Country Reports on Terrorism 2008 - Saudi Arabia

The Saudi government continued to build its counterterrorism capacity and efforts to counter extremist ideology. In the first six months of the year, the Ministry of Interior arrested 701 militants who had allegedly been planning to attack oil fields and other vital installations. In large scale sweeps, the Kingdom confiscated weapons, ammunition, sophisticated electronics equipment, and money. As of late summer, 520 of these suspects were still being held, awaiting trial on terrorism charges. The Saudis are developing a facilities security force following an unsuccessful attack in 2006 against one of the world's largest oil processing plants in the Eastern Province.

The Government of Saudi Arabia has announced terrorism trials for 991 individuals indicted on various terrorism-related charges including terrorist finance. After deciding to not establish a specific court for terrorist trials, the Ministry of Interior determined that trials will be conducted in a Sharia court, following established court procedures, as part of a strategy to confront terrorist ideologies within the existing system. The militants were divided into two groups: those who were directly involved in attacks and those who provided refuge, transportation, and funds. The General Court of Riyadh set up a 10-member bench to look into the initial case of 70 terrorist suspects, which included Saudis and foreigners. The court sessions will be restricted to the judges, lawyers, and the accused, which has led to criticism over the lack of transparency.

The Saudi government continued to make strides in its public counterterrorism programs. In July, the Ministry of Interior issued a statement demanding citizens remain vigilant to extremist activities, even within their own families, and report "deviant" behavior. In response, the Grand Mufti, Shayh Abd-al-Aziz Al al-Shaykh, issued a statement in support of the state's position on terrorism and warned citizens to be smart and not fall for the lies and deception of these people [terrorists] who are pretending to be good.

In an effort to combat terrorist ideologies, the Ministry of the Interior announced the arrest of five individuals, two of whom were not Saudi, for disseminating terrorist propaganda on Internet sites in August. The five individuals were charged with seeking to recruit young people to AQ thought and mobilize them to action in Saudi Arabia or abroad. From a technical standpoint, the Ministry noted that the websites were registered outside of Saudi Arabia and that the individuals owning the websites made frequent changes to the sites in a way that made it difficult for the Saudi government to shut down.

On a more basic level, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs launched an extensive media campaign to educate young Saudis on the "correct" 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 article 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 2008, the government continued to monitor the licensed imams and looked for instances of "illegal sermons."

Saudi Arabia continued to make progress in combating money laundering and terrorism finance. The Saudi Capital Authority Market stressed that financial brokerage companies be bound to the same law combating money laundering and terrorism financing when designing swap agreements with foreign investors. 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 September, the Ministry of Social Affairs announced the enforcement of rules and regulations on charitable organizations aimed at preventing terrorist finance. During Ramadan in September, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs tightened controls on charitable contributions. This was in response to a 2007 incident, where seven terrorist cells were apprehended after raising 20 million Saudi Riyals from donors who thought the money was for legitimate charitable uses. The Government has stated its intent to establish a Charities Commission to ensure rigorous implementation of existing terrorist financing regulations.

The United States continued to urge the Government of Saudi Arabia to pursue and prosecute terrorist financiers more vigorously. Last year's new cash courier regulations resulted in several individuals being investigated.

Since the inception of the government-run rehabilitation program for those with extremist ideologies, a number of rehabilitated extremists have been reintegrated into Saudi society. The program incorporates scholars, intellectuals, and psychologists with the goal of helping participants "overcome" their extremist viewpoints. The programs generally run for three to six months, and accommodate 20 individuals at a time. According to a Ministry of Interior study, foreign fighters were not typically Sharia experts and fell victim to the extremist cause by exposure to video, film, and other material that urged them to "sympathize" with people in Afghanistan and Iraq.


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.