After underwear plot, Saudi officials cite headway against AQAP
Saudi officials refused to discuss their involvement in disrupting the latest underwear bomb plot from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), but say they are making gains against the group.
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), based in Yemen, remains a major threat but drone strikes are making significant headway against the franchise, say Saudi interior ministry officials, who are working to cut off Saudi funding of the group and prevent the recruitment of Saudi operatives.Skip to next paragraph
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Speaking to a visiting group of US journalists in Riyadh, the officials underscored the importance of US-Saudi cooperation in fighting terrorism but refused to confirm or deny reports that Saudi intelligence was involved in foiling the latest underwear bomb plot by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
“This information [about who was responsible] going out at this particular time … doesn’t serve anyone,” said Lt. Col. Sultan Mohammed of the ministry’s counterterrorism department, who has been tracking Islamist militants since the late 1990s.
Since 9/11 and a wave of domestic terrorist attacks in the following years, the Saudi government has taken strong measures to shut down jihadis and their ideology in the country. They have arrested more than 11,000 suspected militants over the past decade, about half of whom were released while the rest are being tried in a series of cases now moving through Saudi courts. The Ministry of Interior has also instituted a broad program to prevent the spread of jihadi ideology, which includes everything from requiring licenses for religious sermons to the promotion of books and leaflets that counter militant ideology to a generously funded rehabilitation center originally started for ex-Guantánamo detainees.
Officials said today that the Saudi government had now largely “destroyed” Al Qaeda as an organization in Saudi Arabia, wiped out public sympathy for the group, and said that drone strikes over the past year in Yemen have weakened the group there. But they remain very much aware of AQAP’s efforts to regroup in Yemen in order to launch attacks against not only the West but also the Saudi kingdom.
Formerly Al Qaeda had separate branches in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, but by early 2009 they had merged into one organization.
“To us, they are very dangerous because we are a major target of their terror,” said Maj. Gen. Mansour Sultan al-Turki. “On the other hand, they rely very much on young Saudis to be recruited. They also rely a lot on Saudi financing. So we have to make sure they do not get either of these two things.”