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FIGHT ON TERRORISM
 

Terrorism is becoming a fact of life, like diabetics or blood pressure. You cannot cure it; the best you can do is learn how to live with it. Every time you look at the newspaper or turn on the TV to watch the news you expect to hear a new story about a foiled attack here or there. This is becoming a persistent theme in any news broadcast, just like weather and sport. The only variable that might catch your attention is the size of the attempted attack and whether it succeeded or failed.

In Saudi Arabia in particular, there is a heightened sense of alarm which is felt wherever you go. All government and financial institutions, hotels and high profile buildings are barricaded and every car is inspected before it is allowed entrance. Check points are posted at the entrance of every major road or highway where passengers have to stop and present their identification cards. Saudis have become used and immune to such daily inconveniences because they are quite aware of the great risks involved if such precautions were to be relaxed.

On the morning of April 18, the country woke up to the stunning news that the Interior Ministry arrested 172 terrorists forming 7 terror cells planning to wreak havoc in the kingdom. Viewing their destructive mission as holy jihaad, all 172 pledged allegiance to their leader at the sanctuary of the holy Kabah in Meccah.

There was a big sigh of relief because the group was rounded up only three days before they were supposed to strike. What was even more astonishing than the big number of the terrorists themselves was the big cash they had on their hands, which came to more than six million dollars, and the very advanced and expensive equipments and weaponry they had in their possession which they intended to use in their attacks. Where did they get all this money? This raises the suspicion that they might have received outside help since not all their money was in Saudi Riyals. In addition to foreign currencies in their possessions, they trained outside the kingdom to fly in order to use airplanes in their attacks. Their plan was to launch an attack much more spectacular than the 9/11 attack.

As this latest group was being rounded up and interrogated, the Saudi TV was exhibiting On May 14 five youths who provided logistic support to the terror group who were caught on the 24th of February 2006 as they were attempting to blow up oil installations at Abqaiq and Ras Tannurah. The group is called the petroleum cell because, according to their confessions, their plan was to blow up oil refineries in the Eastern Province in Saudi Arabia in order to stop the flow of energy and cripple world economy. By so doing, they were hoping to drag the USA and force it to interfere by sending troops to Saudi Arabia to protect oil wells. This way, they can engage US troops in guerilla warfare, as they are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. The aim is to dissipate and exhaust US power. American interference would also embarrass the Saudi regime and undermine its religious legitimacy.

The information gleaned from members of the petroleum cell is rather astounding.

Before the group could put their plan into action, they had to get a fatwa from Osamah bin Ladin, a religious pronouncement sanctioning the attack. It took them seven months to get this fatwa. This proves that bin Ladin is still alive and hiding in the rugged mountains on the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan. This was confirmed by the dissident Afghani leader and ex-prime minister Qalbuddien Hikmatyar. But the long time it took to communicate the fatwa shows that the hiding place of bin Laden is hard to find and difficult to get to. But this also shows that he is still in full control of al-Qaidah operations, at least in the Arabian Peninsula.

The four terrorists of the  petroleum cell, dressed like Aramco employees and their two cars camouflaged like Aramco cars, managed to pass through the main gate to the oil-processing plant at Abqaiq, but when they refused to stop, security forces fired at them and killed them instantly. Their cars were blown up and turned into rubbles consequently causing a minor fire to one of the supply pipes which was quickly extinguished. Had the mission succeeded, this would have cut the international oil supply to almost 50%. In response to the foiled attack, oil prices rose to US$62.60, a rise of 3.4%. The Abqaiq refinery is one of the biggest refineries in the world. It processes nearly five million barrels of oil daily, which amounts to nearly two thirds of Saudi oil production.

What gives credence to the confessions of these terrorists is the fact that they themselves used advanced TV cameras and sound equipments to record every step of their training and preparations for their attacks, in the hope that once the operation succeeds they would broadcast these documentary films on the Internet. Instead, the Saudi TV broadcasted these films to show the public the diabolic designs of the group.

Members of the petroleum cell, who were enlisted by al-Qaidah to blow up the oil installations, were practically illiterate teenagers who had no idea about the scope of damage and human loss which could have been suffered by the operation. They did not know how much explosives needed to blow up the refinery and they were planning to use two tons of very powerful substance, enough to raise to the ground of an area 20x20 kilometers and kill tens of thousands of people, not to mention the poisonous gases and highly toxic pollution the explosion could cause. According to the suspects this operation was supposed to be timed with two more operations, one in Kuwait and the other in the United Arab Emirates.

When the terrorists were confronted with the volume of economic damage and human loss their actions would have caused, they said that all this did not matter as long as they succeeded in their mission. The aim was to cause the biggest damage and the biggest media effect. At that time, they said they were so brainwashed by al-Qaidah ideology they thought they were serving the cause of Islam by their horrendous acts and that what they were doing was simply an act of holy jihaad that would surely guaranty them each a dozen of beautiful huries in paradise.

The government broadcasted the confessions of the five petroleum cell terrorists on national radio and TV and all local newspapers aiming to achieve several objectives. One of these objectives was to demonstrate to the public the senselessness and godlessness of these terrorists actions and thus undermine any public sympathy or support for their cause. The other objective was to reassure the whole world that the oil installations in Saudi Arabia are in safekeeping. The next day the local newspapers published several articles featuring all the foolproof safety precautions and maintenance procedures undertaken by Aramco and the Saudi government to protect refineries from any terrorist attack or accidental technical malfunction and to insure the continuance flow of oil.

172 terrorists in one catch is just too big. What is more alarming is the fact that they were caught barely three days before they were to carry out their massacre. As for the  petroleum cell, they nearly succeeded in carrying out their mission; they were killed after passing the main gate to Abqaiq refinery. No wonder the Saudis are getting rather jittery. Newspaper columnists, bloggers, and writers on websites are raising serious questions about the way terrorists are pampered by what is called the munasahah committee. This committee holds meetings with arrested terrorists to engage with them in a religious dialogue to prove to them that they were treading an errant path. With sweat words they try to bring them back to the fold of the truly religious. Whoever among them declares his tawbah, i. e. penitence, would come out of jail and would be helped to establish himself financially and find housing and a good paying job. Many so-called repentant souls went back to business as usual as soon as they came out of jail. A glaring example is Abdulaziz al-Muqrin who was arrested for committing several acts of terror and was sentenced to four years in jail but was released after two years as reward for memorizing the whole of Quran while in jail. The last act this al-Muqrin did before he was shot to death in June 2004 was the beheading of the American Paul Johnson.

Such lenient treatment of arrested terrorists by the Saudi authorities would have been commendable had it been prompted by respect for human rights. But many ask why such leniency is not extended to liberal voices and reformist writers who operate in the open through peaceful means! Some analysts see the crux of the problem lying in the Saudi regime basing its political legitimacy on religious grounds. This puts the regime on the horn of a dilemma. It cannot tolerate terrorists, yet, at the same time, it cannot take stern measures against fundamentalists and extremists whose ideologies and sermons promote terror because this would make it look like as if it were anti-Islamic. To weaken the role of religion in Saudi society is to weaken the ideological base of the regime and put its legitimacy in question.

 







  

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