by N Janardhan
(IPS) DUBAI --
suicide blasts in Saudi Arabia are not only the first backlash after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, but a probable precursor to more violent and restive times ahead in the Middle East, analysts say.
Immediately after the May 12 blasts, which killed at least 34 people and injured nearly 200 others, U.S. and other officials said the attacks bore the mark of the al-Qaeda network and its leader Osama bin Laden, who Washington says is behind the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
The blasts also came in the wake of threats of attacks in Gulf countries made by al-Qaeda, including an e-mail message sent Saturday to the Saudi Arabia-based magazine 'Al Majalla'.
"It is wrong to believe that the U.S. military victory in Iraq in the name of 'war against terrorism' will deter Islamist groups. Rather it may increase retaliation to avenge the death of innocent Iraqis, according to political analyst Dubai-based Inad Khairallah.
'These attacks will recur each time Washington attempts to humiliate Muslim countries, thereby encouraging Islamists," he points out.
Many Arabs also see a link between the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the Saudi attacks. "The killing of civilians is wrong. If we condemn the death of innocent people in Saudi Arabia, how can we ignore the United States killing hundreds of civilians in Iraq? Violence breeds violence," asks Mohammed Qattan, a student in Dubai.
Messages over the past months by al-Qaeda members indicate that they plan to focus on U.S. targets in the Gulf rather than export activities and that apart from targeting U.S. and installations, it is also targeting countries in the region.
"With all the experience of guerrilla warfare it has gained in Afghanistan and Chechnya, Al Qaeda will move the battle to the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula, and air bases, warships and military bases will become targets," said an e-mail message sent to 'Al Majalla'.
An earlier e-mail sent on Apr. 7, which was not published, hinted at the promises of further revenge against both governments. "We are preparing for an intensive strategic course to make America pay for its invasion of Iraq. We are prepared to hit America as well as other targets... this is how we will liberate Iraq."
Monday's attacks also indicate the opening up of another front in al-Qaeda's ideological battle -- challenging the Saudi royals, apart from adding fuel to a latent leadership discord between two factions of the nearly 10,000 princes.
A senior Saudi security official was quoted last week as saying that al-Qaeda had been planning attacks targeting the Saudi royal family. He told 'Arab News' newspaper that the attacks were directly ordered by bin Laden and had as prime targets Defence Minister Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, and his brother, Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz.
On Sunday, a Saudi Islamist group that officials say is linked to al-Qaeda issued a statement accusing Saudi authorities of "taking the side of the aggressors" and demanding that Muslims "spill the blood" of Saudi officials.
The underlying anger against the Saudi royals for allowing the United States to set up base in the kingdom -- which hosts Islam's holiest sites -- after the 1991 Gulf War, has been echoed many times in the past, most prominently by bin Laden.
But that Monday's bombing targets included the Vinnell residential compound, which housed U.S. ex-military personnel involved in training Saudi National Guards responsible for the royals' security, indicated that Riyadh and Washington's announcement on Apr. 29 ending the presence of 10,000 U.S. troops in the kingdom was not enough for the hardliners.
The attacks indicate a fresh demand seeking a complete withdrawal of U.S. personnel from Saudi soil, analysts point out.
"Ideologically it appeared okay if Islamists used terror tactics to draw the West's attention towards Middle East problems, but when the same seeks to kill Arabs and de-legitimize the regional governments, it is ominous," Kuwaiti independent political analyst Ali Jaber al-Sabah said.
It is now likely that the Saudis will come down heavily on extremists. "The Saudi radical group Ikhwan had also reared its head with an anti-U.S. message and rebelled against King Fahd's father, Abdul Aziz al-Saud. But they were neutralized. It is likely that history will repeat itself," added Ali Jaber.
The Saudi attacks also raise other questions -- the future of the Saudi-U.S. relationship and the threats to oil installations, which are the kingdom's economic lifeline and bargaining card in foreign policy.
But there may also well be a renewed emphasis on social, political and economic reforms in the Middle East. Part of the popular disgruntlement has also been attributed to lack of political freedom, and rising unemployment and poverty.
A Saudi journalist said on the condition of anonymity that the attacks have been rejected by a majority of the people in the kingdom, but that frustration over Washington's behavior in the Middle East -- and its failure to become a fair broker in the Israel-Palestinian conflict -- blunts opposition to extremism.
"The fact that the United States supports Israel against innocent Palestinians, and that the Saudi government is doing little to help that cause and is hesitant to carry out domestic reforms, is making it hard for the people to take a clear stand against the Islamists," he explained.
Khairallah said: "Al-Qaeda wants to establish a Taliban-style Islamic state in Saudi Arabia, but for reforms to succeed in the region, they must fall somewhere in between what the hardliners and the United States are seeking."
"Rather than use force alone to counter terrorism, a carrot-and-stick policy of political-military solution is better advised by the United States and other concerned countries," Khairallah added.
May 15, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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