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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Statement to the Saudi Mujahideen Summons Iraq Returnees

By Chris Heffelfinger

On June 30, a media organization called al-Basha'ir (The Glad Tidings) issued a statement on the Lahdud forum (http://www.la7odood.com/vb) entitled, "who we are, what we want and what our relation is to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula." Such media services have arisen in other arenas of jihad, routinely producing materials and video in support of the mujahideen.

Al-Basha'ir may likely be an upstart group aspiring to join the al-Qaeda members fighting in Saudi Arabia. What makes this declaration significant, however, is its call for the mujahideen returning from Iraq to continue their jihad at home. The statement reads, "Al-Basha'ir is a media organization in the Arabian Peninsula concerned with the affairs of the mujahideen, especially those mujahideen returning from the land of the two rivers [Iraq] and wanted fugitives [meaning those being pursued by the Saudi Interior Ministry]" in order help expel the "tyrants in the Arabian Peninsula…"

It is known that significant numbers of Saudi nationals have joined the fighting in Iraq, although exact numbers are not available (Terrorism Monitor, April 20). While some believe the Saudi government has quietly sent some of their jailed mujahideen to Iraq as a short-term solution to their domestic unrest, the regime must now be fearful of returning fighters from Iraq who may attempt to invigorate their fellow operatives in the Saudi kingdom.

In recent years, the Saudi regime has managed to gain the help of former jihadist preachers in the kingdom, like Sheikh Salman al-Awda, who was imprisoned in the 1990s for inciting militancy but has since participated in "national dialogue" talks to rein in Saudi mujahideen. The regime has also dealt blows to the Saudi mujahideen by killing al-Qaeda leaders Abd al-Aziz al-Muqrin and Salih al-Awfi.

Al-Basha'ir's statement on the Lahdud forum—which may prove to be a Stars and Stripes type morale publication for the mujahideen—goes on to say, "our aim is the victory of the mujahideen and the cleansing of the land of Muhammad from the occupiers and the apostates; and to establish a caliphal Islamic state on it. [We aim to] do away with these tyrants who rule without God's law." This statement is the most recent in a long debate between the Salafi establishment in Saudi Arabia, which has continually upheld the legitimacy of the regime, and the Salafi-Jihadists who consider them to be pawns of the House of Saud.

The statement acknowledges that the group has no ties to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula: "there is no tie between us and them, and we ask Allah that we have the honor to join their ranks under the banner of fighting the Crusaders and those who help them." Yet in the forum on which it was posted, the name of the individual poster received attention: "transmitted by your brother Abu Musab Masri." It was initially met by some with encouragement, but discussion turned to the poster's nationality: Masri (Egyptian).

Abu Musab Masri (who included an image of the slain Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in the posting) was ridiculed in a well-written rebuttal from a Saudi supporter, who said the statement was inspired by a hatred of Saudis. The Saudi supporter continued by saying, "why don't you speak about your country [Egypt], land of corruption, sin, drinking, tourism and cheap nightclubs, and your president (the servant of America). Seek refuge with Allah, better that than you should speak about the Islamic country of Saudi Arabia." The response continues, with the Saudi saying that he supports "the mujahideen in Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq and hopes to be with them…but in Saudi Arabia, no, a thousand times no…"

While such outright support for the Saudi regime on Islamist forums is generally greeted with suspicion, a vigorous debate on the situation in Saudi Arabia takes place on this forum and others on a regular basis. Such internal debates are appearing in the thousands across numerous discussion forums, where the Salafi credentials of the Saudi elite are attacked for supporting the regime.

In the broader picture, the debates represent one small battle in the ideological campaign between the traditional Salafi movement in the kingdom and its opposition. The Saudi Salafis are heirs of Bin Baz, al-Albani and al-Uthaymeen who dominated the educational and religious institutions of the country during recent decades, and gained legitimacy in the eyes of many Muslims by virtue of their rule over Mecca and Medina, the two holiest cities in Islam. Yet, in the past five years in particular, they have been increasingly discredited for their strong support for the House of Saud and its ties to the United States.

Like fighters from Afghanistan, many of the foreign mujahideen warring in Iraq will one day return. The Saudi Salafis' hopes of shifting the mujahideen's focus away from the kingdom will, in all likelihood, prove unrealistic. If and when foreign fighters leave Iraq, they will undoubtedly affect the Salafi-Jihadist currents of their home countries.
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