July 5, 2016 | USA Today

Analysis: Attacks show radicals retain foothold in Saudi Arabia

A wave of suicide attacks Monday in Saudi Arabia, especially one near the burial site of the prophet Mohammed, shows that radicals are increasingly challenging the Al Saud royal family and its role as official protector of Islam's holiest sites.

Suicide attackers struck the security office at Al-Haram al-Nabawi, a mosque in the western city of Medina that was built by Mohammed and where he is said to be buried. Mecca and Medina are Islam's two holiest sites. Another suicide bomber blew himself up near a Shiite mosque in the eastern city of Qatif. And a suicide bomber struck near the U.S. consulate in the western city of Jeddah.

While there’s been no claim of responsibility, attacks hitting multiple places at once bear the hallmarks of the Islamic State, which has called for strikes against “infidels” during the month of Ramadan that ends this week. The extremist group, which aspires to create an Islamic caliphate across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, is also suspected of bombings in Iraq and Turkey in the past week that together claimed hundreds of lives.


The terrorist threat in Saudi Arabia, which is participating in the international coalition fighting the Islamic State, has been on the rise in the past year, according to Ottaway and David Weinberg of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy.

“The fact there is a proliferation of attacks in the kingdom in the last two years and there weren’t any four or five years ago, suggests something is emerging in the kingdom,” Weinberg said.

Saudi Arabia has endorsed the Jeddah Communique, an international agreement to combat the Islamic State and radical extremism by cutting off funding, blocking foreign fighters and repudiating the ideology that undermines extremism. But Weinberg says the kingdom, which regularly condemns terrorism, “is still grappling with what it means to stop intolerance and extremist speech that incites terrorism.”

When, Saad bin Ateeq al Ateeq, a Saudi preacher at a state-controlled mosque, in 2015 urged followers to destroy all Jews, Christians, Allawites and Shiites, he apparently faced no consequences, Weinberg said.

The Saudi government continues to embrace preachers who preach religious intolerance, against LGBT people, embracing or condoning (late al-Qaeda leader) Osama bin Laden, “sending a message this type of speech is OK,” Weinberg said.

Since Saudi Arabia in the Jeddah Communique identified cracking down on hate speech as an element of fighting the ideology of the Islamic State and other extremists, “I would say the Saudis have fallen down on their commitments,” he said.

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