Mujahideen Explain Away Failures of the Abqaiq Attack

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 3 Issue: 9

Internet mujahideen are reflecting on the meager results of the attempted bombings by al-Qaeda at the Abqaiq (also known as Buqayq) oil processing plant in Saudi Arabia. A number of postings on the Tajdeed forum are illustrative (http://tajdeed.org.uk). Most postings talk up the significance of the attack as the “first spark” in a new direction, in which the jitters in the international energy markets are indications of developments to come. One individual, Habib al-Najjar, argued that this response by the mujahideen to Osama bin Laden’s calls “will level the scales of confrontation between the mujahideen and the government, especially since oil facilities are very easy to target in comparison to the palaces and Western communities, and that even a simple strike will cause the Saudi government major disturbance, perhaps forcing them to call for foreign support in guarding the installations.” The upbeat note is tempered by a note of advice “that the mujahideen should think carefully about the most appropriate method to target and attack.” For instance, if the concept of explosives-laden cars will be easily detected by Saudi authorities, “instead of this the mujahideen could aim SAM rockets against any one of the Buqayq towers or the Juaymah storage facilities.”

A further commentary posted on February 28 by “Hamburg Cell” struck a more restrained note, explaining away the failure of the operation and its potential damage to al-Qaeda’s prestige as being the work of local Saudi youth without direct management from the global organization. Al-Qaeda, the second writer maintains, “has not given much importance to it…since it is clearly in the midst of [planning] bigger operations, of greater influence on American and European policies.” Against negative domestic and regional criticism on the pointlessness of the operation, one signing himself “Furat” takes the line that the broader Islamic nation should not be made to particularize their reactions to the affairs of one nation-state. If there were Saudis killed in the bombing, they were “defending the House of Saud and the Americans” and their deaths were “a small price to pay for the honor of our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Afghanistan” (http://tajdeed.org.uk, February 28).

It was the swiftness of the reaction of Saudi security forces, however, that most concerned the mujahideen readers. Press commentary—in the region and internationally—has broadly concurred on the statistical evidence pointing to growing success in the anti-terrorism campaign in the Kingdom. An intriguing posting appeared on the Tajdeed forum on March 3 that may give some pointers as to why this is so. Entitled “The Time of Reckoning is Nigh, al-Hesba…a warning from al-Qaeda,” one Umar bin Hanif calls attention to the “arrest in record time” of the mujahideen attackers following their posting of the claim of responsibility for the February 24 Abqaiq refinery attack in Saudi Arabia (http://tajdeed.org.uk, March 3). Two postings by al-Qaeda followed quickly after the attacks. One was on February 25, and a second came a day later that included details about the identity of the attackers and the “success” of the attack.

The attack claims were first posted to the al-Hesba jihadi forum—considered by the mujahideen to be the premier jihadi site from which many jihadi forums subsequently distribute materials. One day later, Saudi security forces shot dead five suspected terrorists believed to be involved, and arrested a sixth suspect. “We would like to know where these security measures on the site are,” Bin Hanif said. “No sooner had the brothers posted the claim in the name of the Media Front than they were seized. After that there appeared a new name for the Media Front, someone who had only been registered [on the site] for two or three days.” Bin Hanif draws his own conclusions: “Mujahideen in the Land of the Two Shrines, watch out, watch out! [Al-Hesba] has been penetrated to its very bones. So save what remains of the mujahideen and cut down your efforts on the internet!”

Notwithstanding the possible penetration of al-Hesba, as the forum participant claims, the number of postings on the internet on the subject of infiltration has lately increased. Each jihadi forum site already includes a section on the use of proxies, giving detailed instructions on how to disguise the identity of reader and contributor and practical security precautions to take to ensure identity security. According to a warning message on the al-Malahim wal-Fitan site, internet cafés have become outright “centers for espionage on all those that simply look like Islamists” (http://alfetn.net). The issue of penetration has become especially sensitive in the light of the experience of would-be mujahideen attempting to cross into Iraq via Syria. Forums such as al-Ghorabaa, and particularly the Minbar Suriya al-Islami, host discussions on how this is to be done, but according to the al-Malahim wal-Fitan site, such discussions are most likely directed by the intelligence services. One of the more graphic cases for the mujahideen was the false jihadi al-Batal forum flagged up by qoqaznews.com, which it described as run by an Arab youth in Britain and aimed at cataloguing jihadi users’ identities (Terrorism Focus, November 30, 2004). Many postings around the net are repeating the call for vigilance.