Perceptions as to the war on terrorism in Saudi Arabia took a knock with the news of a series of armed confrontations during the month of April. The first of these, the bloodiest in a two-year struggle between al-Qaeda and government forces, was a three day exchange beginning on April 3 at al-Rass, a small town in the al-Qassim region some 200 miles north of the Saudi capital Riyadh. Government reports spoke of 18 al-Qaeda fatalities, including a number of those on the most wanted list, in particular Sa'ud al-Utaybi and the Moroccan Abd al-Karim al-Majati, the presumed mastermind of the March 2004 Madrid train bombings. The second clash took place in Mecca on April 21 during which two mujahideen and two policemen were killed, targeted by rocket-propelled grenades. On the same day a third incident occurred at the Red Sea port city of Jeddah, resulting in the arrest of two militants.
However, another indication, just as telling, was the reappearance on the web on April 27 of the al-Qaeda web magazine Sawt al-Jihad (Voice of Jihad), the ideological periodical for the Peninsular mujahideen. Publication of all Sawt al-Jihad periodicals had been interrupted last October, and it was assumed that this was an indication of the difficulties the mujahideen were facing in the increasingly efficient security environment of the Kingdom. The appearance of issue no. 29, therefore, comes as a slap in the face to the regime.
The theme of the 50-page edition, entitled al-Samidun (The Steadfast), is as expected one of ‘we're still here'. It dedicates much of its contents to elucidating and explaining the events of April's clashes with the authorities. Whether already planned before the confrontations, or as a homage, the magazine contains articles penned by some of those involved, including an editorial by Sa'ud al-Utaybi and an article with the sarcastic title Qadayna ala al-Irhab (We have put an end to terrorism). Here al-Utaybi pours scorn on the claims of the Saudi authorities to have eliminated jihad in the Kingdom as mere "daydreams". He claims that their standard by which victory is judged differs from that of the government. "Whatever we have suffered in the Arab Peninsula and elsewhere," Al-Utaybi affirms, "let the Tyrant know that our war throughout the world is one single war, beginning with his master the Americans wherever they may be, and not ending until all the thrones of Tyrants are cast down." Al-Utaybi ends with a call for more youths to join the jihad. To those who are unable to do so in the Peninsula he asks what prevents them from making their way to Iraq or other fronts? "Or for those who cannot join a front line, what stops them from sniping at Americans and killing the Crusader or Apostate enemies of God at home?"
The section "Observations: Events in the Eyes of the Mujahideen" gives an extended treatment of the April events and provides the full list of casualties and detainees (in some cases for the first time, and pointedly correcting the misinformation it claims is being put out by the government). The fatalities it lists as the following:
- Sa'ud bin Hamud al-Utaybi
- Nayif bin Abd al-Aziz al-Awshan
- Karim bin al-Tahami al-Majati (an interview with whom is to appear in the following edition) and his 11-year old son Adam.
- Fawwaz bin Mufaddi al-Enezi
- Majid bin Muhammad bin Sa'id al-Qahtani
- Sa'd bin Muhammad al-Uqayyil
- Mut'ib al-Maqati al-Utaybi
- Nawaf bin Nayif al-Hafi al-Utaybi
- Abd al-Rahman bin Abdallah al-Ju'aydan
- Faysal bin Muhammad al-Baydani al-Harbi
The magazine also lists the names of the six arrested:
- Shaikh Hamad al-Humaydi
- Salih bin Abd al-Aziz al-Jum'a
- Sa'd bin Salama al-Enezi
- Adil bin Sa'd al-Mutayri
- Zayn bin Jadid al-Bahiji
- Salih bin Abd al-Rahman al-Shamsan
The chapter al-Samidun wa–Ashab al-Rass (The Steadfast Ones and the People of al-Rass) give the mujahideen's take on the April 3-5 events, linking it fancifully with the al-Rass of the Qur'an who were destroyed for turning against God's messengers of warning. The basic purpose of the article is to turn the mujahideen's ‘defeat' into a victory and belittle the achievement of the authorities.
This is followed by a biography of one of the above arrestees, Shaikh Hamad al-Humaydi, an important mujahid ideologue whose loss will be felt. The homage continues with one of his essays urging jihad, supported, as is customary, by Qur'anic quotations and quotes from classic Muslim scholars who supported militant jihad.
The Islamic law theme is continued with a treatise by Abdullah bin Nasir al-Rashid on those considered to have immunity from conflict, dealing with the thorny subject of treatment of the Ahl al-Kitab (those other ‘People of the Book', i.e. Jews and Christians) and the issue of Dhimma (‘protected people', those subservient to Muslims).
The founder of the Peninsular mujahideen Yusuf al-Ayyiri (killed in June 2003), reappears in a lengthy article, which once again makes the point of the need for mujahid youths not to bother to seek permission from their parents for such a sacred duty, and addresses a homily to parents enjoining them not to seek to prevent their sons from enlisting. This is then bolstered by a question and answer chapter discussed by Abdullah bin Nasir al-Rashid on fatwas on Jihad and Shari'ah.
A couple of interesting points also appear in the text. One is an appeal for sympathizers not to misuse the Voice of Jihad name to front their audio publications, since it implies erroneous connection with the Peninsular mujahideen. The other is a set of detailed warnings and instructions on precautions to take when attempting to communicate with the editorial staff: not to use a known phone line, make sure to use a proxy whenever possible, avoid mentioning any information which might identify the correspondents or their whereabouts.
The Voice of Jihad alternated publication with the Mu'askar al-Battar (al-Battar Training Camp) periodical, which provided materials of a more military and training application. It will be interesting to see if the Mu'askar also makes its reappearance shortly, as some gauge of future militancy in the Kingdom.
Stephen Ulph is a Senior Fellow of The Jamestown Foundation and editor of Terrorism Focus.