Saudi royal family 'in a panic' as Al Qaida penetrates security with ease


4 December 2003

Al Qaida has launched a campaign designed to undermine the security and finances of the Saudi royal family. Western intelligence sources said the latest Al Qaida attacks indicate a campaign is underway to isolate the Saudi royal family and threaten its financial base. The campaign is based on intimidating leading Arab and Western advisers from remaining in the kingdom.

The Nov. 9 attack on the Muhaya compound appeared to signal a shift in Al Qaida strategy. Until then, the sources said, Al Qaida targeted Western nationals in the kingdom who were not considered crucial to the regime's survival.

But in the Muhaya suicide car bombing, the target was a compound that housed Lebanese financial advisers to the royal family.

The sources said the Muhaya compound included bankers and smugglers who facilitated earnings of billions of dollars in undeclared revenue.

"The royal family is in a panic and now believes Al Qaida is playing for keeps," a senior Western intelligence source said. "Without its financial advisers, the family is completely exposed."

Al Qaida has sown panic throughout the kingdom's security forces by demonstrating it can penetrate military and other facilities with ease. British and U.S. advisers have been of little use, the sources said, because the Saudi royal family does not want to disclose information that would demonstrate the extent of Al Qaida's influence in the country.

On Nov. 22, a fire was reported in the Riyad Armed Forces hospital. The fire destroyed several rooms and caused security forces to be placed on alert throughout the region. Several foreign nurses were injured.

"This is a deliberate campaign that seeks to increase the pressure on the royal family by telling them they aren't safe anywhere, even within their own military," another Western intelligence analyst said. "This has sparked a debate over how to reconcile with Al Qaida and end this war."

On Dec. 1, Saudi Arabia provided the first official details of the Nov. 9 bombing at the Muhaya compound. Al Qaida had smuggled in explosives from Yemen to Saudi Arabia. In late November, Saudi authorities found an additional 1.2 tons of explosives believed to have been smuggled in from Yemen.

An Interior Ministry statement said that in the Nov. 9 attack, Al Qaida insurgents approached the Muhaya compound while firing rifles and hurling grenades toward the gate. While the firefight was taking place, a jeep painted with the insignia of security forces and packed with 300 kilograms explosives drove into the compound.

"Then it was blown up in a suicide operation," the statement said. "Investigators have found out who is behind this operation and measures are still being taken. Security forces are still chasing the perpetrators and, God willing, they will be found and brought to justice."

In Sanaa, meanwhile, Yemeni security forces arrested a senior Al Qaida leader, Mohammed Hamdi Al Ahdal, suspected of masterminding the suicide bombing of the USS Cole.

In 1999 Al Ahdal was arrested in Saudi Arabia and spent 14 months in prison for his ties to Saudi billionaire bomber Osama Bin Laden. He was then deported to Yemen.