World View: After ISIS Terrorist Attack, Saudis Face Conflict Between Stability and Reforms

AP Photo/Saudi Press Agency

This morning’s key headlines from

  • ISIS claims responsibility for major terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia
  • As ISIS grows, Saudis face conflict between stability and reforms

ISIS claims responsibility for major terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia

Aftermath of bombing of Shia mosque in al-Qadeeh on Friday (AFP)
Aftermath of bombing of Shia mosque in al-Qadeeh on Friday (AFP)

A suicide bomber entered a Shia mosque in the village of al-Qadeeh (Qatif) in eastern Saudi Arabia on Friday when it was packed with worshippers during Friday prayers. He detonated his vest, killing 21 people and wounding dozens, in the worst terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia since 2003.

The Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh) claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement that said it would not rest until all Shias were driven from the Arabian Peninsula.

Saudi Arabia has declared ISIS to be a terrorist organization. When the Saudi branch of ISIS was formed in November, ISIS leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi declared war on the country. He did not refer to it as Saudi Arabia, since this is a name derived from the ruling tribe, the al-Saud, whose authority ISIS does not accept. Instead he called it “the land of Haramayn,” the land of the two holy places, meaning Mecca and Medina.

In April, Saudi Arabia arrested 93 people suspected of belonging to ISIS, and foiled several plots, according to the interior ministry. Daily Star (Lebanon) and BBC (14-Nov-2014) and BBC (28-Apr)

As ISIS grows, Saudis face conflict between stability and reforms

The new suicide bombings at the Shia mosque in al-Qadeeh once again sharpen the conflict in Saudi Arabia between the conflicting needs for reforms and stability. Saudi officials attempt to modernize the countries with reforms such as giving women additional freedoms and rights, but these reforms bring riots and violence from Salafist activists in the country.

In 1979, there were two major political earthquakes in the Muslim world, with special effect on Saudi Arabia. One of them was Iran’s Great Islamic Revolution, which removed from Iran the Shah, who was an ally of both the US and the Saudis, and replaced him with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a hardline Shia Muslim who was both anti-American and anti-Saudi. The second was Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan, which pitted the Orthodox Christians against the Muslims.

Both of these events stirred strong Salafist activism in Saudi Arabia, and Saudi officials resolved their internal problems by encouraging the Salafist jihadists to travel to Afghanistan to join al-Qaeda to fight the Russians. Osama bin Laden became leader of al-Qaeda at this time. This worked reasonably well while the war was ongoing, but after the war ended, these jihadists returned to Saudi Arabia and demanded austere implementations of Sharia law.

A primary objective of al-Qaeda has always been to repeat Iran’s 1979 Great Islamic Revolution in a Sunni Muslim country. Al-Qaeda has attempted, and continues to attempt, to destabilize governments in countries in the Mideast, Asia and North Africa, attempting to spark an internal civil war somewhere that will result in a hardline Sunni Islamic Revolution in that country.

A major shock to the Saudis occurred with the al-Qaeda attack on America on 11-Sep-2001, for which Saudi Arabia was blamed.

This shock was topped on 12-May-2003 by “Saudi Arabia’s 9/11,” when over a dozen al-Qaeda linked suicide bombers attacked compounds in Saudi Arabia’s capital city Riyadh, killing 35 people, wounding hundreds. This attack brought home to the Saudis that jihadist terrorist was an existential threat to Saudi Arabia itself.

Friday’s attack by ISIS in al-Qadeeh is the worst terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia since the 2003 attack. For Saudi Arabia’s new king, Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, the attack is a threat to his crown and his country, and heightens the concern about the growing power of ISIS. BBC (Nov 2014) and CNN (Nov 2003)

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Saudi Arabia, al-Qadeeh, Qatif, Islamic State / of Iraq and Syria/Sham/the Levant, IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, Iran, Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini, Russia, Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud
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