The world press on the Riyadh bombings

Saudi Arabia: "We have to face up to the fact that we have a terrorist problem here." Plus reports from Spain, Lebanon, Israel, the Philippines, Hong Kong and the U.K.


Mark FollmanCompiled by Laura McClure
May 17, 2003 1:48AM (UTC)

Saudi Arabia, Editorial in the Arab News

Words are inadequate to express the shock, the revulsion, the outrage at the suicide bombings in Riyadh. Are expatriates working here an army of occupation, to be slaughtered and terrorized into leaving?

This was an undertaking of sheer evil. Life -- be it the life of Muslims, of Saudis, of Westerners, of anyone -- is sacred, a gift from God. It was targeted as much against Saudi Arabia as against Westerners -- not just because Saudis and Westerners alike have been killed and maimed but because the prime aim of those responsible for this despicable crime is to create panic and terror. Those responsible are the new fascists. Merciless, cold and full of hate, with a demented vision of Islam, they declared war on humanity for the thoroughly un-Islamic goal of separating and insulating the Muslim world from the rest of humanity, as part of which they hope to terrorize Westerners into leaving the Kingdom. They have no qualms about killing anyone who gets in their way; they spread hatred and resentment, not peace; yet they have the blasphemous effrontery to claim that they do God's work. They make a mockery of Islam, an open, inclusive faith.

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We have to face up to the fact that we have a terrorist problem here ... We can no longer ignore that we have a nest of vipers here, hoping that by doing so they will go away. They will not. They are our problem and we [are] all their targets now...

We cannot say that suicide bombings in Israel and Russia are acceptable but not in Saudi Arabia. The cult of suicide bombings has to stop. So too has the chattering, malicious, vindictive hate propaganda. It has provided a fertile ground for ignorance and hatred to grow.

There is much in U.S. policy to condemn; there are many aspects of Western society that offend -- and where necessary, Arab governments condemn. But anti-Americanism and anti-Westernism for their own sake are crude, ignorant and destructive. They create hate. They must end. Otherwise there will be more barbarities.

Spain, Editorial in El Pais

The speed with which Saudi Arabia attributed the triple suicide attack in Riyadh to al-Qaida contrasts with the official stance that the kingdom maintained until very recently: that none of Osama bin Laden's operatives were in the country. The brutal reappearance of the Islamic terrorists, only a few hours before the arrival of Colin Powell in Riyadh, suggests that for al-Qaida, the U.S. announcement that it will withdraw its soldiers and war planes from the kingdom isn't enough. Last week, Riyadh had already disclosed the capture of an arsenal of arms and explosives, which appeared to augur a large attack like the one committed [Monday] that left dozens dead.

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The attacks against U.S. citizens are not a thing of the past in a country that considers the foreigners to be infidels occupying sacred ground. The unease hasn't abated since the first Gulf War, with 1995 and '96 the bloodiest years. Less than two weeks [before the attacks] Washington again warned its citizens against traveling to the oil-rich kingdom...

But the slaughter in the Saudi capital points to a wider objective of bin Laden and his followers: The destabilization of a monarchy it considers to be irremissibly corrupt due to its half-century-long alliance with the "evil empire."

In the wake of the attacks, President Bush has declared that the war against terrorism will continue unchecked. But the imperial leader shows himself to be especially inclined to the dangerous idea that military might alone can produce stability, when it's far from clear that the awesome military display in Iraq is going to dissuade a single suicide bomber from carrying out an attack like the one in Riyadh, or the attack that claimed 200 lives seven months ago in Bali.

The United States is, without a doubt, essential to the objective of constructing a more secure world. But its actions since 9/11 have not been marked by prudence. In Afghanistan, the White House hasn't shown the know-how to combine military victory with a capacity for political reconstruction. In Iraq, the signs are not encouraging.

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Washington has to understand that the path forward is one of compromise, one that demonstrates to all others that the superpower is sensitive to the greater struggles of the world, and that justice and diplomacy are the tools with which to fix them.

Israel, Zvi Bar'el in Haaretz

Attacks of this nature inside Saudi Arabia serve two purposes. One is the terrorists' desire to strike at American targets anywhere in the world. The other, however, is to undermine the Saudi regime, with the goal of eventually toppling it -- especially given the government's recent plans to alter the school curriculum to soften its extremist Islamic character.

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Additionally, the government's plans to implement reforms bringing "a little more democracy" into the kingdom has sparked a sharp controversy in Saudi Arabia. This has already forced Crown Prince Abdullah to extract a promise from a group of intellectuals that they will stop talking publicly about the need for reform, "in light of the situation."

The fact that the attacks took place shortly after Washington and Riyadh announced plans to reduce the U.S. military presence in the kingdom strengthens the assessment that the terrorists' real target might have been the Saudi regime.

The attacks in Saudi Arabia once again casts doubt on whether total war against a state suspected of sheltering terrorists is an effective means of liquidating terrorist organizations whose aims are not localized. The number of major attacks attributed to al-Qaida that have been committed since the war in Afghanistan -- including those in Bali and Mombasa, as well as smaller attacks in the Philippines and Kuwait and the almost daily attacks in Afghanistan itself -- indicates that neither Osama bin Laden's organization nor other terrorist organizations still require a permanent base in a particular country in order to perpetrate attacks.

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It also indicates there is no lack of places in the world capable of being training bases for terrorists. Many of these places lie in lawless areas between states, like the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, between Kurdistan and Iran (where Ansar al-Islam operated), or between Somalia and Kenya...

The Islamic organizations have no difficulties acquiring arms or explosives. In Saudi Arabia, for example, arms and explosives freely cross the long and porous border with Yemen. And in the wake of the war with Iraq, and the consequent absence of a strong central government, Iraq is likely to become another ready source of explosives, and perhaps even nonconventional weapons, for terrorist organizations.

Philippines, Editorial in Inq7

On board the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 2, Bush described the toppling of the regime of Saddam Hussein as "one victory in the war on terror that began on Sept. 11, 2001, and still goes on."

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His words proved prophetic. The terrorists are making sure the war goes on...

The bombings in Riyadh may well be the opening salvo of the counter-attacks of al-Qaida to remind the world that it is not yet a spent force. Moreover, they tend to show the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan and of the Saddam regime in Iraq has not made the world safe from terrorist attacks...

The attacks also serve as a warning that countries which aided the United States in the war against Iraq are possible targets, be they on their territories or their nationals working on construction or reconstruction projects in the Middle East. This risk should not be taken lightly by Filipino construction workers, about 70,000 of whom are now working in Saudi Arabia, with several thousands more likely to be recruited by American construction companies for the reconstruction of Iraq.

What is starting to unfold is that regime change and occupation of territories of "rogue states" cannot stop terrorist attacks. What the war against Iraq has demonstrated is that the United States has the military might to annihilate armies with superior technology, engage in lightning wars (Iraq collapsed in 26 days), remake the balance of power in the strategic Middle East, and wage war even without the help of its major Western allies in Europe. What this engagement of power failed to do is capture or kill bin Laden and Saddam and his senior accomplices. It has not brought the United States nearer to its goal of finding weapons of mass destruction...

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In the effort to combat the revived terrorist attacks, Bush's problem is whom to attack next. In fighting terrorists, the United States can rely less on massive deployment of military power, as invasions require huge logistical and forces mobilization. It will depend more on focused intelligence. This form of warfare in the shadows is what we can expect even as the United States will be required to occupy Iraq longer than Washington had expected it.

Hong Kong, Syed Saleem Shahzad in the Asia Times

Asia Times Online clearly outlined earlier this month that bin Laden's International Islamic Front, a grouping of al-Qaida and several other terrorist networks, has restructured and that the driver of this new international brigade is the Egyptian Jamaat al-Jehad, led by Dr Aiman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's right hand man. (This group merged with al-Qaida, but it has an independent following in Egypt). The article pointed out that Jamaat's leaders have redirected the energies of militants to concentrate purely on U.S. targets, saying that it is the real enemy. It also pointed out that the network would operate with a new team and new name and would strike on U.S. interests sooner rather than later...

Saudi Arabia has in the past been the victim of terror attacks to force the leadership to sever its ties with the U.S....

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Monday's attacks will place the ruling monarchy in Saudi Arabia under intense pressure, and the political structure of the kingdom is such that it will have to take action on any new demands that extremists might make. In 1980, a group of Islamic hardliners rebelled against the Saudi monarchy. The rebellion was crashed and the dissidents executed. But subsequently the monarchy met their demands and implemented more strict Islamic rules in the country.

A U.S. troop withdrawal from Saudi Arabia has been one of the main demands of al-Qaida and bin Laden. The U.S said on April 29 that it was ending military operations in the kingdom and removing virtually all of its forces (currently about 10,000) by next month. Once they are gone, the hardliners can be expected to step up their demands, possibly for stronger anti-West policies, or even complete chaos in society.

Although specific social and political factors make Saudi Arabia vulnerable to hardliners, at present, the entire Arab world is passing through a difficult stage, and even secular and relatively liberal Egypt is no exception, where the Muslim Brotherhood is enjoying a new lease of life following the fall of Baghdad.

For the first time in many decades, hundreds of thousands of people have welcomed or attended the Brotherhood's country-wide demonstrations denouncing those Arab states with pro-U.S. policies. Egypt is considered the closest U.S. ally in the Middle East (aside from Israel) and the second largest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel.

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Terror attacks on its soil could force the government to seriously reconsider this position.

United Kingdom, Bronwen Maddox in the Times

Has the United States inflamed the War on Terror even further by its attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan?

No, although after the triple Riyadh bombing, that is exactly what Islamic terrorists would like Americans to believe ... Yes, the Iraq war might have given a new, bitter pretext for terrorism, but that simply replaces others, such as the Saudi airbase that Americans are now about to vacate.

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With one exception: Israel. In this argument, all roads lead to Jerusalem. If the United States fails even to go through the motions of pursuing peace, it will enrage Arab governments, as well as their publics. Without their backing, America's ability to combat terrorism may be as seriously compromised as pessimists already suggest...

Yes, the compounds had guards on the gates, but they were not particularly well-armed. Yes, the terrorists had managed to amass their explosives under the nose of a singularly controlling regime -- but one whose claims to be cracking down on militant terrorism have always outstripped the reality. The American and Saudi intelligence services knew for several weeks that something was being planned, even though they failed to find out what it was.

The understandable reaction would be for Americans to pull out from the region, as the U.S. military is now pulling out of their new airbase near Riyadh. This would remove the most obvious sources of provocation. Bin Laden has cited the American presence in Saudi Arabia, the location of two of the three holiest shrines of Islam, as justification for jihad.

But the speed with which the U.S. is now quitting the airbase simply illustrates that one apparent provocation may replace another. The more important lesson of Riyadh is the need for more help than it has so far suited Arab governments to give. Now that attacks are moving on to their territory and threatening their regimes, they may give it.

Provided, that is, that the United States shows some commitment to the Israeli-Palestinian "road map". It is impossible to overstate the weight that Arab governments put on this.

None of this is an answer to the problem of the growing ranks of underemployed young men in the Arab world, who choose America as their focus of hate. But the War on Terror since September 11 has shown that terrorism is committed by definable bands of people, who can be identified, forced to keep on the move and, occasionally, caught.

Lebanon, Mohammad Al Rumaihi in Al-Hayat

I would like to draw a parallel between the description that the American Defense Secretary used when he spoke of "old and new Europe," and the Arab situation today. Are there "new and old Arabs"?

I rest my argument on the assumption that the Arabs today, more than at any time in the past, need to seriously examine the situation they have reached after half a century of incomplete modernization, institutions that are yet to mature and postponed challenges.

The fact of the matter is that the international order is undergoing substantial changes...

The Americans and the British fought together recently in Iraq because they share common values and permanent interests. The differences among Western countries are differences in detail. There are basic values that they share, while the Arabs have nothing in common. Since their independence more than 50 years ago the Arab countries have been divided on almost every regional and international issue.

One of the main reasons for the differences among the Arabs is that they don't view the issues that confront them from the same perspective. Even their view of the West varies. The Arabs expect the West to respond to the hanging issues as Arab leaders respond to them. They ignore the fact that the West has institutions that make decisions while in the Arab world the decision is made by the individual ruler.

The characteristics of the old Arab regime are known. It influences the anticipated new Arab order. It resists it and undermines it by privileges and traditions. On the other hand, the anticipated order is based on two bases: the first base is the association between governments, while the second base is institutions that can be developed.


Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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Compiled by Laura McClure

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