form cells that will attract anyone who can provide logistic support (military, political, or otherwise), especially those who belong to the Air Force, or others who are in charge of weapons warehouses, officials in the army or Interior [Ministry], or other positions in operations or the media. After that, the collapse of al-Sa’ud will be made easy.

2. Form operational cells to gather information and determine important targets in order to bring down the state. Rely on secrecy in order to accomplish your goals.

3. Those of you who work as guards for the tyrant princes or ministers, or in the compounds that house the Christians, or those among you who can reach them: seek the aid of God to kill them. What could be better than martyrdom in the cause of God in the Land of the Two Mosques and the avenging of the Two Mosques, which have been dominated by the apostate rulers and pagan rejectionists? Do as Khalid al-Islambuli and his cell did in their assassination of the tyrant Anwar al-Sadat. [2]

4. Those of you who work in the Interior Ministry and have access to important information that would be of use to the mujahideen in selecting their targets, like homes, routes, and offices of Interior Ministry officials: send them to us through the organization’s military mail.

5. It is impermissible for you to perform any act in support of the tyrant against your mujahideen brothers or faithful monotheist women who adhere to the religion of God. Nor can you enlist anyone with no military experience in the army.

6. Fear God when it comes to the blood of Muslims and do not spill sacred blood, even if it delays one of your goals.

7. Dedicate yourselves to marshalling the lay Muslims, and to distinguishing yourselves in the middle of this state and its corruption.

8. Do your utmost to champion your mujahideen brothers by providing shelter, money, helping them to move about and facilitating their operations.

9. We would prefer that those who work [with us] do not leave the Land of the Two Mosques [i.e. Saudi Arabia] unless they must, for instance to evade capture or if outposts are in need of expertise or cadres.

10. No one should be taken prisoner. Dedicate yourselves to martyrdom and to buying weapons with which to defend your religion, yourselves and your honor.

11. It is impermissible for you to violate the Shari’ah of Allah in your operations for any reason. Nor can you perform any deed without a legitimate fatwa from the scholars of the mujahideen.

Several previous reports mentioned that al-Qaeda infiltrated Saudi security agencies, but it is difficult to measure the real support for jihadists among the Saudi military as well as whether al-Shihri’s recording was a response to real correspondence from military members or was just a propaganda recording intended to demonstrate AQAP’s influence in Saudi society. [3]

However, al-Shihri’s guidance to military and security members coincides with the Salafi-Jihadist aim of turning Saudi Arabia into an open battlefield by revolutionizing society. Such an understanding was seen in the propaganda materials of al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia during their clashes with Saudi authorities (2003-2007) as they described situations closer to armed conflict (chases, confrontations, clashes, training camps…etc) than an environment where a group conducts terrorist acts against a government in peaceful periods.


1. All quotations are from the recording which can be found in full text:

2. Al-Islambuli was an Egyptian Army officer who emptied his rifle into Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat during a 1981 military review. He was executed by a firing squad the following year and has become a hero to the modern Jihadist movement.

3. For al-Qaeda infiltration, see Thomas Hegghammer, Jihad in Saudi Arabia: Violence and Pan-Islamism since 1979 (Cambridge Middle East Studies), 2010, p.78.