Local politics?

Remember last month's large bombing in Saudi Arabia -- which everyone assumed to be an act of international terrorism sponsored by al Qaida? Saudi authorities claimed it was, and most Americans simply assumed this was the case. Why would anyone think otherwise?

Well, here's an intriguing report which claims otherwise:

The suicide bomb attack at the Muhaya residential compound in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh on November 9 in which at least 17 people were killed - most of them foreign Arabs - was neither an episode of global jihadi terrorism nor part of a conspiracy to destabilize the House of Saud.

A Pakistani undercover intelligence operator who recently returned from Riyadh told Asia Times Online that the attack was in fact the result of a deep divide within Saudi society between strict religious conservatives with little exposure to the outside world, and a more "liberal" element with the money and power to indulge in restricted activities.

The compound attacked on November 9 was inhabited mainly by Lebanese, Palestinians and Egyptians, and it had earned notoriety as a "pleasure ground" for Saudi "playboys" in a country in which prostitution is outlawed. Apparently, some of the female residents of the compound were well known for their "exotic erotica", for which they were showered with money and gifts.

The goings-on in the compound were seemingly known to the authorities, including agents of the Saudi religious police - the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice - but nothing had been done about it, much to the anger of conservatives who wanted to "eliminate the evil in their society" and what they called the "Arab brothel of Riyadh".

It was as a result of this anger that the conservatives decided to bomb the complex, according to the Pakistani intelligence agent. (Via Jihad Watch.)

If there is any truth to the report, I'd say those are some pretty determined (and very powerful) Saudi "conservatives."

Conflicting stories like these are tough to interpret.

First and foremost, note that the Asia Times report does not deny that this was the work of al Qaida. Note also that the attackers were apparently disguised as Saudi police:

"The attackers got into the compound by disguising themselves as Saudi security men. They wore security uniform and drove into the compound in a vehicle similar to that used by the police," one Saudi security source told Reuters. A Western diplomat confirmed the report.
How do we know that the attackers were not in fact Saudi police?

As the BBC reported the story, while the bombing was assumed to be the work of al Qaida, no one seemed to know why.

Is there anyone bloggers can ask? What am I supposed to do? Phone the Saudi consulate? Do you think they'd tell me the truth?

On top of the conflicting report in the Asia Times, then there's this Debkafiles report. Noting puzzlement (by both Saudis and others) over the attack, Debka claims that the bombing was the work of Lebanese Muslims who targeted Lebanese Christians living in the compound:

Al Qaeda’s targeting of Muhaya and its Arab population at first puzzled Saudi and foreign counter-terror authorities - until it was realized that many of the casualties were Lebanese Christians and the assailants Lebanese Muslims. The terrorist network had very pointedly opted to sow death inside a focus of Christian habitation in the Muslim kingdom on the Muslim feast of Ramadan.
A real puzzle.

Conflicting versions of the story, and most Americans will probably never know what happened. If anyone knows, "anyone" isn't talking!

Does it really matter whether this attack was in fact sponsored by Saudi conservatives as opposed to the international branch of al Qaida?

In a way yes, and in a way no. Let me amplify.

Saudi conservatives are known to be the longtime chief financiers of al Qaida, which has been from the start a primarily Saudi front organization. If this bombing was the product of an internal struggle within Saudi Arabia, then things may be more ominous than they appear.

Are the Saudis, by having us believe they are "victims" of al Qaida, hoping to hide the fact that al Qaida is inextricably intertwined with, and part and parcel of, internal Saudi politics? (And an inextricable part of the Saudi royal family, of course.)

If that's the case, I doubt very much you'll hear anything else about this story.

UPDATE: Just today, an allegation of a Saudi coverup of a plot to "fly two light aircraft into a packed British Airways (BA) jet" failed to surprise Glenn Reynolds, who sarcastically called the coverup allegation "a shocking claim."

(Might as well ask al Qaida to investigate al Qaida....)

posted by Eric on 12.29.03 at 08:54 PM


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Local politics?:

» Rocketing Around the Blogosphere from Rocket Jones
A quickie for y'all on the last day of the year. Over at Classical Values, Eric posts an interesting bit about the big neighborhood bombing last month in Saudi Arabia. I really like his analysis on various issues, so if... [Read More]
Tracked on December 31, 2003 6:55 AM



politics   ·  February 19, 2004 2:54 AM

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