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Report: Saudi agencies can't cope with threat to Westerners

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Despite increased Saudi intelligence and law enforcement efforts, Westerners remain targets of Islamic insurgents in Saudi Arabia, a new report says.

The report by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies asserted that Saudi Arabia cannot deal with threats to Western interests posed by Islamic insurgents. The center said Saudi security agencies require a major restructuring and improvement to prepare for such a task.

"The kingdom cannot deal with Islamic extremism and terrorism without a more effective internal security effort, and must act accordingly," the report, entitled "Saudi Arabia Enters The 21st Century," said. "Even with such efforts, it is nearly certain that Americans and Westerners will continue to be targets at some level of activity. Attacking U.S. citizens particularly the U.S. military allows Saudi extremists to attack proxies that are non-Islamic, and to obtain foreign sanctuary, if not foreign support."

Islamic insurgents have conducted a series of bombings against Western nationals in the Riyad area over the last two years. The U.S. embassy in Riyad has urged Americans to leave the kingdom while the State Department reduced the U.S. diplomatic presence in Gulf Cooperation Council states.

The report, authored by senior fellow Anthony Cordesman, said strikes against Western targets serve to defuse resentment agains the regime. The attacks, particularly on the United States, are meant to undermine the Saudi royal family without provoking massive government retaliation.

"Such proxy attacks are hardly safe, but they do not provoke the kind of extreme action that would follow an attack on a prince," the report said. "It is scarcely surprising, that the U.S. embassy has issued a steady stream of alerts since the Al Khobar bombing and '9/11,' and further attacks and bombings seem almost inevitable."

The report asserts that Saudi Arabia does not face major political challenges from the secular opposition. This group, as well as like-minded reformers in the royal family, oppose rapid modernization and have utilized Islamic values in their decisions and rhetoric.

A major source of unrest, the report said, is the large population of young Saudis. Saudi youth is said to regard the royal family as corrupt and immoral and maintain that princes flout the very same laws they enact.

The report said the areas with the greatest potential for unrest are the capital Riyad and Buraida. Youthful opponents of the regime are believed to range from members of established families to the newly-urbanized Bedouin sectors.

"Nevertheless, it is all too clear that Saudi religious extremists have gathered significant support among a large enough minority of younger Saudis to create a serious extremist and terrorist problem," the report said.

"It is also clear that the Saudi government long underestimated the seriousness of extremist feelings among Saudi youth, and was slow to address the broader educational, social, and economic problems created by its youth explosion."

The report quotes senior Saudi intelligence sources as saying that as of 1997, up to 25,000 Saudis were trained for insurgency operations whether in Afghanistan or other areas of the Middle East and Persian Gulf. Many of those trained were financed by wealthy Saudis.

Cordesman asserts that Saudi security agencies have long managed to limit the movement of Islamic insurgents. He said rather than open confrontation the royal family has preferred to coopt suspected opponents.

"Nevertheless, the overall mix of different Islamic extremist advocates and groups inside the kingdom does pose a serious cumulative problem in terms of the kingdom's foreign relations and internal security, and it is likely that new leaders and figures will emerge if Saudi Arabia's economic, social, and demographic problems are not dealt with by serious reform efforts," the report said.

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