Hezbollah al-Hejaz is a name that surfaced again in August after the leader of its military wing, Ahmed al-Mughassil, was arrested in the Lebanese capital Beirut. Mughassil was handed over to Saudi authorities after some 19 years in hiding.
He was accused of preparing and participating in the 1996 explosion that targeted a residential tower in Khobar, eastern Saudi Arabia, killing 19 American soldiers and injuring dozens more. Saudi authorities carried out an expanded security campaign that targeted the group's members and activists, leading to the disintegration of its organizational structure.
Hezbollah al-Hejaz was established at the end of the 1980s, following clashes in 1987 between Shiite pilgrims and Saudi security forces during the hajj pilgrimage, which caused tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The organization adopted violence as a means to achieve change, without realizing that this approach would make it a "terrorist" organization, and would make it lose the sympathy of many people.
Knowing the details of the emergence of Hezbollah al-Hejaz is important as it helps understand the structure and mentality of a radical organization about which not much has been written.Hassan Al Mustafa
The party included a group of Saudi Shiite religious-studies students who resided in Iran. It also included defectors from the Islamic Revolution Organization in the Arabian Peninsula following ideological and political disputes. The Islamic Revolution Organization followed Ayatollah Sayed Mohammad Shirazi, who was at odds with politicians in Tehran.
The Shiite theory of velayat-e faqih - that Islam gives an Islamic jurist custodianship over people - is considered one of major principles of Hezbollah al-Hejaz, which is loyal to Iran's supreme leader, who at the time was Ruhollah Khomeini. Its members sought to spread the concept of velayat-e faqih among Shiites in Saudi Arabia. However, Hezbollah al-Hejaz did not succeed in expanding, remaining limited to certain youth categories.
Hezbollah al-Hejaz is considered the organizational structure of what was known as "the Movement of the Imam's Path Followers.” The movement's popularity was limited to enthusiastic young men who admired the ideas of Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic. Although he was not their jurisprudential reference, he was still an inspiration to many, as he achieved a long-desired dream of many Shiites.
The expanded popularity among Shiite Saudis of non-politicized traditional reference Ayatollah al-Khoei, who resided in the Iraqi city of Najaf, limited the spread of Hezbollah al-Hejaz among conservatives in eastern Saudi Arabia. However, the group exploited sectarian tensions, people's respect for Khomeini, and feelings of discrimination to gain support from youths.
The lack of desire to get involved in projects that politically oppose the government was another reason people avoided interacting with ideas spread by some clerics in support of Hezbollah al-Hejaz. These clerics were viewed as preoccupied with politics rather than religious studies, and were thus considered less knowledgeable than clerics from other classic religious movements.
Prominent families within the Saudi Shiite community were against most of Hezbollah al-Hejaz's ideas. Therefore, the group could not gain the support of major areas that were under the control of classic clerics, businessmen and historical leaders who had good ties with the state and believed in dialogue and communication with the government as a means to resolve problems.
In 1988, explosions struck industrial and oil institutions in Ras Tanura, and as a result many were arrested in the cities of Qatif and Dammam. These detentions were accompanied by confrontations with gunmen linked to the operation, which represents Hezbollah al-Hejaz's first military action.
Four of its members - Mohammad al-Qrous, Ali al-Khatem, Khaled al-Aalq and Azhar al-Hajaj - were arrested and executed. Another group was detained and included many members, the most prominent being Sheikh Abdul Karim al-Hubail. He and some of his comrades were released in 1994.
Hezbollah al-Hejaz, who has used Iran, Syria and Lebanon as space to act, also included the "Gathering of Hejaz Ulema," which was the wing embracing clerics from Qatif, Dammam and Ahsa, and it was most of the times at odds with the military wing which included Hezbollah al-Hejaz hawks.
After 1994, most Hezbollah al-Hejaz cadres returned to Saudi Arabia following a royal pardon by late King Fahd bin Abdulaziz. After their return, most got involved in religious work and activity related to dawaa within their society.
Some refused to return, the most famous of them being Mughassil, who was placed on the U.S. terror list after being accused of planning and participating in the Khobar explosions. The terror list also included Ali al-Hoorie, Abdulkarim al-Nasser and Ibrahim Yaacoub.
Knowing the details of the emergence of Hezbollah al-Hejaz is important as it helps understand the structure and mentality of a radical organization about which not much has been written.
Hassan Al Mustafa is Saudi journalist with interest in Middle East and Gulf politics. His writing focuses on social media, Arab youth affairs and Middle Eastern societal matters.
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