Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Quick thoughts on anti-Shi'ism and the future of jihadism in Saudi Arabia

I’ve been waiting for those who know more about jihadism in Saudi Arabia to discuss this, but since I can’t spot much of a discussion going on, I’ll take a hesitant dip.

The ‘General Deputy’ (alnaib al-‘am) for ‘Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’, Abu Sufyan al-Azdi, released a 16 minute audiotape a couple of days ago.

Two things struck me about what he said:

-He addressed Mullah Omar as ‘Prince of the Faithful’, he did not address his salutations to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.

-He cited two local issues that incensed him: recent Shi’a uppityness, and women’s rights. The House of Saud is being depicted as powerless or unwilling to put Shi’as and women in their place.

Al-Azdi provides the first jihadist response to the events of February 20 in the Baqee’a cemetery of Medina, when Shi’a kids tried to ‘steal’ the soil from the grave of Umm al-Baneen (one of Ali’s wives, the mother of Abbas who died alongside his half-brother Hussein in Karbala) in order to be blessed by the soil, the 'odiousness' of which the Wahhabis built their whole ideology upon. Among other things that happened on that day (or series of days…someone please correct my timeline), this led to a crackdown by the Saudi ‘Religious Police’ on Shi’a pilgrims in Medina (which al-Azdi lauds), and it then set off confrontations in the Shi’a strongholds of the Eastern Province.

The Wahhabi establishment is indignant at what seems to be a sudden spike of Shi’a assertiveness, coming as it does with a backdrop of officially sanctioned anti-Shi’a agitation as relates to Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.

The jihadists will seize upon this sentiment to attack Shi’as, for them to attack women will not go down as well with popular opinion.

Without going into all the analysis, I’d like to posit two possible scenarios:

-There will be two ‘Al-Qaeda’ affiliates operating in Saudi Arabia over the next couple of years: one following Al-Qaeda-HQ (Mullah Omar, Bin Laden and Zawahiri), and another following the strain of jihadism unleashed by Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi. They will have two varying (but not exclusive) operating styles: al-Azdi’s guys operating along classic Taliban-like guerrilla lines from rugged terrain where there is sympathy for the fighters, such as the mountains of ‘Asir. Al-Azdi is from ‘Asir (name: Sa’id Ali Jabir al-Ikhtheim al-Shehri, from the Mdaneh village near Al-Namass), and I believe he was picked for a top role specifically to give the people of ‘Asir a feeling that one of their own is in command. They will use anti-Shi’a agitation to their advantage, but it will be expressed by assassinating Shi’a luminaries; old-style jihadists are still queazy about slaughtering Shi'a laypersons.

-The Zarqawist strain, which pioneered the use of sectarianism as a quick burning fuel to power the engine of jihad, will go for mass killings of Shi’as: bombings, random beheadings, …etc. The Zarqawists will follow their successful model (in Iraq) for urban insurgency, using anti-Shi’a violence to open up margins of chaos in which they can outmaneuver the Saudi security forces. Their loyalty will be to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, and the Iraqi jihad, which puts them at a ‘populist’ disadvantage because al-Azdi’s outfit has many more Saudi luminaries (such as Bin Laden) in its hierarchy, earning more popular sympathy. But that will be a regional issue: I see the Zarqawists making more inroads with the proto-jihadists of Nejd, and the small towns there, while the al-Azdi types will be more comfortable in ‘Asir and near the border areas with Yemen. Which means that the Zarqawists will have easier access to Shi’a targets, whereas the al-Azdi’s may turn their energies against the Ismailis of Najran and the border areas, who won’t resonate as much with a public that wants to see reprisal attacks on Shi’as (…the Ismailis aren’t that compelling of an enemy, since the Shi’as can always be tied to Iranian hegemony across the Gulf).

Final note: I really hope that intelligence agencies are making use of wikimapia.org because it is full of useful info that only locals would know, for example, if one sniffs around the entries (made by whoever wishes to do so) in the villages around al-Shehri's home, one can spot lots of military titles preceding the personal names. Such info raises interesting questions: why is a cluster of villages that evidently benefits from the largesse and patronage of the Saudi state producing jihadists?


Anonymous amagi said...


WSJ reports today the possible (probable?) capture of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi... do you have any inside scoop on this?

7:57 AM, April 23, 2009

Anonymous Dick said...

ditto amagi.

If your prediction of a Zarqawist faction loyal to al-Baghdadi is (was?) correct, this sounds like pretty good news. Assuming it's true.

9:32 AM, April 23, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...


Nuff respect for your writing.

I follow Saudi AQ developments reasonably closely and am surprised at your confidence in asserting these lines of development. They suggest a concerted deterioration in security that does not quite fit with the sleepy post-Muqrin years, despite Yemen's development as an extremely useful rearguard.

I will keep following to see your angle on events emerging in relation to this developing theme, and thanks for your writing.

7:02 AM, April 27, 2009

Blogger Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي said...

Dear anonymous,

Yes, and that's why I deferred to those who follow it more closely. But what I'm doing is projecting and extrapolating: if the jihadists gain momentum in SA, and if the state cedes spheres of chaos to them, then what form (tactical, ideological, strategic) of jihadism would emerge?

Just something to ponder, in case the Saudi state is rendered incapable of stemming jihadism.



12:31 PM, April 27, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nibras, in my excitement to get to the meat of your post i skimmed over your opening lines! forgive my haste! i believe the Saudis have it quite well sewn up, sufficient to avoid any spheres of chaos being ceded...although Yemen is one of those and the border porous...best..

6:18 AM, April 29, 2009

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