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Fallujah, Iraq's Tora Bora
By B Raman

Since 1995, when the first incident of jihadi terrorism took place in Saudi Arabia, there have been 25 acts of terrorism there. [1] 

Only four of the 25 terrorist strikes, including the one of December 6 this year, were in Jeddah. The rest took place elsewhere, mostly in
Riyadh, in the center of the country, or nearby. The first incident of jihadi terrorism in Jeddah took place this August, when terrorists, suspected to be from al-Qaeda, opened fire on a vehicle of the US Consulate without causing any fatal casualties. This was followed by the murder of a Frenchman in September and an incident of exchange of fire between the Saudi security forces and a group of terrorists in November, in which the security forces claimed to have killed one.

At least nine people were killed in a daring attack by a group of jihadi terrorists on the beachfront building of the US Consulate at Jeddah on December 6. According to official accounts of the incident from Saudi authorities, the terrorists followed an official consulate car into the complex, firing guns and hurling grenades to force entry. No US diplomats were killed, but the jihadi terrorists burned the US flag and set fire to one of the buildings. A Saudi official was quoted as saying, "The attackers took a chance while a consular car was going in, so the door was open. They threw grenades at the guards at the gate and stormed through. They had no access inside the consulate itself as they were kept to the perimeter."

According to Saudi authorities, five non-American employees of the consulate and four of the terrorists, who managed to penetrate the outer security perimeter of the consulate, were killed during the terrorist strike and the subsequent exchange of fire with the Saudi security forces, who intervened to rescue those taken hostage by the terrorists. While the Saudi reaction after the terrorists had penetrated the consulate was swift and effective, the authorities were apparently clueless about the presence of the terrorists in Jeddah and their careful preparations for the attack.

This was the second attack directed against a US diplomatic mission abroad since the explosions outside the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam in 1998. The earlier one, in the form of a car bomb, was staged by the Pakistani dregs of the International Islamic Front (IIF), who had escaped from Tora Bora in Afghanistan, outside the US Consulate in Karachi in June 2002, but it failed to cause any damage to the consulate or any loss of American lives.

A Saudi Interior Ministry statement released after last week's incident said that five members of a "deviant group" - its term for al-Qaeda sympathizers - hurled bombs as a diplomatic vehicle was driving into the compound, set fire to one of the buildings and attacked people on the site. Saudi security forces rushed to the scene and surrounded the terrorists, killing three on the spot and wounding two others, one of whom later died in a hospital.

The statement identified three of the slain terrorists as Fayez bin Awwad al-Jeheni, Eid bin Dakhilallah al-Jeheni and Hassan bin Hamed al-Hazmi, none of whom was on a most-wanted list of suspected al-Qaeda sympathizers issued by the authorities a year ago. "The identity of the fourth, who is wounded, must not be divulged for the sake of the [public] interest, and procedures are under way to establish the identity of the fifth person, who died in the incident," the statement said. According to it, all the four identified terrorists were Saudi nationals.

The responsibility for the attack has been claimed by al-Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula, which had also claimed responsibility for previous terrorist strikes this year in Saudi Arabia. A statement disseminated by it through the Internet said, "Your brothers of the squadron of the martyr Abu Annas al-Shami stormed one of the bastions of the American crusaders in the Arabian Peninsula, in Jeddah. They were able to withdraw from the consulate and reach a safe place, after losing two martyrs, who covered the retreat of the mujahideen, three of whom were wounded and are being treated. Your brothers managed to kill nine people in the consulate, including two Americans and seven soldiers of the tyrannical [Saudi] regime, and wounded dozens more."

It also said they seized "telecommunications equipment, light arms, sophisticated electronic equipment and important documents" and promised to release more details of what it called "Operation Conquest of Fallujah". "This operation is one of the series of operations carried out by the al-Qaeda organization in their war against the crusaders and the Jews to chase the infidels out of the Arabian peninsula," it said.

Abu Annas al-Shami is the kuniyat (assumed name) of Omar Youssef Jumah, a Jordanian cleric said to be of Chechen origin, who was reportedly killed in a US air strike in the Baghdad region on September 22. He was projected as the spiritual guide of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (Unity and Holy War) group, which was active in the Fallujah area until November. He had entered Iraq from Jordan last year and had in a fatwa (edict) justified the beheading of hostages by the members of the group.

From time to time, Saudi authorities claim to have broken the back of the terrorists. Despite this, the anti-regime and anti-US motivation of the terrorists remains as strong as ever. As in Pakistan, in Saudi Arabia, too, there have been reports of sections of the intelligence and security establishment being sympathetic to jihadi terrorists.

The terrorists look on Saudi Arabia as the rear base for their operations against the US-led occupation troops in Iraq. The immediate priority of all jihadi terrorist groups in the Afghanistan-Pakistan-Saudi Arabia triangle is the continued bleeding of the Americans in Iraq. As the Lashkar-e-Toiba leaders keep pointing out during their recruitment and fund-collection campaign for Iraq in the mosques and madrassas (seminaries) of Pakistan, Iraq has provided them with an opportunity to defeat the only superpower in the world, just as they had defeated the erstwhile USSR, the other superpower, in Afghanistan in the 1980s. They keep stressing that they should not miss this opportunity and that until they succeed they should focus all their attention on Iraq. Even though the overthrow of the Saudi regime and the capture of power in Saudi Arabia continues to be an important aim of theirs, they give it second priority after Iraq.

The Jeddah incident indicates that Fallujah has become the Tora Bora of Iraq. Toward the end of 2001, US troops thought they had cornered Osama bin Laden and his followers in al-Qaeda and the IIF in the Tora Bora mountainous area of Afghanistan. After having asked the Pakistani army to seal the Pakistan-Afghanistan border effectively to prevent their escaping into Pakistan, they mounted an air and ground offensive to wipe out the jihadi terrorists.

The operation was unsuccessful. While some Pakistani and Southeast Asian members of the IIF were killed in the US air strikes, most of the Arab members of al-Qaeda, including bin Laden and his No 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and a large number of the Pakistani and Southeast Asia members of the IIF managed to slip across the border into Pakistan, with the connivance of Pakistani troops. The Southeast Asian survivors escaped by sea to Bangladesh and the Pakistani and Arab jihadis dispersed into small groups and scattered across Pakistan. Some of the Arabs moved across to Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The Uzbek, Chechen and Uighur members took shelter in the South Waziristan tribal area of Pakistan adjoining the border with Afghanistan.

The dispersal of these dregs across Asia led to a prairie fire of jihadi terrorism across a wide arc in Asia, including many acts of terrorism in Pakistani territory - three of them directed against Americans, one against the French, three against Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf and one each against his Corps Commander in Karachi and his prime minister, Shaukat Aziz.

Just before the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq in March-April last year, many of these dregs - including Pakistanis belonging to the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ) and the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), Arabs belonging to al-Qaeda and other Arabs of Chechen origin who were fighting in Afghanistan as members of the Taliban - moved across to Iraq via Saudi Arabia and Iran and took up position to start a jihad against the US and allied troops - sometimes in tandem with the Iraqi resistance fighters and, more often, independently.

Though al-Zarqawi is of Jordanian origin and has been portrayed by the US as the leader of the foreign terrorists operating in Iraq, there is reason to believe that the foreign terrorists do not belong to a single organic group. A number of autonomous groups of different nationalities operate under individual leaders of the same nationality, who have remained unidentified.

Periodic US claims of successes in its counter-resistance operations directed against the Iraqi resistance fighters and foreign terrorists have been belied by the impunity and the audacity with which the terrorists and the resistance fighters have been able to operate all over the Sunni triangle and in Mosul. They have a free run of even Baghdad, with the US troops and the newly raised Iraqi army watching helplessly.

There have over the past months been an average of two suicide car bombs ever day in different parts of the Sunni triangle, which is a very large number. It speaks disturbingly of the continuing high motivation of the terrorists and resistance fighters and of the unending flow of volunteers to their ranks for undertaking suicide missions.

Well-placed Iraqi sources claim that while most of the suicide car explosions are being carried out by non-Iraqi Arabs - the majority of them Saudis, Yemenis and Arabs of Chechen origin - most of the ambushes, sabotage operations, mortar shellings into the Green Zone in Baghdad and elsewhere and attacks with hand-held weapons are being carried out by Iraqi resistance fighters, with the help of Pakistani ex-servicemen belonging to the HUM, the LET and the LEJ. According to the Iraqi sources, contrary to earlier reports, there has been no Pakistani involvement in the suicide bombings.

When the Americans invaded Fallujah last month, after air strikes and heavy-artillery shellings, they thought they had cornered a large segment of the foreign terrorists headed by Zarqawi. They had taken precautions to prevent a repeat of Tora Bora there. They had asked the authorities of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria to prevent their taking shelter in their territory and, with the help of the British and other allied troops, set up barriers to prevent them from scattering across the Sunni triangle.

Fallujah is an urban area different from the mountainous Tora Bora area of Afghanistan, which provided many caves and tunnels for shelter and escape routes across the mountains into Pakistan. The air strikes and the artillery shellings in Tora Bora were ineffective against the dregs of al-Qaeda and the IIF.

Fallujah was tailor-made for successful air strikes and artillery shellings. Despite this, Zarqawi and a large number of Iraqi resistance fighters and non-Iraqi terrorists managed to escape. While many spread across the Sunni triangle, some managed to find their way to Saudi Arabia to reinforce the ranks of al-Qaeda there, which had suffered some attrition since the beginning of the year due to killings by the Saudi security forces, captures and some surrenders under terms of an amnesty.

While the Tora Bora attack was largely improvised at short notice and was not preceded by publicity of the impending attack, the Fallujah attack was preceded by weeks of publicity about the impending operation, and this, too, enabled the terrorists and the resistance fighters to peel off in different directions even before the US offensive started.

A hard core of indigenous resistance fighters and foreign terrorists stayed behind to slow down the advance of the US troops, thereby enabling their jihadi comrades to escape. The well-placed Iraqi sources mentioned above say that the escape of some of the Saudi and Yemeni dregs into Saudi Arabia was made possible by the complicity of Saudi border guards.

While the escalation of acts of terrorism and other reprisal attacks in Mosul, Baghdad and other Sunni areas was expected consequent upon the dispersal of the dregs from Fallujah, the almost-successful attack on the US Consulate in Jeddah on December 6 by the dregs who had escaped into Saudi Arabia was unexpected.

Notes:

Year

No of attacks Fatalities
1995 1 7
1996 1 19
2000 3 1
2001 3 2
2002 2 2
2003 3 44
2004 11 40













B Raman is additional secretary (retired), cabinet secretariat, government of India, New Delhi, and currently director, Institute for Topical studies, Chennai, and distinguished fellow and convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-mail: corde@vsnl.com.

(Copyright 2004 B Raman.)



Dec 14, 2004
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