The world press on the Riyadh bombings

Arab News: "We put the men of religion above fault, and made them unaccountable. We gave them special privilege -- and this is the result."

Published November 11, 2003 10:02PM (EST)

Saudi Arabia, Arab News staff in the Arab News

Bombarded by brutal television and newspaper images of carnage caused by a midnight explosion at the housing compound of Al-Muhaya, on Riyadh's desert outskirts, many were united in condemning the second deadly attack in their capital in six months.

"What Islam is this? They are terrorists," said Hamdan Youssef, a 39-year-old businessman...

Fury that the attacks targeted innocent people during Ramadan was the single unifying factor across the Kingdom. "Whoever committed this terrible act is not a Muslim," Ghazi Hadda said...

Khaled Batarfi, managing editor of Al-Madinah newspaper, summed up saying the militants were losing the battle for the "hearts and minds" of ordinary Saudis.

"This was their main battle. In the past they would pretend to be against Americans, Christians -- whoever they perceive to be the enemy. Now their enemy is the same people whose approval they seek."

But some blamed those who spread religious intolerance in Saudi society. "Society will bear responsibility for this," said Hussein Nasser, a 28-year-old bank employee. "We put the men of religion above fault, and made them unaccountable. We gave them special privilege -- and this is the result." ...

Anger was also the predominant emotion in the Eastern Province.

The news of the explosion spread like a wildfire on Saturday night and people out shopping rushed back to their homes to watch the latest television bulletin. The markets in Dammam and Alkhobar, which otherwise hum with activity until 2 a.m. during Ramadan, looked deserted after midnight and many shopkeepers pulled their shutters down...

Some people said they were surprised that the terrorists succeeded in executing their attack when the Americans had information that a terrorist attack was imminent. The U.S. had closed its missions on Saturday to "review the security situation." ...

Western expatriates in the Kingdom were horrified at what appeared a senseless attack, but many too were moved to speculate about the motivation and circumstances behind it...

Tom Notestine, a U.S. paramedic, said rumors had already begun to spread. "Muslim colleagues are devastated because innocent Muslim families seem to have been deliberately targeted. Many are in a state of denial that it could have been an Islamist organization like al-Qaida -- they are saying that it was a CIA plot to destabilize the country. The reality is that many good people are dead and injured for no apparent reason."

Australia, editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald

The high security walls around Western-style residential compounds in Saudi Arabia are designed to shield residents from the disapproving gaze of the religious police of the Wahhabi sect, which dominates the kingdom's religious life. Yet twice this year -- in May and in this weekend's car bombing in Riyadh -- the walls have offered little protection from the ruthless judgement of terrorists.

In the warped world view of extremists, the slaughter of foreign workers, Saudi professionals and their families is justified by the veneer of Western life within the compound's walls, where public swimming and alcohol, for example, are permitted. Most victims were of Arab descent; many were Muslims. In targeting Muslims of supposedly "lesser faith", the bombers have widened the scope, and potentially the scale, of what is believed to be part of al-Qaida's ongoing global terrorist campaign...

Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil producer, is the home of Islam's sacred cities of Mecca and Medina ... Of the 19 9/11 bombers, 15 were Saudi nationals. Inseparable from the rise of Islamic fundamentalism are simmering political grievances.

With no legal channels for political dissent, much anti-government sentiment in Saudi Arabia has found its voice in mosques, albeit cloaked in anti-Western rhetoric.

The U.S. president, George Bush, was right when he announced last week that the House of Saud must usher in democratic reforms to defuse these dangerous domestic tensions and the horror of terrorism they feed... Yet the monarchy has another card to play -- one which will frustrate Mr. Bush's democratic vision for the Middle East. Democracy in Saudi Arabia could give voice to the forces Washington wants to defeat there, just as recent local elections in north-west Pakistan did when they were won by anti-U.S. Islamic fundamentalists.

United Kingdom, Paul Reynolds in BBC News

The latest attacks in Saudi Arabia combined with President Bush's call for "democracy" in the Middle East have left the ruling Saudi royal family squeezed between its own inclination simply to crack down on terrorism and demands for it to loosen its grip...

The immediate prospect in Saudi Arabia is of further attacks, a stepped-up campaign by the Saudis against the bombers -- but probably only limited moves towards democratic structures.

The royal family appears to feel emboldened to take strong security measures because its opponents have shown their hand ... the attacks continue and the target is now clear -- the Saudi royal house itself.

That is no great surprise. Osama bin Laden, himself from a Saudi family, has for years railed against the House of Saud which he sees as a Western protectorate.

There are parallels which might help the Saudis as they consider their next moves.

The first is Iran -- an example of what not to do.

In the late 1970s, the pro-Western Shah was faced with Islamic unrest. He failed to make any concessions and his repression simply increased his problems. He did not find his "point of access" with public opinion. Eventually, he left for exile and death.

The second is Egypt.

The Egyptians faced Islamic fundamentalism in the 1990s, with attacks on tourists especially, and the government decided to crack down. But it found its "point of access" by appealing to the Egyptian public's strong sense of nationalism. The fundamentalists, it argued, were damaging Egypt. Public opinion responded. The terrorists were isolated.

The third example is from outside the Middle East, but is provided by the largest Islamic country in the world -- Indonesia.

The Bali bombing showed how active Islamic fundamentalists are in the country...

The head of the Indonesian national police, General Da'i Bachtiar, has spoken about the motives of suspects involved in the bombings.

Instead of dismissing them as mindless fanatics, he admitted that they "are moved by issues of injustice."

By trying to avoid giving the disaffected more reason to feel injustice, Indonesia is hoping to contain the problem.

Lebanon, Editorial in the Daily Star

The latest bombing in Saudi Arabia is part of a deeply disturbing trend across the region, one to which Arabs and their governments can submit only at their peril. From Riyadh to Casablanca, events are being driven by individuals and groups who view the wanton slaughter of civilians as a legitimate form of political expression. They could not be more badly mistaken and, whatever their grievances, the error of their ways can only serve to keep real problems from being addressed.

There is a time and a place for guerrilla warfare, but only in the face of grave injustice and when all other options have been exhausted. The Palestinian struggle against Israel is a perfect example: The Jewish state has ignored repeated U.N. Security Council admonitions to quit the Occupied Territories, and the right to armed resistance is enshrined in the U.N. Charter...

Similar arguments cannot be made on behalf of those who perpetrate acts like that over the weekend in the Saudi capital. Their bombs massacred women and children, many of them Muslims, during the holiest month on the Islamic calendar. And yet despite the high profile of the atrocity, no one knows what they want or even who they are. These groups have no platform to sell, no list of complaints that can be discussed by rational people: The only conclusion to be drawn is that they kill for the sake of killing, which makes them monsters, not Muslims. Worst of all, by seeking to pass off mass murder as a valid political currency, they help some very unpleasant regimes continue to remain unaccountable.

The Arab world has every right to blame colonialism and other forms of foreign interference for many of its shortcomings. In no way, however, does that absolve the peoples of the region and their leaderships of their own responsibilities.

Large parts of Arab society are intolerant of harmless things like scantily clad singers but dangerously indulgent of authoritarian governance and/or the indiscriminate use of political violence. These and other misplaced priorities are a major cause of the deep-seated malaise that has gripped the region for years...They keep entire communities from trusting either their neighbors or their leaders. They alienate young people so prolifically and profoundly that many feel they have only two choices: emigration or extremism. Whichever alternative they choose, the Arab world suffers yet another devastating loss.

India, B. Raman in Outlook India

The statements emanating from the Saudi authorities about their neutralizing an al-Qaida cell, which was allegedly planning to carry out a terrorist strike against the Haj pilgrims ... do not provide a complete answer to understanding what has been happening in Saudi Arabia...

A more convincing explanation for the presence of the neutralized cell in the pilgrimage area is that it was there not to carry out a terrorist strike against the pilgrims, but to facilitate the transit of jihadi terrorists from and to their places of training or their areas of operation.

Over the years, the movement of millions of Muslims from all over the world to Saudi Arabia for Haj has been exploited by al-Qaida and other jihadi terrorist organizations to make new recruitment from amongst the pilgrims, take them clandestinely to training camps ... and then bring them back to Saudi Arabia after the training...

Similarly, trained and jihad-hardened terrorists are sent to Saudi Arabia during the Haj under the garb of pilgrims and then infiltrated into other countries...

To facilitate such transits, different organizations of the IIF set up their presence in Saudi Arabia much before the Haj starts. It is one such cell that seems to have been detected and neutralized by the Saudi authorities. It is unlikely that the objective of this cell was to target the pilgrims, which would have alienated them from al-Qaida and the IIF.

It is similarly difficult to accept at present that the car bomb which killed the foreign Sunni workers at the Riyadh housing complex was designed to deliberately kill them. A more convincing explanation is that the real targets were either the members of the Saudi ruling families or foreign diplomats and their families elsewhere. There is reason to believe that the car bomb fitted with the explosives was being taken to the housing complex for being kept there before being taken to the real target. The explosion seems to have been caused by accident or by the interception of the vehicle by the security guards at the complex.

United Kingdom, Mark Huband in the Financial Times

The terrorist onslaught in Saudi Arabia has intensified concerns that al-Qaida may be planning to plunge the kingdom into a crisis resembling the turmoil in Algeria in the 1990s.

"The next step [for the militants] is the same as the mentality in Algeria," said Jamal Kashoggi, adviser to Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi ambassador to the UK.

"That means targeting the security forces because they protect foreigners. They must be preparing to do something on a bigger scale, with the stockpiling of weapons and the recruitment of hundreds of people. Perhaps they are preparing to launch a jihad," Mr Kashoggi said yesterday.

Saturday's Riyadh bombing followed warnings of an imminent attack that had led the U.S. to close its Saudi diplomatic missions.

The closure came after a statement was posted on an Islamist website on Friday by a group calling itself the Mujahideen (holy warriors) of the Arabian Peninsula, whose links to al-Qaeda are unclear. The statement condemned "Crusader" western powers and "tyrant" rulers of Saudi Arabia, but made clear the main targets were westerners.

"We are proceeding along the path we have begun, targeting at this stage the soldiers of the cross, avoiding the tyrants ... Yet we will not be an easy morsel for the tyrants and their soldiers, for we will defend ourselves," it said...

Until Saturday's bombing, which mainly killed foreigners, critics of the regime such as Mr Fagui believed that Mr bin Laden had decided to launch direct attacks on the ruling al-Saud family. However, Friday's statement and Saturday's attack appear to reveal its determination to destabilise the royal family but not necessarily to seek to replace it.

Other opponents of the Saudi government do not see al-Qaida's strategy as necessarily promoting its cause, however.

United Arab Emirates, editorial in the Gulf News

The terrorist attack on a housing compound in Saudi Arabia ... is yet more proof that the perpetrators of the attack are outside any recognizable political agenda. They are using the horror of carrying out random killings without reason or motive as a way to enact their own appalling vision of where they want the world to go. There can be no pretence that the cause is neither related to a genuine Muslim cause, nor that it has a political agenda driving it. It is a purely terrorist act, worse still, it was committed during the holy month of Ramadan.

Over the past few weeks, there have been several warnings that an attack was likely, and the residential compound that was attacked had tens of guards protecting it. But despite these precautions, the attackers were able to get through and set off their bomb with terrible effect. It is clear that the Saudis will have to improve their state of readiness to be able to cope with such attacks. They can no longer be regarded as remote possibilities, but have to be regarded as a likely event. Security checks, scans of people and vehicles, regular use of sniffing equipment, are only a few of the procedures that will be required to become part of general life in order to defeat the terrorists, as so many other countries have done...

The recent bombings have destroyed the vague willingness of some to sympathize when the attacks were on Western targets. The recent attacks were on targets in Saudi Arabia, and killed Muslims. The terrorists are clearly only terrorists. They deserve only to be hunted down, arrested, and imprisoned.

By Compiled by Laura McClure

Related Topics ------------------------------------------