“Bin Laden’s radical politics continued to hold sway with some Saudi youth as Al Qaeda carried out attacks in the desert kingdom mainly in 2003. With an internal crackdown against Al Qaeda, Saudi fighters headed to Iraq to battle the US military and Iraq’s Shiite-led government through 2007. Only after concerted pressure from the Americans, did the Saudi royal family make a serious effort to try to stop the migration of young Saudi radicals to Iraq..…….”
Will al-Qaeda mutate again now that Bin Laden is dead? Will it come in from the cold?
I have never believed that al-Qaeda terrorists, good Salafi sons of the Wahhabi nest, had ever completely cut the cord with the mother. There were a couple of publicized operations inside the Arabian Peninsula, many arrests, trials, re-education camps. Yet the emphasis has always been on ‘misguided’ sons who will return to the bosom. Re-education programs were set up exclusively for these Salafi ‘misguided ones’: by contrast, a ‘misguided’ Shi’a would probably have his head chopped off. Then there was the important money angle: that may explain the reluctance of the terrorists to perform significant operations in the Saudi kingdom. Why blow up decent Wahhabi folks in the ‘mother country’ when there is ample supply of Shi’a heretics next door in Iraq? Why kill the cash cow (or cash she-camel naqah)?
There is no doubt that al-Qaeda will undergo some more changes now that its leader, its main link to the moneyed part of the Arab world, is dead. We may be about to find out how far these changes will go before this year is over. Despite the public ‘animosity’ between al-Qaeda and the al-Saud dynasty, the Saudi regime has kept close and warm relations with the regional supporters of Bin Laden, the Salafis and their various organizations (e.g. Islamic Heritage Societies). Some of them act as outright Saudi agents in the Gulf states, pushing for yet closer ties with Riyadh, pushing for Saudi hegemony. This is partly tribal, but largely political and ideological and, dare I say it, financial.
The Salafi Wahhabis were spawned in Saudi Arabia and have never really strayed too far from their roots. The Saudis know they have a reliably fierce potential ally in their intensifying struggle not only against the ‘rival’ theocracy in Iran but also against the inevitable winds of Arab change and revolution. Al-Qaeda recruits have shown their ferocity in the terrorist campaigns inside Iraq, almost certainly financed by Saudis and other patrons in the Persian-American Gulf. For some years the Saudis tried to tie Iran to al-Qaeda, especially in Iraq, the same way as Dick Cheney tried to tie Iraq (under Saddam Hussein) to al-Qaeda. This was largely based on the proximity of Iran to Afghanistan and that some Bin Laden family members fled after 2001 to Iran. Saudis tried, improbably, to tie the Iranian mullahs to the terrorist acts committed in Iraq against the Shi’as by Saudis and other foreign Salafi Arabs. But that was then, a spin tailored to the Iraqi and American markets of that time.
Now there may be a new twist: a new, yet old, al-Qaeda that is truly allied with the Saudi regime, this time openly. The prodigal Wahhabis returning to the bosom of the mother: the absolute tribal monarchy from which they never strayed too far. They can be used in the coming battle: to intensify terrorist acts in Iraq (and possibly Iran), and they can be used against Hezbollah and Amal in Lebanon (something already started by the Saudi-financed Hariri group). It is an alliance that fits this new sectarian Sunni-Shi’a cold/hot war provoked by the al-Saud in order to divide our unstable region and help keep their shaky throne. This closer alliance is an idea that has no doubt crossed the minds of the al-Saud princes in the past, and they may be putting it to work now. They already have strong ties and alliances to al-Qaeda affiliates and sympathizers like the Salafis of the Islamic Heritage Societies and other groups in the Gulf. They have kept somewhat warm relations with the Taliban (Saudis and the UAE were the only Arab regimes that recognized their rule in Afghanistan before 9/11). Is it a coincidence that his year alone the Saudis have reportedly released hundreds, maybe thousands, of former al-Qaeda terrorists? Are they setting things up for a new alliance, post-Bin Laden? That would be a smart move for them to make, especially now that the more reactionary Prince Nayef is gaining ascendancy.