Egypt detects 680 new coronavirus cases, 49 fatalities on Saturday    Aswan halt Zamalek's winning run with 0-0 draw in Egyptian league    Sudan celebrates World Day for African and Afro-descendant Culture    BREAKING: Larry King, broadcasting giant for half-century, dies at 87    Sudan reiterates concerns over planned 2nd GERD filling without binding deal    Africa is the world's next business frontier, says AfDB's President    Britain to discuss tighter travel restrictions: BBC    Egypt's Sisi will inaugurate fish farming project in Port Said Saturday    Moscow police start detaining people before rally in support of Kremlin critic Navalny: Reuters Reporter    Saudi TV says missile or drone intercepted over Riyadh    Egypt, China agree to complete work at business district in New Capital    N.Korea sees talks as way to advance nuclear program, says US intel official    IMF urges deficit control in Tunisia even as protesters demand jobs    Swimming Australia eyes Plan B in case of Tokyo cancellation    Arsenal fan Mat Ryan delighted with loan switch to London side    Egypt reports 748 new coronavirus cases, 52 deaths on Friday    Egypt, China sign agreement to complete work at business district in New Administrative Capital    In Photos: Egypt's Sisi tours Police Academy on Friday    Egypt's parliament approves re-extending state of emergency for three months    Donald Trump says goodbye to the White House    BREAKING: Egypt resumes diplomatic relations with Qatar ending 4-year boycott    Egypt reports 899 new coronavirus cases, 58 deaths on Tuesday    Egypt's newly elected parliament reviews the government reform plan    Happy New Year Bel Araby show at The Marquee Theatre is a must go    Egypt sends medical supplies to help Jordan battle coronavirus    Egypt supports tourism, aviation sectors with EGP 5bn during COVID19 crisis    Egypt government allocates $1.6 billion to buy COVID-19 vaccines – FinMin    Egypt eyes gradual return for tourism after revenues fall to $4 bln in 2020    Seasoned Egyptian screenwriter Wahid Hamed dies at 76    Coronavirus strikes Egypt's youth team as 17 players, coach test positive    Nassef Sawiris plans to up his stake in owner of New York Knicks, Rangers    Cairo International Book Fair suspended for five months over coronavirus concerns    Egypt unveils largest archaeological discovery in 2020 with over 100 intact sarcophagi    Trump says won't blame Egypt for being ‘upset' over GERD dispute with Ethiopia    Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan to resume Nile dam talks today    Global Finance: Egypt's Tarek Amer among the world's top 20 central bank governors    The Facebook Preacher's Search for Fame, and Egypt's Economy    Egypt calls on UNSC to address oil spill risks off Yemen coast    Egypt economically strong in face of COVID-19, reforms ongoing: International Cooperation Minister    Arafa Holding reports $144,000 COVID-19-related losses in April    Egypt's efforts in Libya to activate free will of Libyan people: Al-Sisi    Hyksos campaigns were internal takeover, not foreign invaders: study    COVID-19 affects Egypt sporting clubs    COVID-19 will soon turn to seasonal like swine flu: Presidential Health Advisor    ‘Egypt's Support' coalition convenes to discuss its Senate election list    Robbery attempt leads to discovery of Ptolemaic monuments in Qena    Flouting international guidance, Ethiopia unilaterally starts filling its Nile dam    Zaha speaks out after online racial abuse    

Thank you for reporting!
This image will be automatically disabled when it gets reported by several people.

At the crossroads
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 06 - 05 - 2004

An attack on an oil refinery in Saudi Arabia poses the biggest challenge yet to the kingdom, writes John R Bradley
An attack this week on an oil refinery in Saudi Arabia in which five Westerners, two Saudis and four militants were killed, is the kingdom's worst nightmare come true. It was the first terrorist assault on a petrochemical complex in the country. It came just weeks after the first direct targeting of a government building in Riyadh, when five people died.
Reports of a Westerner's corpse being dragged through the streets of the industrial city of Yanbu, and militants firing in the air to urge others to join the fight, have horrified the Western expatriate community on whom the kingdom still largely depends to keep its vital oil industry working. Four of the Westerners killed were senior managers at the complex. The Swiss- Swedish engineering company ABB, employer of the slain Westerners, immediately announced it was evacuating all international staff and their families from Yanbu.
Meanwhile, the US State Department referred citizens to its message of 15 April, saying: "Private American citizens currently in Saudi Arabia are strongly urged to depart." Last month, the US ordered non-essential diplomats out of Saudi Arabia. Such warnings, coupled with the ever-present threat of further instability, could hurt efforts to attract international investment and diversify Saudi Arabia's oil-dominated economy.
Concerns about security have shot up since it was revealed that the Yanbu shooting was carried out by workers at the complex who had used their uniforms and passes to gain access to the guarded site. At least three of the attackers worked in the plant.
"I've changed my attitude to the Saudis I work with," said Briton Abdullah Hussein, who works at the Yanbu oil refinery. "It makes me feel very uncomfortable that the workmates I've known for years could be a possible threat to me and my family," he told Al-Ahram Weekly.
It was the third major attack on foreigners in the country. Saudi authorities have responded by saying they will crush terrorists. More than 50 died and hundreds were injured last year when Western-style compounds in Riyadh were bombed by Al-Qa'eda operatives. One of the attackers killed in the Yanbu violence was Abdullah Saud Abu Nayan Al-Sobaie -- No.10 on a list of the kingdom's 26 most-wanted terrorists. Jamal Khashoggi, adviser to the Saudi ambassador in London, said the gunmen were two brothers and their two uncles, all members of a local family.
This may be the first instance of militants having successfully attacked an oil installation, but there has long been evidence that terrorists have infiltrated the ranks of Saudi Aramco, the world's largest oil company. US intelligence alerted officials in the summer of 2002 that they had intercepted conversations about sabotage among company employees. As a result, Al- Qa'eda sympathisers who tried to blow up Ras Tanura oil terminal were arrested.
Al-Qa'eda has also infiltrated Saudi Arabia's military and security forces at the highest level, including those entrusted with the protection of Western residential compounds, American intelligence officials said after last year's 12 May Riyadh bombings. Worryingly, Yanbu residents said it took more than 90 minutes from the time they sounded the alert for security forces to finally engage the militants. The gunmen also fired on a McDonald's outlet and threw a pipe bomb at an international school.
"I think this attack signals a change in tactics. The civil war is now on in Saudi Arabia, that's for sure," prominent Saudi columnist Mohamed T Al-Rasheed told the Weekly.
A week before the Yanbu attack, Al-Qa'eda had also brought its terror to Jeddah, the city of Osama Bin Laden's birth, for the first time. Five militants were killed in a series of shoot- outs and an apparent suicide bombing. There is no small irony in the fact that the Hijaz region -- which includes both Yanbu and Jeddah -- has become a battlefield in the ruling Al-Saud's relentless confrontation with the terror network they unwittingly helped to create.
As the gateway to the annual haj, Jeddah is the Kingdom's most cosmopolitan and diverse city. Jeddah is also where Osama grew up, graduating from its local university. Located in the city are a number of financial institutions accused by the US of having funded, or provided cover for the funding of, Al-Qa'eda. The headquarters of the Saudi Bin Laden Group is just two kilometres from the spot where the Jeddah violence occurred. Arguably the birthplace of 11 September and the war on terror, with last year's events the violence came full circle.
Four of the militants killed in Jeddah were on a most-wanted list issued last year by the Ministry of Interior, a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency said, adding that the fifth suspect blew himself up.
"All of the young people here are with the government for now," said Ahmed Al-Ghamdi, a 23-year-old student at Osama's former place of study, King Abdul-Aziz University. "We are frightened to go out. We want security more than anything else," he told the Weekly.
The paradox is that while liberals in places like the Hijaz support the crackdown on Islamist radicals, they are also demanding speedier reforms, and are, in that sense, also turning against the Al-Saud. Last year, when a peaceful demonstration was planned in Jeddah to call for more democracy, the city became a virtual garrison town overnight. The army closed off whole districts, riot police lined the main streets, armed special security forces gathered outside the mosques and the secret police had cameras trained on all and sundry. Hundreds were arrested, many of whom were sentenced to prison and lashings.
"Until the government realises that peaceful demonstrators are not the same as Islamist radicals, they will not get the widespread long-term support they need," said an American expert who has lived in Jeddah for almost 20 years. "Westerners here now have their suitcases packed, ready to leave," he added.
The writer, a former managing editor of the Jeddah-based Arab News , is author of the forthcoming book Saudi Arabia Exposed: Princes, Paupers & Puritans in the Wahhabi Kingdom. His Web site is www.johnrbradley.comwww.johnrbradley.comi.

Clic here to read the story from its source.