U.S. warnings a week ago of an increased threat of attack to its residents in Jeddah were borne out on March 14 with news of a clash between Saudi security forces and suspected Islamist militants. As forces raided a residential building housing a wanted Islamist militant in the city’s northern al-Rabwa neighborhood, a gun battle erupted, resulting in the death of one militant and the capture of three others. This was followed by a report (unverified as Terrorism Focus went to press) carried on March 15 by the Minbar Ahl al-Sunna wal-Jama’a forum, of a gunfight in the center of the Kingdom at the northern Khalidiyya district of Burayda (340 km north west of the capital Riyadh) [www.islam-minbar.net]. Despite these two incidents, the pace of jihadist activity in Saudi Arabia continues to lag. The last incident occurred on January 9 with a fire-fight in the desert, where four militants were killed. These are essentially initiatives of the security forces. The last militant action took place on December 6 with the attack on the U.S. consulate in Jeddah, which was itself provoked by alarm at the closing in of security forces on a group of militants.
The tailing off of activity dates from the killing, on June 18, of the military leader Abd al-Aziz al-Muqrin — a psychological blow that still resonates (an extended commiseration and elegy to al-Muqrin was posted on March 9 on the [www.islam-minbar.net] forum). However, a news report from the Saudi daily al-Sharq al-Awsat, provides some indication that the decline of al-Qaeda in the Peninsula also has its internal drivers. The paper reports on March 15 from “informed sources” that the mufti (religious advisor) of al-Qaeda, Abdullah Muhammad Rashid al-Rashoud — whose absence since last summer had caused speculation — was actually slain by his colleagues. Since his last appearance on a video, urging mujahideen to attack foreigners and security forces in the Kingdom, he had, according to the paper’s unnamed sources, expressed reservations on al-Muqrin’s operational strategy, casting doubt on the level of Shari’ah justification for some of his more recent attacks targeting Saudis. Al-Rashoud, it appears, was quickly diagnosed by the leadership as having suffered a “fit of madness,” which required curing through the chanting of the Qur’an. Al-Muqrin and Faysal al-Dakhil are then said to have gone to visit Rashoud to supervise the cure, then to have driven him to an isolated place, and then returned, telling the militants that he had been “taken to a secure place.” Al-Rashoud was never seen again. [www.aawsat.com]
A further indication of irreparable decline in jihad in the kingdom was evidenced by a posting on March 14 on the al-Ansar forum, and relayed on the [www.islam-minbar.net] and [www.almjlah.net] jihadi forums. It is a Declaration signed by Abu Maysara “from the al-Qaeda Organization in Iraq to their al-Qaeda Brothers in the Peninsula,” and bears the despairing tone of a statement of solace. “Our hearts are with you,” the statement began, “stay fast to the jihad … for you are aiding us by your standing against the agents of the Jews and Christians among the al-Saloul [an opprobrious term of the Saud family – see supplement on jihadi terms and terminology].” The Declaration then encourages the loyal militants to come if possible to Iraq. For those who are unable — “let him continue to guard the frontiers in the Land of the Two Shrines … But do not depart from our [battle]-field and aid us.”