Bin Laden on His Home Turf

Has Osama bin Laden become simply the Timothy McVeigh of Saudi Arabia?

Perhaps the global terrorist who has led attacks mainly on Americans is now focused largely on his native land, trying to topple a government he regards as corrupt.

In the last six months, his operatives have twice bombed civilians in the Saudi capital. Last Saturday's blast, like the one on May 12, rattled the royal House of Saud to its sandy foundations. At least 52 people, many of them Arab Muslims, died in the two well-organized suicide attacks.

These were two of Al Qaeda's biggest operations since Sept. 11, 2001. That suggests the Saudi-born bin Laden may have decided he can no longer unite Muslims simply by attacking the West, symbolized by the United States. His real goal, and perhaps his original one, could now be to take over Saudi Arabia and thus Islam's two holiest sites.

Sept. 11 had a hint of that.

The Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, said in a speech last month at Tufts University's Fletcher School that bin Laden's goal in organizing the Sept. 11 attacks was to rupture US-Saudi ties. The Al Qaeda chief tried to do that by selecting 15 Saudis among the 19 hijackers, believing the US would then yank its support from the Saudi regime and it would fall. But the plan failed.

Bin Laden also failed to rally Muslims in protest when the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and again when the US invaded Iraq last April (and later withdrew most of its forces from Saudi Arabia). And it's likely that the US has prevented him from launching a new operation in the US.

This doesn't mean the US can let its guard down. But if bin Laden has narrowed his violent ambitions, it reinforces President Bush's call last week for authoritarian Middle East regimes - as in Saudi Arabia - to reduce the terrorists' appeal by making their countries democratic.

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