U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Terrorism 2006 - Saudi Arabia

The Government of Saudi Arabia continued to experience a mix of successes and setbacks in its efforts to combat terrorism. Government security forces conducted successful operations against terrorist cells, capturing or killing large numbers of wanted terrorist suspects, as well as members of their support networks. The government has made some progress in other aspects of its counterterrorism effort, such as financing and education, but it still has significant ground to cover to address these issues.

Saudi efforts suffered setbacks with prison breaks and an attack that led to the discovery of extensive support networks in the Kingdom. Prison escapes occurred in March at the al-Kharj prison and in July from al-Malaz jail in Riyadh. On February 24, a Saudi-based AQ cell conducted a suicide attack utilizing vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices on Saudi Aramco's Abqaiq oil stabilization and processing facility near Dammam, which resulted in the death of two security guards and several of the bombers.

Saudi security forces achieved several successes, both in response to these attacks and independently of them. Saudi security forces killed or captured all of the members of the Abqaiq cell and all but three of the Maraz prison escapees. On August 21, five wanted terrorists surrendered in response to government assurances in the media that they would receive mitigated sentences. In December, the government announced the capture during the previous three months of 136 suspected terrorists who were involved in terrorist support networks in the Kingdom.

The Saudi government initiated several programs to support its counterterrorism efforts and bolster its campaign against extremists. King Abdullah created a special security court, the Court of the Divergent, to prosecute terrorist suspects. Interior Minister Prince Nayif gave public assurances that the Court would not be a military tribunal, but would conform to existing judicial practices and law. Additionally, the government began planning a border security system, including fences and sensors, to prevent infiltration of terrorists or terrorist funding into the kingdom. In December, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit reiterated its calls to criminalize terrorism, and called for a comprehensive effort against terrorism to include intellectual, social, and educational efforts.

The Saudi government moved to monitor and enforce its anti-money laundering and terrorist finance laws, regulations, and guidelines. However, it still had not established a High Commission for Charities. As in many countries in the Middle East, there was still an over-reliance on suspicious transaction reporting to generate money laundering investigations. Saudi Arabia's unwillingness to publicly disseminate statistics regarding money laundering prosecutions impeded the evaluation and design of enhancements to the judicial aspects of its anti-money laundering system. The Saudi government did not subject Saudi international charities to the same government oversight as domestic charities. In August, the UN 1267 Sanctions Committee designated the International Islamic Relief Organization's (IIRO) branches in Indonesia and the Philippines, and the Kingdom's Eastern Province Branch Director, Abdulhamid Al-Mujil.

In late 2005, the government enacted stricter regulations on the cross-border movement of money and precious metals. Money and gold in excess of $16,000 must be declared upon entry and exit from the country. While the regulations were effective immediately, Customs has not issued new cash declaration forms, and therefore has not yet been able to enforce the current regulation.

In the cultural arena, official visits by a number of U.S. officials, including Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom John Hanford, highlighted the government's efforts to remove references in textbooks that called for violence against non-Muslims and Muslims of different sects. The government also initiated the National Campaign to Counter Terrorism, which included publications, lectures, and workshops intended to educate school-age girls and boys about the evils of terrorism. To promote tolerance, the government began revising curricula and teaching methods, screening and reevaluating existing teachers, improving selection of future teachers, and better monitoring of teachers.

The government continued to require religious leaders to attend courses designed to eradicate extremist ideology in the mosques and monitor mosque sermons to promote tolerance and eliminate extremism. Several religious leaders were fired or subjected to punitive actions for failure to abide by government instructions to avoid provocative speeches against non-Muslims and non-Sunni Muslims. In previous years in some mosques, a second preacher would appear after the main preacher during the Friday prayer and speak provocatively against Jews, Americans, or non-orthodox Muslims. This practice is less prevalent now, due in large part to the government's efforts to combat extremism in the mosques.

The Saudi government remained engaged in its efforts to root out terrorists and their support networks in the Kingdom, but continued to face difficulties in combating the appeal of AQ ideology. Despite significant efforts and successes in the counterterrorism realm, Saudi security forces continued to discover new terrorist networks in the Kingdom. The Saudi government will need to further address the social and religious underpinnings that sustain the Saudi form of Islamic extremism.


This 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.