x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Bombing will not alter Saudi policy on militants

Saudi's interior minister says royal family will not fear opening doors to public after suicide bomb attack on his son.

The Saudi King Abdullah, left, meets Prince Mohammed bin Nayef after the attack on him in Jeddah.
The Saudi King Abdullah, left, meets Prince Mohammed bin Nayef after the attack on him in Jeddah.

JEDDAH // Saudi Arabia's interior minister Prince Naif said yesterday the royal family will not fear opening its doors to the public after a suicide bomber posing as a repentant militant blew himself up in the Jeddah home of his son, the security chief Prince Mohammed bin Naif. Prince Naif defended the kingdom's policy of enticing "repentant" militants while speaking at a gathering of businessmen in Jeddah, but he warned that combating terrorists is becoming more challenging as they are getting more advanced in their tactics.

"The security efforts and strategy that the country is following for reform will not change," Prince Naif said. "This incident will not change this policy by which we open the door for those who repent. We can't say we are done with those people [terrorists]. Things might change and increases not by the quantity but by the quality and this is more dangerous as we are arresting highly intellectual and educationally qualified people," he added.

The suicide bombing at Prince Mohammed bin Naif's residence on August 27 occurred while he was receiving a group of people who came to wish him during Ramadan. It was the first assassination attempt targeting a member of the royal family in decades and was also the first significant attack by militants in the kingdom since 2006. The prince suffered only minor injuries after the attacker blew himself up while being searched by detonating a bomb attached to his body.

The Saudi interior ministry spokesman Gen Mansur al Turki declined to comment on the identity of the bomber until the completion of the investigation. While Saudi officials have not revealed his identity, a statement on Islamist websites attributed to the Organisation of Qa'eda for Jihad in the Arabian Peninsula, identified him as Abdullah Hassan Tali' al-Asiri, also known as Abul Khair, The statement said Asiri was on a list of 85 wanted suspects issued by the Saudi government in February. Analysts said many of those on the list were in Yemen, including those who had been returned to Saudi Arabia from the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and those who had been through a Saudi militant "correction" programme.

According to the al Qa'eda statement, Asiri was flown to Jeddah from Najran near the Yemeni border to give himself up to the interior ministry. "He managed to get through all the inspections at Najran and Jeddah airports and travelled on [the prince's] private jet," the statement said. Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV said Asiri was a 23-year-old Saudi whose brother Ibrahim was also on the wanted list. Al Arabiya quoted the Yemeni foreign minister, Abu Bakr al Qirbi, saying Asiri travelled to Saudi Arabia from the Yemeni region of Mi'rib, as he wanted to hand himself in.

The Saudi and Yemeni branches of al Qa'eda merged earlier this year to form al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula. They regrouped in Yemen after a vigorous counter-terrorism campaign led by the Prince Mohammed bin Naif, who is also deputy interior minister. Saudi officials fear militants are finding refuge in lawless swathes of Yemen, whose security forces are stretched by a tribal revolt in the north and separatist unrest in the south.

On August 19 they arrested 44 militants who they say planned to carry out attacks and seized weapons and electronic detonators.
wmahdi@thenational.ae With additional reporting by Bloomberg