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April 12, 2005 -- WHEN the Taliban fell, two visions emerged within the Islamist terror movement.

One vision, identified with Osama bin Laden, wants the movement to continue targeting the West, especially the United States. The other, advocated by Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda's No. 2, wants the "holy war" concentrated in Muslim countries, especially Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

The events of the past year or so show that the al-Zawahiri vision is in the ascendancy. Outside the bomb attack in Madrid just over a year ago, the movement has scored no successes in the West, while at least 130 of its operatives have been picked up in half a dozen European countries and the United States.

To be sure, the Madrid attack briefly boosted bin Laden's prestige by triggering a victory for the (anti-Iraq War) Socialists. And the terror underworld has recently been abuzz with rumors of a coming spectacular attack in Britain, to achieve another change of government in a major Western democracy.

Nevertheless, it is clear that majority opinion within the terror movement favors the al-Zawahiri strategy — which aims to seize control of at least one Muslim country to provide the safe haven that the Islamists enjoyed in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. This is why the past two years have witnessed a dramatic rise in the number of attacks in the four targeted countries.

But even there, things are not going well for the movement.

In Pakistan, two attempts at killing President Pervez Musharraf have failed, and hundreds of terrorists have been killed or captured. In Afghanistan, the movement and the remnants of the Taliban failed to stop the presidential election and has little chance of preventing next September's parliamentary polls. New Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's plan is to bring the insurgency under control before the end of the year, when Iraqis are scheduled to elect a new parliament.

To win in Afghanistan and Iraq, the terror movement would have to defeat not only the local national forces but also the United States and its Coalition allies. To win in Pakistan, al-Zawahiri must crush the Pakistani army, one of the strongest in the world.

All this means that Saudi Arabia is increasingly seen by al-Zawahiri as the softest target for a terrorist take-over.

This is why the terror campaign in the kingdom appears to have moved beyond its initial stage of "propaganda through action" and into a new phase that looks like a military-style effort designed to seize and hold territory which could then be transformed into bases and safe havens.

This was evident in at least three areas (Duwaisar, al-Unaizah and Ras) in the Qassim heartland of Najd, where Saudi forces last week fought regular battles with terrorist forces entrenched in what looked like permanent operational bases. According to Saudi sources, the terror movement had also acquired a number of safe havens in the Jowf province, in northern Saudi Arabia, which also served for the smuggling of fighters and arms into Iraq.

As elsewhere, a majority of the terrorists appear to have spent some time in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. After the liberation of Afghanistan, these individuals poured into the kingdom and went underground until the al-Zawahiri strategy required them to emerge and move onto the offensive. Of the estimated 200 or so terrorists killed or captured by the Saudis since 2002, fewer than a dozen appear to have been new recruits to the cause.

Many are foreign fighters. The Saudis forces have already killed or captured terrorists with Moroccan, Algerian, Canadian, Yemeni and French nationalities. Documents seized from the terrorists also show that they had logistical support centers in a number of Western European cities, including Rotterdam, Brussels, London and Paris.

The groups use tactics similar to those of insurgents in Iraq — such as suicide attacks, and targeting security forces in the hope of demoralizing the government's coercive forces.

Some suicide bombers carried with them a "fatwa" by a certain Abdulaziz Jarbou, a self-styled religious leader who claims he has the authority to cancel Islam's specific ban on suicide in any form and for any reason. (Jarbou bases his ruling on the opinion of the late Sheikh Muhammad bin Ibrahim, once a Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, who authorized suicide for Algerian fighters in the context of the war against France in the late 1950s. Yet bin Ibrahim had limited his authorization to cases where the captured man, under torture, could reveal the identities of other fighters, thus causing the death of many more Muslims. Jarbou extends the ruling into a blanket authorization for suicide while killing others, including civilians.)

Like its '90s counterparts in Afghanistan and Algeria, the Saudi terror movement depends heavily on smuggling, especially of drugs such as heroin and hashish, as a source of revenue.

Because such drugs are specifically banned under Islamic law, the terror groups have used a fatwa by their late "spiritual guide" Abdallah al-Rashoud in which he provided an "exception." His argument was simple: Hard drugs represent a form of weaponry that the true Muslim is authorized to use against the "infidel" nation; the drugs will kill young people in the "infidel" West while providing money for the Islamist groups to buy arms with which to kill more "infidels."

To date, the Saudi terror groups have been unable to make any headway out of the heartland of Najd. More than 90 percent of their native Saudi members come from a few localities in or around Buraida and al-Unaizah and just four villages in the south. With the exception of a few minor attacks in Jeddah, the terrorists have also failed to make an impression in any major city outside the capital Riyadh.

For such reasons, some in Saudi Arabia have presented these groups as nothing but a temporary irritant. Despite the latest setbacks, that is foolish. The terror movement in the kingdom is part of an international network with supporters and sympathizers in dozens of countries across the globe, including Europe and North America. Even the obviously doctored information provided by the Saudi authorities shows that the terrorists have been able to create bases, continue recruiting, ensuring a healthy cash flow and maintaining the initiative in a number of areas.

The beast may have been wounded but is still capable of biting back with deadly effect.

Iranian author Amir Taheri is a member of Benador Associates.

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i think the title is a little misconcieving..... saudi arabia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world today

Could you please elaborate on that. I don't know much about that side of the world, and since you seem to know a bit I was hoping you could write more about why its dangerous, and how, and to whom, and which parts. Of course, backing all that with sources would be essential!


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Could you please elaborate on that. I don't know much about that side of the world, and since you seem to know a bit I was hoping you could write more about why its dangerous, and how, and to whom, and which parts. Of course, backing all that with sources would be essential!


well saudi is rich in oil, and us americans need that oil. Unfortunately it seems that those oils are striken with threats from terrorists, making are gas prices high, making that country an uncomfortbale one.

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