New Daesh threat puts Saudi fight against extremism in the spotlight

New Daesh threat puts Saudi fight against extremism in the spotlight
Daesh has called on its followers to launch terrorist attacks against oil pipelines and economic infrastructure inside Saudi Arabia as retaliation for the Kingdom’s support for the Abraham Accord signing. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 22 October 2020

New Daesh threat puts Saudi fight against extremism in the spotlight

New Daesh threat puts Saudi fight against extremism in the spotlight
  • Purported audio recording by group’s spokesman has put the Kingdom’s drive against religious radicalism in focus
  • Analysts say call for attacks falsely projected as retaliation for KSA allies’ move to establish ties with Israel

LONDON: In a cryptic audio message, the extremist group Daesh has called on its followers to launch terrorist attacks against oil pipelines and economic infrastructure inside Saudi Arabia as retaliation for the Kingdom’s support for the UAE and Bahrain’s normalization of ties with Israel.

The statement, posted on the group’s Telegram channel, came as the UAE on Monday formally ratified the US-brokered deal, known as the Abraham Accords, which allowed commercial flights between Israel and the Gulf state for the first time.

“The Kingdom supported normalization by opening its airspace to Israeli aircraft on their flights to the United Arab Emirates,” a voice purportedly of Daesh spokesperson Abu Hamza Al-Quraishi said in the recording.

“The normalization agreements are considered a betrayal of Islam. Our targets are plenty, starting with striking and destroying oil pipelines, factories and facilities that constitute sources of income for the tyrannical government.”

Daesh, which at its 2014 peak controlled a portion of the Middle East that included large swathes of Iraq and Syria, lost all its territories in March 2019 after suffering a string of military defeats. Its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, was killed in a US-led operation in October that year.




Saudi Arabia’s crucial position as a major oil exporter that feeds the world economy means any attack on its infrastructure can reverberate around the globe. This was seen in September 2019, when Iranian-supplied drones and missiles struck Saudi Aramco’s Abqaiq and Khurais facilities. (AFP/File Photo)

Although much depleted, remnants of the group have continued to inspire attacks across the region, leading to fears of a possible resurgence.

Its latest call to attack the Kingdom is unsurprising, however. Terror incidents bearing all the hallmarks of a Daesh operation have occurred in the cities of Qatif and Riyadh in recent years.

The holy sites of Islam have been no exception. In 2017, Saudi security forces thwarted a plot to strike near the Grand Mosque in Makkah, while 2016 saw multiple bombings in three Saudi cities, including one near the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.

The new audio message attributed to Daesh suggests the extremist group has not abandoned its efforts to strike targets in the home of two of Islam’s holiest sites.

FASTFACT

Daesh Territory

Daesh commanded a proto-state straddling Iraq and Syria before its territory was seized in successive campaigns in both countries ending in 2018-2019.

“The Kingdom acts on a global level. It helps maintain security in the region and plays a very important role by exchanging intelligence information with other countries to maintain security and stability,” Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar, told Arab News.

“The world depends on its security intelligence and its efforts in the region in this field, and that is why terrorist groups such as Daesh, Iran and others know the Kingdom’s great role. That is why they wish to infiltrate Saudi Arabia, inflict damage on the Kingdom, and cross to the other side.”

Saudi Arabia plays a substantive role in the Global Coalition Against Daesh, second only to the US in the number of airstrikes it has launched during the conflict. The Royal Saudi Air Force has conducted 341 sorties in Syria and allows its coalition partners to use its air bases.

In 2015, under the late King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, Saudi Arabia established the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) to “pursue terrorism until it is eradicated completely,” to borrow a phrase from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s statements on the issue.




Employes of Aramco oil company stand near a heavily damaged installation in Saudi Arabia's Khurais oil processing plant on September 20, 2019. (AFP/File Photo)

The Saudi-led IMCTC, headquartered in Riyadh, includes almost 40 countries under its regional umbrella, with the notable exception of Iran, due to its role in funding and supporting terrorist groups such as Hezbollah.

By contrast, Qatar, despite being a member of the coalition, has offered only muted support for the campaign, particularly since the Anti-Terror Quartet of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic ties with Doha in 2017 over its funding and harboring of groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.

Some of the Kingdom’s joint security initiatives include establishing state-of-the-art centers to counter extremist messaging online, both locally and internationally.

“The Kingdom plays the biggest role in the region in confronting all these militias, so they (Daesh) target it in this field,” Al-Shehri said.

In order to drive a wedge between these allies and stoke wider divisions, he says, an overarching aim of Daesh is to destroy the social fabric within Saudi Arabia and ruin the peaceful coexistence found there between Sunnis and Shiites.




The cousin of a victim prays at the site of a suicide bombing that targeted the Shiite Al-Anoud mosque in the Saudi coastal city of Dammam on May 29, 2015. Daesh claimed the attack that killed at least three people. (AFP/File Photo) 

Al-Shehri’s views are seconded by Dr. Hani Nasira, an Egyptian author and political analyst, who said that Saudi Arabia’s role as the region’s standard bearer for security cooperation makes it a prominent target for those hoping to sow discord.

“The tireless efforts deployed by the Kingdom and its allies in Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain in draining the sources of extremism, enabling moderation and peace, rejecting hatred and calling for dialogue, coexistence and global peace, made it the main target and the first enemy of all terrorist groups, whether Sunni or Shiite,” Nasira told Arab News. “The first operations of Al-Qaeda and Daesh outside Syria were in the Kingdom.”

However, it is not just the Kingdom’s fight against extremism that is a source of anger in radical Islamic circles. Saudi Arabia’s crucial position as a major oil exporter that feeds the world economy means any attack on its infrastructure can reverberate around the globe. This was seen in September 2019, when Iranian-supplied drones and missiles struck Saudi Aramco’s Abqaiq and Khurais facilities, instantly halving the Kingdom’s crude output.

“They believe that this oil goes out to the world, so if a problem occurs in the Kingdom, it will affect the whole world. A global crisis might occur, and that is exactly what they want, to cause disparity and a crisis in the world,” Al-Shehri said.




Daesh, which at its 2014 peak controlled a portion of the Middle East that included large swathes of Iraq and Syria, lost all its territories in March 2019 - its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi (pictured), was killed in a US-led operation in October that year. (AFP/File Photo)

As part of Vision 2030, the Kingdom has undertaken a number of mega infrastructure projects, including the Red Sea Project and the NEOM smart city. These developments are designed to be the beating heart of the region’s trade and development sector, but at the same time, they present potentially high-value targets.

“I think these are all matters at the security, political and economic level, so for Daesh the Kingdom remains a target,” Al-Shehri said.

Using Israel’s normalization with the UAE and Bahrain as a ground for attacks on Saudi Arabia is nothing more than window dressing, he said. “These extremists are only looking for justifications and excuses for their conduct.”

Riyadh must nevertheless be fully prepared for opportunistic attacks by terror groups, Al-Shehri said. “If, God forbid, the Kingdom was unable to confront these terrorist groups or play a major role in this field,” he told Arab News, “attacks would come from everywhere, causing a state of chaos in the world.”

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Twitter: @Tarek_AliAhmad


Saudi mayor honors British expat for 27 years of beach cleaning

Updated 04 December 2020

Saudi mayor honors British expat for 27 years of beach cleaning

Saudi mayor honors British expat for 27 years of beach cleaning
  • Expat Neil Walker has been cleaning the beaches in the area for 27 years
  • He has spotted a lot of debris left behind by other bathers

RIYADH: It was a visit to a Saudi beach that prompted a British expat to spend his day off cleaning the area – he continued his efforts for 27 years – now Neil Walker is being rewarded for his efforts.

The Brit had gone to a beach south of Half Moon Bay in Alkhobar when he discovered a vast amount of debris that was both washed up by the sea, or left behind by other visitors and decided to clean the area.

Now, after more than a quarter of a century, as Walker prepares to return home to Britain, he has been rewarded for his environmental work by the mayor of the Easter province, Fahd Al-Jubair.

Neil Walker — who  is returning to the UK after more than a quarter-century in Saudi Arabia — ‘is deeply humbled to be recognized for his cleanup drive’. (Supplied)

“For the last 27 years I have been visiting a stretch of beach in that area on my day off to spend the day on a potentially lovely beach looking out on the glorious Arabian Gulf,” he said.

“Unfortunately, it was marred by litter and manmade rubbish, either brought in by the tides or dumped by previous visitors. So I took it upon myself to clean the beach before settling down and then in the late afternoon to extend my cleaning activities to either side of my camping spot.”

The diverse ecosystem of the Arabian Gulf supports a range of coastal and marine life, including mangroves, sea grass, coral reefs – as well as a variety of creatures including dolphins, turtles and a rich variety of fish.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Eastern Province Mayor Fahd Al-Jubair presented Neil Walker with his certificate.
  • The mayor thanked Walker for his service to the Kingdom’s environment.
  • Walker is returning to the UK after more than a quarter-century in Saudi Arabia.
  • Eastern Province municipality has previously recognized the efforts of 200 Filipinos over the years for helping to clean the beaches and to promote awareness among other residents.
  • It has launched a number of initiatives intended to involve the public in keeping public areas free of waste.

The rapid industrialization of the area has introduced many environmental challenges that require human intervention, the fishing industry has also caused problems with discarded nets and traps that wild life get trapped in..

There have been numerous global campaigns encouraging people to pick up litter on beaches to help preserve the environment, ranging from arranged group clean ups to something as simple as encouraging each visitor to beaches to pick up three pieces of rubbish and place them in the bins provided.

Neil Walker has inspired creative environmental initiatives in Alkhobar. (Supplied)

“Although I have seen a slight improvement, a lot still needs to be done and hopefully the publicity I have received will be of value to this end,” Walker said.

“As I see it, the problem is that the majority of the public are unaware and are used to having other people cleaning up for them, they automatically think that it is somebody else’s responsibility. This needs to change,” Walker said, adding that he was deeply humbled and honored to be recognized for his limited contribution in cleaning up the beaches.

“A few years ago, I assume there was a change in management in the municipality, resulting in a new logo and cleaning crew, which has led to a greatly improved street cleaning and public area routine and the introduction of many waste bins, which are now being used by the public,” he continued.

Neil Walker has inspired creative environmental initiatives in Alkhobar. (Supplied)

Eastern Province Mayor Fahd Al-Jubair presented Walker — who is returning to the UK after more than a quarter-century in Saudi Arabia — with his certificate and thanked him for his service to the Kingdom’s environment.

“We hope this message gets across to residents of the Eastern Province. We are keen to honor all efforts to protect the environment and to recognize creative initiatives aimed at preserving the environment whether from Saudi nationals or expatriate residents,” Al-Jubair told Arab News, urging all members of the public to work together to protect the environment.

Eastern Province municipality has previously recognized the efforts of 200 Filipinos over the years for helping to clean the beaches and to promote awareness among other residents.

Like several other municipalities nationwide, it has launched a number of initiatives intended to involve the public in keeping public areas free of waste in order to better preserve the environment.