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December 19, 2004
AQ In Decline In Saudi Arabia

Al-Qaeda has apparently declined in stature in its own Wahhabist birthplace to such an extent that its strategies have had to shift towards avoiding Saudi targets, curtailing a key AQ goal of undermining and overthrowing the Saudi royal family. Today's Washington Post reports that AQ operations have a much narrower focus than before:

Al Qaeda forces in Saudi Arabia have shifted their strategy and are now almost exclusively searching for U.S. and other Western targets in the kingdom while avoiding attacks on domestic institutions in a bid to strengthen their flagging network, according to security officials and Saudi experts on radical groups.

While al Qaeda retains its primary goal of eventually toppling the Saudi royal family -- as Osama bin Laden made clear in an audio recording released Thursday -- an 18-month campaign of car bombings, gun battles and kidnappings has so far failed to generate many new recruits and has resulted in a backlash among many Saudis, even those who otherwise are critical of the government, the officials and experts said.

More than 80 people have died in the attacks, the majority of them Saudis or non-Western immigrant workers. Many people in the kingdom are not only angry over the bloodshed but also fearful of al Qaeda's attempt to turn Saudi Arabia, a deeply conservative tribal society, into an even more conservative Islamic theocracy, several Saudi reformers said in interviews.

In some ways, al-Qaeda has been the victim of its own radical fervor. Instead of focusing on one specific goal at a time and working outwards, which would allow them to build on their success and gather more people and power to their side, they have lashed out indiscriminately in all directions. That indiscriminate killing has alienated those who might otherwise have been sympathetic to their causes. Many Saudis probably would love to see an end to the royal family's rule and the oppression that goes with it -- but they'd balk at having them replaced with an even more oppressive and considerably more irrational ruling class.

As a result, Saudi government forces have found it relatively easy to round up or kill AQ leadership in their country. They have already neutralized two-thirds of the top-echelon leaders, and the lack of ready replacements has seriously degraded their operational capability, especially in organization. Many potential recruits aren't even in Saudi Arabia any longer; radical clerics sent the fanatical to Iraq to fight the American "occupation" there. Without a steasy stream of new recruits, their losses have crippled the terrorist organization.

Now they intend on exclusively targeting Western facilities in Saudi Arabia, a strategy that might have won them much more support had they been as disciplined from the start. Saudis see the West as a support for the royal regime and wouldn't shed many tears over successful attacks. However, it's too late both tactically and strategically. Saudi security forces have the upper hand and routinely roll up dozens of operatives before an attack even happens, or immediately afterwards. The populace has already seen the true face of al-Qaeda and its radical agenda for the kingdom, and has taken a pass.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 19, 2004 8:11 AM

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