Why terrorists target Saudi Arabia

Al-Qaeda has since its inception targeted Saudi Arabia

Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi

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The recent terror attack on the Yemeni-Saudi border has highlighted yet again that the country is a target because of its powerful economy and strategic position in the Middle East, but also that terrorists are exploiting certain vulnerabilities and deficiencies in society for their benefit.

The attack perpetrated by these extremist Saudi citizens resulted in the death of four security officers in the al-Wade’a area and showed that they and others are hell-bent on undermining the country’s security. Many of the perpetrators are on the Interior Ministry’s most-wanted list.

Even a cursory survey of terror operations in this country shows that terrorists are targeting the Saudi state. There is much to be gained here for these and other criminals, as also borne out by the huge amounts of drugs that smugglers have been trying to get across the borders to the potentially lucrative market here.

Yes, Saudi Arabia is being targeted but the solution lies within

Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi

In addition, some Saudi citizens, through a combination of ignorance and misguided good intentions, have been duped into committing horrendous acts.

Targeting Saudi Arabia

Al-Qaeda has since its inception targeted this country. This was clear from the attacks carried out inside Saudi Arabia, but also in the recruiting of Saudi citizens to launch operations abroad such as 9/11.

These groups are obviously attacking this country because it is an important political player in the region, has a strong religious position as the host of the two holy mosques, and enjoys a powerful economy.

Saudi Arabia has successfully prevented many terrorist attacks, in security and intelligence operations that other countries are now following.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah has taken measures to criminalize all forms of physical and other support for militant operations abroad. This move is aimed at saving the country’s youth.

Having recognized that fighting terror is an international responsibility, the Saudi government established the International Center to Combat Terror to enhance security and intelligence cooperation around the world. While wars are being waged against Islam, terrorism has no borders or religion.

Further validating the importance of dialogue, Saudi Arabia has set up centers that have successfully rehabilitated those who believed in terrorist ideologies.

Exploiting vulnerabilities

However, despite these successes, terrorist groups are effectively exploiting vulnerabilities here linked to the conservative nature of Saudi society, the passion for Islam, and the lack of a proper education system. It is in these societal gaps that the terrorists operate, spreading distorted views to convince uninformed young men to take up arms.

This deficiency on the intellectual side requires cooperation between official institutions, the media and religious figures in a holistic program that would involve all citizens.

It is clear that terrorism does not only involve acts of bombing and murder. Intellectual terrorism encompasses those who claim ownership of the truth and subsequently prosecute others. They prey on those who have not been brought up to be independent thinkers and lead them to commit destructive and suicidal acts.

Our society, unfortunately, has a culture of shaming those who want a free-flowing discussion on issues. When a family forbids a child from questioning, it is helping to create a potential terrorist. In addition, there is often a deafening silence in the face of injustice and corruption, and the portrayal of independent and creative voices as alien to society.

Dialogue and education

Effective counter-terrorism measures against evil extremists have to include dialogue and education. Real development does not only involve constructing roads and cities but developing human beings.

Saudi Arabia’s latest changes to its education system are aimed at raising a generation of young people who can think independently.

Education Minister Prince Khaled al-Faisal has stated frankly that extremists in the Kingdom have hijacked the education system. The ministry’s new direction raises hope that the country will build a new society based on moderation.

Yes, Saudi Arabia is being targeted but the solution lies within.

This article was first published in Arab News on July 9, 2014.

Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi is the editor-in-chief of Sayidaty and al-Jamila magazines. A prominent journalist who worked with Asharq al-Awsat in London and Arab News in KSA, al-Harthi later moved on to establish al-Eqtisadiah newspaper in KSA, in which he rose the position of Editorial Manager. He was appointed editor-in-chief for Arajol magazine in 1997. He won the Gulf Excellence award in 1992.

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