Originally Published 2004-12-14 07:17:09 Published on Dec 14, 2004
Since 1995, when the first incident of jihadi terrorism took place in Saudi Arabia, there have been 25 acts of terrorism as indicated below:
Falluja: Iraq's Tora Bora
Since 1995, when the first incident of jihadi terrorism took place in Saudi Arabia, there have been 25 acts of terrorism as indicated below: 

Year  No of Attacks  Fatal Casualties
1995 1 7
1996  19
2000  3  1
2001  2
2002  2  2
2003  44
2004  11  40

Only four of the 25 terrorist strikes, including the one of December 6,2004, were in Jeddah. The rest of them took place elsewhere, mostly in Riyadh, in the centre of the country, or nearby. The first incident of jihadi terrorism in Jeddah took place in August,2004, when terrorists, suspected to be from Al Qaeda, opened fire on a vehicle of the US Consulate without causing any fatal casualties. This was followed by the murder of a Frenchman in September and an incident of exchange of fire between the Saudi security forces and a group of terrorists in November, 2004, in which the security forces claimed to have killed one.

At least nine people were killed in a daring attack by a group of jihadi terrorists on the beachfront building of the US Consulate at Jeddah on December 6,2004. According to official accounts of the incident from the Saudi authorities, the terrorists followed an official Consulate car into the complex, firing guns and hurling grenades to force entry. No U.S. diplomats were killed, but the jihadi terrorists burnt the U.S. flag and set fire to one of the buildings. A Saudi official was quoted as saying: "The attackers took a chance while a consular car was going in, so the door was open. They threw grenades at the guards at the gate and stormed through. They had no access inside the Consulate itself as they were kept to the perimeter." 

According to the Saudi authorities, five non-American employees of the Consulate and four of the terrorists, who managed to penetrate the outer security perimeter of the Consulate, were killed during the terrorist strike and the subsequent exchange of fire with the Saudi security forces, who intervened to rescue those taken hostage by the terrorists. While the Saudi reaction after the terrorists had penetrated the Consulate was swift and effective, they were apparently clueless about the presence of the terrorists in Jeddah and their careful preparations for the attack.

This was the second attack directed against a US diplomatic mission abroad since the explosions outside the US Embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam in 1998. The earlier one, in the form of a car bomb explosion, was staged by the Pakistani dregs of the International Islamic Front (IIF), who had escaped from Tora Bora in Afghanistan, outside the US Consulate in Karachi in June,2002, but it failed to cause any damage to the US Consulate there or any loss of American lives.

A Saudi Interior Ministry statement after the incident said that five members of a "deviant group" -- its term for Al Qaeda sympathisers -- hurled bombs as a diplomatic vehicle was driving into the compound, set fire to one of the buildings and attacked people on the site. The Saudi security forces rushed to the scene and surrounded the terrorists, killing three on the spot and wounding two others, one of whom later died in a hospital.

The statement identified three of the slain terrorists as Fayez bin Awwad al-Jeheni, Eid bin Dakhilallah al-Jeheni and Hassan bin Hamed al-Hazmi, none of whom was on a most-wanted list of suspected Al Qaeda sympathizers issued by the authorities a year ago. "The identity of the fourth, who is wounded, must not be divulged for the sake of the (public) interest, and procedures are under way to establish the identity of the fifth person, who died in the incident," the statement said. According to it, all the four identified terrorists were Saudi nationals.

The responsibility for the attack has been claimed by Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula, which had also claimed responsibility for previous terrorist strikes this year in Saudi Arabia. A statement disseminated by it through the internet said: "Your brothers of the squadron of the martyr Abu Annas al-Shami stormed one of the bastions of the American crusaders in the Arabian peninsula, in Jeddah. They were able to withdraw from the Consulate and reach a safe place, after losing two martyrs, who covered the retreat of the mujahideen , three of whom were wounded and are being treated. Your brothers managed to kill nine people in the Consulate, including two Americans and seven soldiers of the tyrannical (Saudi) regime, and wounded dozens more."

It also said that they seized "telecommunications equipment, light arms, sophisticated electronic equipment and important documents," and promised to release more details of what it called "Operation Conquest of Fallujah"."This operation is one of the series of operations carried out by the Al Qaeda organization in their war against the crusaders and the Jews to chase the infidels out of the Arabian peninsula," it said.

Abu Annas al-Shami is the kuniyat (assumed name) of Omar Youssef Jumah, a Jordanian cleric reportedly of Chechen origin, who was reportedly killed in an American air strike in the Baghdad region on September 22,2004.He was projected as the spiritual guide of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his Tawhid wal Jihad (Unity And Jihad) group, which was active in the Fallujah area till November,2004. He had entered Iraq from Jordan last year and had in a fatwa justified the beheading of hostages by the members of the group.

From time to time, the Saudi authorities have been claiming to have broken the back of the terrorists. Despite this, the anti-regime and anti-US motivation of the terrorists remains as strong as ever. As in Pakistan, in Saudi Arabia too, there have been reports of sections of the intelligence and security establishment being sympathetic to the jihadi terrorists.

The terrorists look upon Saudi Arabia as the rear base for their operations against the US-led occupation troops in Iraq. The immediate priority of all jihadi terrorist groups in the Afghanistan-Pakistan-Saudi Arabia triangle is the continued bleeding of the Americans in Iraq. As the Lashkar-e-Toiba leaders keep pointing out during their recruitment and fund collection campaign for Iraq in the mosques and madrasas of Pakistan, Iraq has provided them with an opportunity of defeating the only super power in the world just as they had defeated the erstwhile USSR, the other super power, in Afghanistan in the 1980s. They keep stressing that they should not miss this opportunity and that till they succeed they should focus all their attention on Iraq. Even though the overthrow of the Saudi regime and the capture of power in Saudi Arabia continues to be an important aim of theirs, they give it second priority after Iraq.

The Jeddah incident indicates that Falluja has become the Tora Bora of Iraq. Towards the end of 2001, the US troops thought they had cornered Osama bin Laden and his followers in Al Qaeda and the International Islamic Front (ISF) in the Tora Bora mountainous area of Afghanistan. After having asked the Pakistan Army to seal the Pakistan-Afghanistan border effectively to prevent their escaping into Pakistan, they mounted an air and ground offensive to wipe out the jihadi terrorists.

The operation was unsuccessful. While some Pakistani and South-East Asian members of the IIF were killed in the American air strikes, most of the Arab members of Al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden and his No.2 Ayman al-Zawahiri, and a large number of the Pakistani and South-East Asia members of the IIF managed to slip across the border into Pakistan, with the connivance of the Pakistani troops. The South-East Asian survivors escaped by sea to Bangladesh and the Pakistani and Arab jihadis dispersed into small groups and scattered across Pakistan. Some of the Arabs moved across to Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The Uzbek, Chechen and Uighur members took shelter in the South Waziristan area of Pakistan adjoining the border with Afghanistan.

The dispersal of these dregs across Asia led to a prairie fire of jihadi terrorism across a wide arc in Asia, including many acts of terrorism in Pakistan territory--- three of them directed against Americans, one against the French, three against Pervez Musharraf and one each against his Corps Commander in Karachi and his Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz.

Just before the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq in March-April last year, many of these dregs---including Pakistanis belonging to the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ) and the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), Arabs belonging to Al Qaeda and other Arabs of Chechen origin who were fighting in Afghanistan as members of the Taliban-- moved across to Iraq via Saudi Arabia and Iran and took up position to start a jihad against the US and allied troops ---sometimes in tandem with the Iraqi resistance fighters and more often, independently.

Though Abu Musab al-Zarqawi of Jordanian origin has been portrayed by the US as the leader of the foreign terrorists operating in Iraq, there is reason to believe that the foreign terrorists do not belong to a single organic group. There are a number of autonomous groups of different nationalities operating under individual leaders of the same nationality, who have remained unidentified.

Periodic American claims of successes in its counter-resistance operations directed against the Iraqi resistance fighters and foreign terrorists have been belied by the impunity and the audacity with which the terrorists and the resistance fighters have been able to operate all over the Sunni Triangle and in Mosul. They have a free run of even Baghdad, with the American troops and the newly-raised Iraqi army watching helplessly.

There has been an average of two suicide car bombs ever day in different parts of the Sunni Triangle, which is a very large number. It speaks disturbingly of the continuing high motivation of the terrorists and resistance fighters and of the unending flow of volunteers to their ranks for undertaking suicide missions.

Well-placed Iraqi sources claim that while most of the suicide car explosions are being carried out by non-Iraqi Arabs---the majority of them Saudis, Yemenis and Arabs of Chechen origin--- most of the ambushes, sabotage operations, mortar shellings into the green zone in Baghdad and elsewhere and attacks with hand-held wapons are being carried out by Iraqi resistance fighters, with the help of Pakistani ex-servicemen belonging to the HUM, the LET and the LEJ. According to them, there has been no Pakistani involvement in the suicide bombings.

When the Americans invaded Falluja last month, preceded by air strikes and heavy artillery shellings, they thought they had cornered a large segment of the foreign terrorists headed by Zarqawi. They had taken precautions to prevent a repeat of Tora Bora there. They had asked the authorities of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria to prevent their taking shelter in their territory and, with the help of the British and other allied troops, set up barriers to prevent their scattering across the Sunni Triangle.

Falluja is an urban area different from the mountainous Tora Bora area of Afghanistan which provided many caves and tunnels for shelter and escape routes across the mountains into Pakistan. The air strikes and the artillery shellings in Tora Bora were ineffective against the dregs of Al Qaeda and the IIF.

Falluja was tailor-made for successful air strikes and artillery shellings. Despite this, Zaraqwi and a large number of Iraqi resistance-fighters and non-Iraqi terrorists managed to escape. While many spread across the Sunni Triangle, some managed to find their way to Saudi Arabia to reinforce the ranks of Al Qaeda there, which had suffered some attrition since the beginning of the year due to killings by the Saudi security forces, captures and some surrenders.

While the Tora Bora attack was largely improvised at short notice and was not preceded by publicity of the impending attack, the Falluja attack was preceded by weeks of publicity about the impending operation and this too enabled the terrorists and the resistance fighters to peel off in different directions even before the US offensive started.

A hard-core of indigenous resistance fighters and foreign terrorists stayed behind to slow down the advance of the US troops, thereby enabling their jihadi comrades to escape. The well-placed Iraqi sources mentioned above say that the escape of some of the Saudi and Yemeni dregs into Saudi Arabia was made possible by the complicity of Saudi border guards.

While the escalation of acts of terrorism and other reprisal attacks in Mosul, Baghdad and other Sunni areas was expected consequent upon the dispersal of the dregs from Falluja, the almost-successful attack on the US Consulate in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia on December 6, 2004, by the dregs, who had escaped into Saudi Arabia, was unexpected. 

The writer is Additional Secretary (Retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-mail: [email protected]

Note: To be read in continuation of the author's earlier article entitled "Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia", available at http://www.saag.org/papers11/paper1037.html

Courtesy: South Asia Analysis Group, New Delhi, Paper no. 1186, December 11, 2004

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.

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