Last Updated: Thursday, 26 May 2016, 08:56 GMT

2009 Country Reports on Terrorism - Saudi Arabia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 5 August 2010
Cite as United States Department of State, 2009 Country Reports on Terrorism - Saudi Arabia, 5 August 2010, available at: [accessed 26 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The Saudi government continued to build its counterterrorism capacity and strengthened efforts to counter extremist ideology. Over the course of the year, Saudi authorities arrested numerous suspected al-Qa'ida (AQ) militants, uncovered several AQ arms caches, continued to develop its new facilities security force, implemented improved border security measures, and tightened laws aimed at combating terrorist financing. In addition, prominent officials and religious leaders publicly criticized extremist ideology. Although Saudi Arabia's capacity to deal with internal threats remained strong, continued instability in Yemen gave al-Qa'ida in the Arabia Peninsula (AQAP) a base to continue targeting Saudi Arabia.

The country suffered a high profile attack on August 27 – the first since 2005 – when the Deputy Minister of the Interior for Security Affairs, Prince Mohammed bin Nayif, survived an assassination attempt. The prince, who spearheads the Kingdom's counterterrorism operations, invited AQAP member Abdullah al-Asiri to his palace to personally accept his surrender. As a show of good faith, Prince Mohammed asked that al-Asiri be excluded from the usual security screening. Approximately 40 minutes after his arrival at the palace, al-Asiri detonated explosives hidden on his person. The prince suffered minor injuries and the would-be assassin was killed in the explosion. There were no other casualties. Following the attack, Second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Prince Nayif bin Abdulaziz and other officials publicly re-affirmed the Kingdom's commitment to its counterterrorism strategy.

Saudi authorities focused public attention on a list of key extremists located outside the Kingdom and made several terrorism-related arrests. On February 2, the Saudi Ministry of Interior (MOI) issued a list of the 85 most wanted suspects located outside of the Kingdom, 83 Saudi nationals and two Yemenis, including AQAP senior leaders and others tied to AQ across the Middle East and South Asia. On August 19, the MOI announced the arrests of 44 AQ suspects throughout the country and the discovery of large weapon caches. On October 13, police shot and killed two Saudis with links to AQ at a checkpoint in Jizan. The men entered the country disguised in women's clothing and, according to police reports, the vehicle was loaded with weapons and explosives. A third man in the car was also arrested. On November 1, the MOI announced the discovery of another large weapons cache that was located using the information they obtained from interviews with the AQ-linked suspects arrested in August.

Saudi citizens were also arrested on terrorism charges in neighboring Yemen. In February, Yemeni police arrested seven Saudi citizens with AQ links on suspicion of planning attacks against Saudi Arabia. Also in February, Saudi citizen Mohammed al-Harbi, a former Guantanamo detainee and terrorist rehabilitation program graduate who later appeared in AQAP propaganda videos, surrendered to Yemeni authorities and was returned to Saudi Arabia.

Trials continued for more than 900 militants arrested from 2000-2008 on charges of terrorism. In July, the Ministry of Justice announced that 270 of these suspects were convicted, with sentences ranging from a few months incarceration to death.[2]

The Saudi government focused on combating extremist ideology as a key part of its counterterrorism strategy. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs (MoIA) continued its extensive media campaign to educate young Saudis on teachings of Islam in order to prevent them from becoming drawn to extremist doctrines. The campaign included messages incorporated into Friday sermons at mosques, distribution of literature and tapes, and postings on the Internet. In 2007, the Kingdom issued identification cards to imams and religious leaders to curb instances of unauthorized persons delivering Friday sermons. In 2009, the government continued to monitor these licensed imams and identify instances of "illegal sermons." On March 25, the MoIA announced that in the past five years they have dismissed 3,200 clerics for preaching intolerance.

Prominent Saudi officials and religious leaders also spoke out against extremism. For example:

  • In a Friday sermon in Riyadh following the MoI's announcement of 44 AQ related arrests in August, the Grand Mufti strongly attacked the "deviant group" responsible for past extremist operations in the Kingdom and expressed surprise that highly-educated individuals would join such a network.

  • In opening remarks delivered on behalf of King Abdullah at the Muslim World League conference held in Jeddah in November, Mecca Governor Prince Khaled al-Faisal urged Muslim scholars to "stand firm in the face of extremist ideology to prevent it from corrupting Muslim youth."

  • In September, Prince Khalid bin Sultan, Assistant Minister of Defense, told the media that there would be no compromise with extremist groups who work under the pretext of following religious principles. He also stated that extremism surrounded Saudi Arabia, and required Saudis to be on maximum alert.

Saudi Arabia continued to operate a government-run rehabilitation center for extremists. Since its inception, the program has worked to reintegrate between 200 and 300 extremists, including former Guantanamo detainees, into Saudi society. In January, two of the program's graduates, Said Ali al-Shihri and Muhammad al-Harbi, appeared in a propaganda video announcing the formation of AQAP in Yemen. Both men were former Guantanamo detainees. Al-Harbi later surrendered to Yemeni authorities and was remanded to Saudi Arabia. The MoI estimates recidivism rates for former Guantanamo detainees to be 25% and for all other program participants to be less than 10%.

In addition to its rehabilitation effort, the MoI continued a program of counter-radicalization within the prison system aimed at exposing the violence that extremist ideology entails. The MoI worked with specialists, clerics, and teachers to stop extremist groups from being able to find recruits in the prison system. Since its inception, 3,200 detainees have participated in 5,000 counter-radicalization meetings.

The Government of Saudi Arabia continued to take measures to strengthen its physical borders and improve its security screening processes. The Ministry of the Interior worked to increase the overall safety and security of its land, sea, and air borders by upgrading infrastructure and tightening procedures. The MOI also instituted biometric screening at airports.

Saudi Arabia continued to make progress in combating money laundering and terrorist finance. Banks must report suspicious transactions to the Financial Investigations Unit (FIU), which is part of the Ministry of Interior, and provide the Saudi Arabia Monetary Agency's Department of Banking Inspection and the Anti-Money Laundering Unit with a copy of the report. In May, the FIU was accepted into the Egmont Group, an international group of financial intelligence units, which should improve its ability to cooperate and share information with FIUs around the world.

Also in May, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency hosted the sixth annual Gulf-European Symposium on Combating Terrorism Financing. Several government bodies, including the Ministries of Social Affairs, Interior, Islamic Affairs, and the central bank continued to advise Saudis to be cautious when selecting charity groups to which they contribute. The government has also banned cash contributions to charities, required charities to seek Ministry of Interior permission before opening a bank account, and required that charities' bank accounts be in the name of the organization. Terrorist finance facilitators were among those convicted of supporting terrorism in June. Although Saudi Arabia took important steps to address hawala remittances, further vigilance is required. The United States urged the Government of Saudi Arabia to pursue and prosecute terrorist financiers vigorously.

[2] The convicted suspects are in custody and serving jail terms, but U.S. Embassy Riyadh was not aware of any executions carried out.

Search Refworld