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memri
May 15, 2003 No.
505

Saudi Press: Initial Reactions to the Riyadh Bombings

Saudi press reports of May 14, 2003 dealt primarily with the previous day's suicide bombing attacks which were carried out in Riyadh. The following are excerpts from the Saudi press's coverage of the bombings:

Calls for Self-Examination

Following the bombings in Riyadh, some articles in the Saudi press called for criticism and reform of Saudi society. Columnist 'Adel Zaid Al-Tarifi wrote: "…What many of the official sheikhs and columnists – who do not awaken until a catastrophe occurs – say about the phenomenon is inappropriate, and does not deal with the real causes and roots of the ideology of Jihad and of accusing [others] of heresy. They suffice by describing what took place as an imported ideology, and ignore the roots imprinted in our culture… Our religious message includes many phenomena of religious extremism. A quick glance at the Friday sermons in the mosques or at the Fatwas can attest to this…"

"The Jihad groups find ideological cover in the religious message spread by the mosques and schools… But even if we set aside the main reasons why the Jihad stream was formed, there are many other, selfish reasons… The Fatwas, for example, that are issued by the leaders of the Jihad stream, and even by the sheikhs of the Islamic awakening [stream] in the past two years, have inflamed the emotions of many and provided a legitimate basis for these acts. Some Fatwas justified September 11; other Fatwas depicted these events as 'blessed [Islamic] raids.' During the Afghan and Iraq wars, the Fatwas sent many wretched young men to the hopeless battlefield…"

"The important question is this: What must be done? Many of the pulpits of education, such as the school, the home, and the mosque, need reform today. Anyone who wants to attribute what happened to economic or psychological conditions is missing the truth. These conditions can account for the behavior of criminals, but cannot account for a terror event based on religious belief. Religious terror cannot be contained, because it is part of the religious belief of those who carry it out. What can be done with people who think that anyone who does not agree with their fundamentalist path deviates from the path of righteousness? Those who carry out these deeds are not victims, but criminals…"

"These events are not newborn in our society, as some would like to present them. It is enough to mention the bombings of 1996, and of 1997. Reactions to these events were diverse. What is important regarding this most recent event is that it must not push us towards further religious extremism, as has happened in the past. Further religious extremism will lead us to a 'Saudi Manhattan.'"

"I wrote this article a day before the three bombings [and following the arrest of an Al Qa'ida cell in Saudi Arabia about a week ago], and I am sorry to say that the Saudi Manhattan has indeed happened."[1]

Similar articles featured prominently in the Saudi English-language daily Arab News. Columnist Raid Qusti wrote: "…I picked up an Arabic newspaper yesterday morning. After reading the huge headline about the three blasts that rocked Riyadh, a certain well-known writer began his exposition. And then the magical words came to the surface 'You are not Saudis. You could not have been Saudis. Your actions are despised by us all.' The exact same denial was seen in other publications. Nobody wants to admit that the perpetrators, the terrorists who carried out these heinous acts, were Saudis, many bearing well-known Saudi family names."

"We did it after September 11, denying that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals and we continue to do so now. Of course, how could the perpetrators have been Saudi from this blessed land? We Saudis would never do such things. We Saudis are special. We're superior creatures. Those who have committed these acts must have received their training abroad. It's outside influence, for sure. Oh, and the Saudi who was responsible for the blast — well, he is not an original Saudi but a foreigner who recently got Saudi [citizenship]. A pure Saudi would never do such things. What nonsense! And it has been going on forever. If, when a terrorist act happens in our country, we flatly deny that citizens of our own flesh and blood were the ones behind it, then I think that it is quite likely that we will see many such incidents in the future."

"Who are we trying to fool? Ourselves, or the international community? Neither can be fooled."

"It's about time we got our act together. The time of pretending that radicalism does not exist in Saudi Arabia is long past. The time for pretending that we are above errors and could not possibly commit terrorist attacks is no longer with us. It has got to stop. Change must come now. We as a nation cannot afford to leave it to its own slow pace. It's either now or never. It also must cover all aspects of our life — the school, the mosque, the home, the street, the media."

"How can we tell the rest of the world that we are tolerant of other religions and faiths when some of us are not even tolerant of other schools of Islamic thought?"

"How can we expect others to believe that a majority of us are a peace-loving people who denounce extremism and terrorism when some preachers continue to call for the destruction of Jews and Christians, blaming them for all the misery in the Islamic world?"

"And the media? It seems that if the media are not flatly denying, they are following the see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no evil method."

"Just a few days ago, when a large terrorist plot was foiled in Riyadh and the terrorists' hideout was raided, what we read the following day in the local media was the head of the Muslim World League denouncing the act, saying that Islam and terrorism are not linked. The sheikh said that killing innocent people was a crime in Islam. We already knew that. But we needed to hear more than that."

"We needed to hear three questions that are never asked. Like dust, they are swept under the carpet: Why are more and more Saudi young men being fed with radical ideas? Who are the people brainwashing them? How are they being radicalized?"

"And so it happens that so much dust is swept underneath the carpet that it finally bursts out in full view of everybody. At last, the truth that was hidden has come out."[2]

An editorial in Arab News titled "The Enemy Within" read: "…We have to face up to the fact that we have a terrorist problem here. Last week's Interior Ministry announcement that 19 Al Qa'ida members, 17 of them Saudis, had planned terrorist attacks in the country and were being hunted was a wake-up call — particularly to those who steadfastly refuse to accept that individual Saudis or Muslims could ever do anything evil, who still cling to the fantasy that September 11 and all the other attacks laid at the doors of terrorists who happen to be Arab or Muslim were in fact the work of the Israelis or the CIA. For too long we have ignored the truth. We did not want to admit that Saudis were involved in September 11. We can no longer ignore that we have a nest of vipers here, hoping that by doing so they will go away. They will not. They are our problem and we [are] all their targets now."

"It goes without saying that those responsible, those who poisoned the minds of the bombers, those who are planning to become bombers, must be tracked down and crushed — remorselessly and utterly. But crushing them will not be enough. The environment that produced such terrorism has to change. The suicide bombers have been encouraged by the venom of anti-Westernism that has seeped through the Middle East's veins, and the Kingdom is no less affected. Those who gloat over September 11, those who happily support suicide bombings in Israel and Russia, those who consider non-Muslims less human than Muslims and therefore somehow disposable, all bear part of the responsibility for the Riyadh bombs."

"We cannot say that suicide bombings in Israel and Russia are acceptable but not in Saudi Arabia. The cult of suicide bombings has to stop. So too has the chattering, malicious, vindictive hate propaganda. It has provided a fertile ground for ignorance and hatred to grow."

"There is much in U.S. policy to condemn; there are many aspects of Western society that offend — and where necessary, Arab governments condemn. But anti-Americanism and anti-Westernism for their own sake are crude, ignorant, and destructive [ideas]. They create hate. They must end. Otherwise there will be more barbarities."[3]

The Jihadists and Where They Come From

Other Saudi columnists focused on the argument that Islamist terror was the product of international politics. In the daily 'Okaz, Muhammad Ahmad Al-Hassani wrote: "Had we looked [at] the faces of the 19 accused in the events of September 11 – 15 of whom were Saudis – we would have seen that they were young; when we looked [at] the faces of the 19 accused [a week ago] of attempting to carry out terrorist acts in Riyadh and of possessing firearms and explosives, we would have discovered that they were the same age, and that most of them belonged to respectable families and deeply-rooted tribes that are neither part of the lower classes nor people without an identity… Many attended university. Nevertheless, the ideas in which they believe are unacceptable to any reasonable man, not to mention any man of morality and religion. Where did they get these ideas?"

"If we wanted to evade reality and make false accusations… we could say that they believe in odd ideas instilled [in the Islamic nation], and sum up by saying it was impossible to determine the source of these ideas. Or we could have blamed Afghanistan… But even if Afghanistan is blamed – as most of them went to Afghanistan and returned with extremist ideas on Jihad and heresy – an objective question arises regarding the stage prior to the trip to Afghanistan, that is, the stage during which they were prepared to go to Afghanistan. Was this a pure and innocent stage?!"

"These young men had sheikhs and sources of religious law… We are talking of a broad school of thought with many widespread branches… that believes that it is the group that will be saved [on the Day of Judgment]… this is a school of thought which was politically exploited to accomplish certain goals in the regional and international arenas – and then there was no need for it, and the time has come to get rid of it and destroy it."

"From beneath its ruins came people who believe their battle is a battle of good versus evil, truth versus falsehood… They are the product of a tragedy in whose development many elements assisted, and we hope that the price will not be paid by all. This is a tragedy requiring extensive treatment that surpasses mere reaction, even if it is claimed that this reaction is determined and powerful."[4]

Khaled Hamed Al-Suleiman also wrote in 'Okaz: "Blaming the extremist phenomenon of people who blow themselves up to harm others on our curriculum is not objective or fair, because this phenomenon is new, and it is inconceivable that it is the product of the curriculum that has served our society for half a century...!! Ideological extremism is merchandise that was never manufactured or sown in this land; it is merchandise imported to this land, duty-free, and the one who exported it got nothing for it, except the pure souls harvested by indiscriminate acts of terror…"

"Today, Saudi Arabia is paying the price for decades of tolerance and flexibility in its [religious] message, after it has worked since its inception to support Muslims everywhere in the world… No country in the world has been spared terror… and therefore we must not go overboard in analyzing these practical ramifications and present them as the elimination of the foundation of stability of our society. On the contrary; these are threats we can deal with as long as we believe that we bear responsibility towards our religion, our homeland, and ourselves. The fact that the extremists of terror reached the point of turning into human bombs attests to the tyranny of despair and frustration in their souls… There is no doubt that these are terrorists in the stages of dying, like their ideology…"[5]

Suicide Attacks and Islam

In contrast to the Arab News editorial, columnist 'Abed Khazandar sought to differentiate between different types of suicide attacks: "If I carry out suicide operations against an enemy occupying my land, killing my children, and expelling me from my home, this is legitimate Jihad. But if I carry out similar operations against innocent civilians who came to Saudi Arabia at the invitation of its government in order to serve the country and train its sons, then this is a criminal and terrorist act. This is the unjust killing that Allah forbade. In this case, taking their own lives is the equivalent of killing innocents, primarily because they caused no damage to American interests, as they claimed, but damaged their homeland…"[6]

Similarly, columnist Al-Jowhara bint Muhammad Al-Anqari wrote: "Whose interests do what we see today in our peaceful land serve? Who has an interest in this intimidation?… What is the aim? What motivates these crimes? … Is this Jihad? Is Jihad killing defenseless people who are not expecting to be attacked? Does Islam teach us to stab in the back, even if we assume that these are 'enemies?'… You want Jihad? Wage Jihad face to face with the aggressor. Don't use the tools in the hands of our enemies, and do not destroy your land with your own hands!…"[7]

Hamad bin Hamed Al-Salame wrote: "Oh foreign cave-dwellers, depart our country and go to hell!… Leave us. We are a believing people, and our government is wise… Go with all your ugliness and baseness… Go to hell. All your terrorist acts and bomb blasts will not make us bow our heads… Go to the place from whence you came, to the caves of Tora Bora, and kiss the feet of your masters who taught you to spill blood and kill innocents… They were the ones who taught you how to lie, deceive, and mislead the simple folk. Go, cowards… go to hell, or go to the heaven of your leader, who taught you sorcery in the caves of Tora Bora. Sit by his side in the dark paradise of ugly ideas and deeds… which if distributed to all the inhabitants of the Earth would suffice them until the Day of Judgment…"

"Go, idiots, and awaken all the sleeper cells… Wake them, and go with them, far from us. You have no place among us… Go to hell."[8]


[1]Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), May 14, 2003.

[2]Arab News (Saudi Arabia), May 14, 2003; http://www.arabnews.com/Article.asp?ID=26166

[3]Arab News (Saudi Arabia), May 14, 2003; http://www.arabnews.com/Article.asp?ID=26165

[4]'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), May 14, 2003.

[5]'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), May 14, 2003.

[6]'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), May 14, 2003.

[7]'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), May 14, 2003.

[8]Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), May 14, 2003.