July 9, 2014 | Policy Brief

AQAP and ISIS Compete for Saudi Attention

Saudi Arabia was reinforcing its northern border last week in response to the alarming advances of the Islamic State marching across Iraq, but Riyadh’s focus shifted quickly to its southern border with Yemen, where al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) carried out an attack on the Yemeni side of the Wadia border crossing. Rebuffed but undeterred, the attackers ultimately staged a suicide bombing in the nearby Saudi province of Sharurah on Saturday. 

The al Qaeda threat is not new to the Saudis. AQAP was originally formed as a merger between the Saudi and Yemeni al Qaeda branches in 2009 following a Saudi crackdown on al Qaeda, which had carried out a terror campaign in the Kingdom between 2003 and 2006, attacking oil refineries and housing complexes throughout the country. Although much of the group’s fighters and leadership relocated to Yemen after 2006, Saudi Arabia has remained a prime target of the terrorist organization.

An AQAP video released late last month underscores that the Saudi government is still a target. The video delineates the crimes of the Saudi government, including “negligence, oppression, attacks, plundering riches, muzzling and monopolization of decisions” and labels the regime’s policies as the “pinnacle of savagery, criminality, and disdain of Muslims’ rights.” In a March audio message, AQAP ideologue and theologian Ibrahim al Rubaish concluded that “the Saudi regime is like the one-eyed Antichrist” and called on all Muslims to pray so that Allah will “shred” and humiliate the Saudi government. 

These videos are not merely empty propaganda – AQAP has tried to hit Saudi targets repeatedly since its expulsion from the Kingdom. Famously, in February 2009, Abdullah al Asiri, brother of AQAP’s master bomb-maker Ibrahim al Asiri, lured Saudi Prince Muhammad bin Nayef to a meeting claiming that he wished to surrender. Instead, Abdullah detonated a bomb hidden in his anal cavity, narrowly missing the Saudi Prince. Although this plot may have been the most spectacular, it certainly was not AQAP’s last. More recently, in May, Saudi officials claimed they arrested 62 individuals linked to AQAP who were actively plotting attacks inside Saudi Arabia. 

In light of the unrest in Iraq, Saudi Arabia is trying to pivot away from its 1,800-km border with Yemen to address new threats. But, as the AQAP attack demonstrates, the Saudis must now address both security challenges with equal seriousness. 

Oren Adaki is a Research Associate at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter, @orenadaki  


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