International American Council

International American Council
Middle East and North Africa

Saudis make arrests in wake of embassy closings

Today, the Saudi government arrested two men who were suspected of planning suicide attacks, according to their state-run news agency. Neither man was a Saudi national—one was from Chad, and had been deported from Saudi Arabia once already, and the other was from Yemen. Other than this, no personal information has been released regarding the suspects.

According to Saudi Interior Ministry spokesperson Mansour al-Turki, the interior ministry was able to uncover the plots and capture the suspects by monitoring conversations over social networks, which apparently involved “messages of incitement and hatred.” All electronic devices belonging to the suspects were seized upon their arrests.

Although all representatives of the Saudi government have denied that these arrests are connected to the great wave of United States embassy closings that went into effect last weekend, it is also possible that they are related, and Saudi Arabia is simply not releasing the information until the situation is more stable and less dangerous. There are subtle indicators that these arrested suicide bombers are related to the al-Qaeda threats against the U.S., as Turki said in an official statement, “We have passed this information as soon as we got it to other possible countries that might be targeted—to all the countries who are probable targets or whose interests are probable targets.” It seems unlikely that a statement referencing threatened foreign countries would be issued if this were purely a Saudi domestic issue.

Despite the fact that several U.S. embassies and consulates were closed in last weekend’s diplomatic outpost closings, Saudi Arabia has actually been reasonably safe over the past several years as compared to other countries in the region. Although many militants have been arrested, there has not been an actual incident of terrorism in Saudi Arabia since 2006. This track record of safety is another possible indication that this is related to al-Qaeda’s threat against the U.S.

Although al-Qaeda’s centralized international structure seemed to be decreasing in power in recent years, several franchise organizations have taken root, such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Specifically, al-Qaeda international head Ayman Zawahiri has deputized AQAP leader Nasser Wuhayshi to carry out attacks in al-Qaeda’s name. Because one of the arrested suspects is from Yemen, and the U.S. has received at least one credible al-Qaeda threat in recent days, it is distinctly possible that one or both of the plots stems from Wuhayshi and AQAP.

Some who are watching the development of the U.S. security threat in the Middle East might be curious as to why al-Qaeda is issuing a threat right now. The U.S. government has not yet released any information as to the specific nature of the threat, but it is worth noting that these threats and arrests are coming at the end of Ramadan, which for unclear reasons has been established as a month with more terror attacks than most other months in much of the Middle East. Intelligence sources suggest that these threats may be part of the Ramadan pattern, according to the Los Angeles Times.

By Laura Gates

Source: CNN, Al-Arabiya, Reuters, The Los Angeles Times

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