Saudi Arabia: A hot summer of anti-terror operations

Saudi Arabia: A hot summer of anti-terror operations
3 min read
09 October, 2015
Analysis: Saudi Arabia witnessed a spate of deadly attacks this summer, leading to mass arrests. But the kingdom's anti-terrorism strategy has now come under renewed scrutiny.
A number of attacks targeted Saudi Arabia's Shia minority this summer [AFP]

Saudi Arabia has experienced a difficult summer due to the numerous "terror attacks" launched around the kingdom, in addition to the "preemptive operations" launched by Saudi authorities to foil would-be attacks.

Saudi Arabia has witnessed a new wave of attacks since the end of 2014. For the first time, the violence has been sectarian in nature, targeting Shia mosques in eastern areas such as al-Qatif, al-Ahsa and Dammam.

Sectarian attacks

The first of these was a shooting that targeted Shia worshippers in the village of al-Dalwah as they commemorated Ashura in November 2014. Seven worshippers were killed and many more were injured.

     It seems the attacks failed to spark a sectarian conflict in the kingdom - as the perpetrators had intended

A few months later, on 22 May, a suicide bomber attacked the Imam Ali mosque in the town of al-Qadeeh during Friday prayers, killing 21 people and injuring around 100 others.

A week later, another suicide bomber attacked the Imam al-Sadiq mosque in Dammam. Volunteer security guards prevented the attacker from entering the mosque and the bomber detonated his suicide vest outside the mosque, killing four people.

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Saudi Arabia, in addition to claiming responsibility for a similar attack against a Shia mosque in Kuwait.

However, it seems the attacks failed to spark a sectarian conflict in the kingdom - as the perpetrators are understood to have intended - due to the strength of the state and the measured response by Saudi opinion makers and scholars, in addition to public fears that such a conflict would lead Gulf countries to experience events similar to those in Iraq.

Yet, the IS group did not only launch sectarian attacks.

It cannot be confirmed that all - or any - of the attacks were planned ot executed by the group. Armed groups are known to claim responsibility for attacks as a media ploy to portray themselves as being able to expand into new areas.

Attacks against security forces

In addition to suicide bombings, there have been a number of "random" attacks against security forces as part of a plan to target strategic facilities.

Gunmen opened fire on a facilities security patrol in Riyadh on 8 April, killing two officers, followed by another attack in Riyadh on 8 May, where an officer was shot dead and his body desecrated, according to security sources.

On 4 September, an attack on Saudi Aramco's Abqaiq facility was foiled. The attacker and a security officer were killed in the thwarted operation.

Despite these attacks, Saudi authorities have achieved a number of victories - capturing the alleged perpetrators of the sectarian attacks against Shia mosques. A "network" of 97 suspects were arrested, leading to a further 190 arrests across what is understood to be four cells of militant groups.

     The IS group is quite capable of recruiting members in Saudi Arabia

The suspects were reportedly assigned with sparking a sectarian conflict in the kingdom, while targeting security forces in "lone wolf" operations.

Authorities have also seized large quantities of weapons, explosives and other materials used in the attacks.

In June, the ministry of interior announced that the total number of people arrested for terrorism-related offences in recent operations had reached 431. More have been arrested since.

The high number of terrorism-related arrests and the intensity of anti-terror operations in recent months have revealed that the IS group is quite capable of recruiting members in Saudi Arabia - raising doubts about the effectiveness of the country's anti-terrorism strategy and deradicalisation programme.

The recent attacks have also highlighted the difference between attacks carried out by al-Qaeda, which were fewer in number but more destructive, and the attacks by IS, which appears to employ a larger number of lone attackers to target mosques and security personnel.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.