Country Report on Terrorism 2010 - Chapter 2 - Saudi Arabia


Overview: The Saudi government continued to build its counterterrorism capacity and its efforts to counter extremist ideology. Over the course of the year, Saudi authorities arrested numerous suspected al-Qa'ida (AQ) associates, uncovered several AQ arms caches, continued to develop a new facilities security force, implemented improved border security measures, and tightened laws to counter terrorist financing. In addition, prominent officials and religious leaders made public comments criticizing extremist ideology. Although Saudi Arabia's capacity to deal with internal threats remained strong, instability in Yemen provided an opportunity for al-Qa'ida in the Arabia Peninsula (AQAP) to recruit members, solicit funds, and plan attacks on Saudi Arabia.

Legislation and Law Enforcement: Saudi Arabia cooperated to prevent acts of terrorism against the U.S. homeland, citizens, and interests. On October 29, international authorities intercepted two mail bombs destined for the United States based on timely information from Saudi authorities.

Saudi Arabia continued to improve border security measures, including installing biometric scanners at entry points throughout the Kingdom. U.S. government officials worked with Saudi officials on a number of border security issues, including the Advance Passenger Information/Passenger Name Record program and compliance with the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code. In April, 12 officials from the Ministry of Interior participated in a customs and border patrol exchange in the United States, and Saudi officials continued to request opportunities to learn about U.S. law enforcement "best practices."

Saudi authorities offer one million Saudi riyals (approximately US$ 270,000) to anyone who supplied information that led to the arrest of a terrorist, and five million riyals (approximately US$ 1.4 million) to anyone who supplied information about a terrorist cell. The reward for anyone supplying information to foil a terrorist attack is seven million riyals (approximately US$ 1.9 million).

On March 24, Saudi officials announced the arrest of more than 100 AQ suspects since November 2009. Those arrested were accused of planning attacks against government and oil installations across the Kingdom. They included 47 Saudis, 51 Yemenis, one Somali, one Bangladeshi, and one Eritrean. One of the arrestees, a woman named Haylah Al Qassir, allegedly helped AQ recruit young women and youths, hide fugitives, and plan and finance operations. During the arrests, police seized weapons, ammunition, video recording devices, computers, communication devices, money, and documents. In this operation, security officers also uncovered two six-member suicide bombing cells linked to AQAP. Officers arrested all 12 members as they were in the early stages of planning attacks against oil and security facilities in the Eastern region of Saudi Arabia.

On November 26, Saudi officials announced that 149 AQ suspects had been arrested since April. These suspects had been part of 19 cells across Saudi Arabia and included 124 Saudis. The suspects allegedly planned to poison Saudi officials and journalists with gifts of perfume; to finance operations by robbing banks and companies; and to build explosive devices from mobile phones. They were also accused of sheltering suicide bombers who illegally entered the country from Yemen to attack civilian and military facilities in Saudi Arabia.

Countering Terrorism Finance: Saudi Arabia is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF), a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body. Saudi Arabia is also a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which itself is a member of the FATF, and its Financial Intelligence Unit is a member of the Egmont Group.

On May 6, Saudi Arabia's Council of Senior Scholars, the country's highest religious body, published, and King Abdullah endorsed, a fatwa criminalizing terrorist acts and the financing, aiding, or abetting of terrorists. The edict declared that these injunctions apply both within Muslim and non-Muslim countries, and it paved the way for comprehensive legislation and implementing regulations for the Saudi Arabian government to prosecute terrorist financing cases.

Saudi Arabia actively participated in the UNSCR 1267 Committee process, proposing individuals for listing and imposing the required asset freeze and travel ban on those listed. The June 2010 Mutual Evaluation Report of Saudi Arabia, conducted as a joint exercise between the FATF and MENAFATF, identified areas of progress and suggested areas for further improvement. According to its mutual evaluation report, Saudi Arabia has not implemented UNSCR 1373.

The Kingdom, due to a large number of transient workers, appeared to be the world's second largest market for remittances. Due to strict rules for banking and remittances in the Kingdom, a considerable part of the remittance sector may be underground. While there is no public data available on illegal remittances in 2010, these underground networks likely still exist.

Regional and International Cooperation: Since 2008, Saudi Arabia has been a member of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. Saudi Arabia has security-related bilateral agreements including counterterrorism cooperation with the United States, Italy, the United Kingdom, India, Iran, Turkey, Senegal, Pakistan, Tunisia, Oman, Morocco, Libya, Yemen, Iraq, Jordan, and Sudan. Saudi government officials also issued statements encouraging enhanced cooperation among Arab League states on counterterrorism issues.

Countering Radicalization and Violent Extremism: Countering extremist ideology by ensuring what it calls “ideological security” was a key part of the Saudi government’s counterterrorism strategy. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs continued its extensive media campaign to educate young Saudis on the "correct" teachings of Islam to prevent their being drawn to extremist doctrines. The campaign included messages incorporated into Friday sermons at mosques, distribution of literature and tapes, and article postings on the Internet. In 2007, Saudi Arabia issued identification cards to imams and religious leaders to curb instances of unauthorized persons delivering Friday sermons. In 2010, the government continued to monitor these licensed imams and counseled them when necessary. According to the Ministry, they have not dismissed any imams for espousing extremist views since 2008.

As part of coordinated efforts to ensure ideological security, the ministries of Civil Service, Education, and the Interior moved over 2,000 teachers to administrative positions over the past two years for promoting extremist ideology. Over the summer, the Ministry of Education trained school principals and supervisors to report teachers who believed in extremist ideas or lack allegiance to the homeland. Although some overtly intolerant statements were removed or modified, educational textbooks continued to contain such statements against non-Muslim religious groups.

In September, King Abdulaziz University hosted a two-day seminar targeting youth on "The Saudi Moderate Approach." The seminar aimed to instill a culture of tolerance, reduce extremism, and develop patriotism.

The governmental Mohammed Bin Naif Center for Counseling and Care program continued to operate at least nine centers to rehabilitate those with extremist ideologies. These centers employed more than 100 scholars and academics specializing in Islam and Sharia law, and more than 30 psychiatrists and social researchers. Since its inception in 2006, the program has enabled over 300 former extremists, including former Guantanamo detainees, to be re-integrated into Saudi society. The Ministry of Interior estimates recidivism rates for former Guantanamo detainees to be 20 percent and for all other program participants to be less than 10 percent.

In addition to rehabilitation, the Ministry of Interior continued a program of counter-radicalization within the prison system. The Ministry worked with specialists, clerics, and teachers to stop violent extremist groups from recruiting prisoners. Since its inception in 2004, 3,200 prisoners have participated in 5,000 counter-radicalization meetings.