Muslims around the world will have struggled to understand the enormity of Monday’s suicide bombings in Jeddah, Qatif and Madinah. The crime outside the Prophet Muhammad’s Mosque was particularly shocking. The building was packed with thousands of worshippers there for the sunset prayer. Had the bomber made it into the mosque, the carnage would have been appalling.
If there were ever any doubt about it, it is now clear there is absolutely no red line for the fanatics of Daesh. For them, there is no crime too evil.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman’s Eid Al-Fitr message would normally have dwelt on the happy fulfillment of the holy month of Ramadan. This Eid, he also had to address the terrorist horrors.
But what King Salman said about these was also a message of the strongest hope. He promised that extremists will be hit with an iron fist. It was the decisive response that all in the Kingdom fully expected. Terror cannot succeed here because Saudis will not be terrified. This was demonstrated when the 2003-2006 Al-Qaeda terror campaign was crushed. The iron will of the Saudi people will be shown again.
The authorities have already begun arresting suspects. The whole Kingdom is now on the highest alert. It was this vigilance that defeated the Al-Qaeda campaign. And it is this watchfulness that is already checking the new terror campaign.
The clear proof is that in both Madinah and Jeddah, near the US Consulate, police intervention prevented major tragedies. Four security officers gave their lives in Madinah. They went to check a suspect vehicle. The suicide bomber blew up the car. In a similar act, a suicide bomber detonated his device in Jeddah, as he was being approached by police. The hard lessons of the difficult campaign against Al-Qaeda fanatics have been learned well.
The Kingdom is not an easy battleground for the terrorists. They are confronted by a full array of counterterrorism measures. Communication has become extremely difficult. State-of-the-art monitoring equipment can detect suspicious messaging. It can pinpoint suspects and follow their movements. Cell members may use runners to keep in touch. But these messengers themselves can literally lead the authorities to a terrorist lair. It was this which allowed the Americans to find Osama Bin Laden in his Pakistani hideout.
Intelligence sources say the networks in Saudi are fragmented. Vigilance along the Iraqi border has made the movement of men, weapons and explosives extremely difficult.
These fanatics are hunted men and they know it. There are few safe havens for them. The country as a whole is looking for them. It only takes one mistake. It only takes one SIM card left too long in a phone. It only takes one unknown vehicle parked too prominently or unusual behavior in a property for the authorities to know. And it is not axiomatic that the security forces will act immediately. Much is to be gained by watching the terrorists and learning more about their contacts and networks. The killers can never be sure that they are not already being monitored closely.
This week they did managed to coordinate their violence. But they did not actually manage to reach their soft targets. The devastation they planned did not happen. The death and wounding of brave and conscientious law officers is a tragedy. But these courageous men did their duty. They actually inflicted a defeat on the fanatics.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif, deputy premier and interior minister, played a leading role in the smashing of Al-Qaeda. On Tuesday he visited two injured policemen and a citizen in a Jeddah hospital. They were wounded in the blast near the American Consulate.
The crown prince, who survived a 2009 bomb attack in his office, empathized with these victims. He said he understood how they felt. He also said that defeating terror was not a simple matter. But security in the Kingdom was at its highest level. It was being strengthened every day.
It is important to understand the truth of his words. Around the world, governments hit by terrorism vow revenge. Sadly, these words are not always matched by deeds. It is very different here in Saudi Arabia. The terror monster has been confronted successfully. The Kingdom has acquired unrivaled experience dealing with terror. Western security officials look to Saudi Arabia as the leading exponent of counterterrorism. They know that the “iron fist” King Salman described has been forged in the white-hot heat of battle.