Twin-track approach to terror starts to pay dividends

02 July 2004
Riyadh scored a double success in the battle against domestic Islamist militants on 30 June, at the same time demonstrating its new approach to the problem. Two suspected terrorists were shot dead during a police operation in the capital. And two more surrendered to the authorities in response to an amnesty first announced by King Fahd on 23 June and elaborated on by the Interior Ministry a week later. But a concession permitting foreigners to carry weapons suggests that Riyadh is resigned to the continued threat of attacks against expatriates in the kingdom.

The statement from the Interior Ministry offered a two-month window for the handover of unlicensed weapons. King Fahd previously decreed a one-month amnesty for militants to give themselves up. Those complying will not face state punishment, although they will not be shielded from actions taken through the sharia courts by relatives of those harmed in terrorist attacks.

Two militants have so far taken the bait and surrendered. Othman al-Amri was placed at number 19 on the list of 26 most-wanted terrorist suspects, since whittled down to 11 through a combination of killings and arrests. Saaban al-Shinri, whose name does not appear on the list, did the authorities an additional favour by appearing on local television calling on fellow militants to follow his lead. 'Thanks be to God, I took the initiative and surrendered to the police,' he said. 'There, they gave me a warm welcome and, thanks be to God, a new future and a new life opened up before me.'

For those not tempted by the carrot, the stick is on display. Two militants were killed in a fierce gun battle on 30 June in the Al-Quds district of Riyadh, after police raided a terrorist safe house. One of them, Abdullah al-Rashoud, was also among the authorities' most wanted. A radical cleric, he had repeatedly urged jihad against both the Saudi royal family and Western interests in the Gulf. A government statement described Al-Rashoud as an 'ideologue' of Al-Qaeda. Large quantities of weapons were found at the terrorists' villa, and Al-Rashoud was wearing a belt packed with explosives as he attempted to flee. His removal is the second success for the security services in recent weeks, following the killing of Abdulaziz al-Muqrin on 18 June.

Al-Muqrin, believed to have been Al-Qaeda's local leader, led a group of militants who beheaded American contractor Paul Johnson in mid-June. Coming on top of a wave of attacks against Westerners in the kingdom, the incident prompted a statement from Interior Minister Prince Nayef raising the possibility of allowing expatriates to bear arms. 'In principle, Saudi citizens have the right to carry weapons after obtaining the required permission,' he said. 'Likewise, expatriates, if they feel they are in danger, can get permission to carry weapons.' For foreigners in the kingdom, his words are unlikely to prove very reassuring.

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