Terrorism

Foiled terror attacks highlight solidarity in Saudi Arabia

By Sultan al-Barei in Riyadh

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Saudi forces display ammunition and explosives 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' elements intended to use to carry out attack on a restaurant in Qatif district. [Photo courtesy of Saudi News Agency]

Saudi authorities successfully blocked two terrorist attacks in August, preventing mass casualties and providing further evidence of the strong co-operation between citizens and security agencies, officials told Al-Mashareq.

The attacks targeted a mosque and a restaurant in the kingdom's Eastern Province.

"Shortly before the Maghrib [evening] prayers on Tuesday (August 23rd), security forces foiled an imminent terrorist attack on worshipers in al-Mustafa mosque in the town of Umm al-Hamam in Qatif district," the Ministry of Interior said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

A man approaching the mosque raised suspicion among security personnel, who confronted and questioned him, the statement said. He then attempted to detonate an improvised explosive device (IED), weighing four kilogrammes, that he was carrying in a sports backpack.

The man, a Pakistani national, "died en route to the hospital", the ministry said.

Sheikh Hashem Almjehd, a Shia cleric from the eastern al-Ahsa region, told Al-Mashareq that security officers stopped the man about 100 metres from the mosque’s gates.

They fired a number of bullets at him, immobilising him without causing confusion and panic among the worshipers inside the mosque, he said.

If the suicide bomber had been able to enter the mosque, he would have been able to commit a massacre, Almjehd said, for the targeted site accommodates 1,000 worshipers.

"ISIL and those who plan suicide attacks have proved to be very dimwitted, for they continue to plan attacks against Shia areas for two reasons," he said. "The first is to sow discord between Sunnis and Shia, and the second is to kill the largest number of people possible."

There is no place for discord among Saudis, Almjehd said, stressing that people of both sects in all regions are fully co-operating with the security agencies, especially near mosques, religious sites and in crowded places.

Thwarted attack on restaurant

Earlier in August, security forces foiled another terrorist attack targeting a popular restaurant the city of Tarout, also in eastern Saudi Arabia.

"On August 5th, [security personnel at] a checkpoint became suspicious of a vehicle carrying two individuals in the city of Dammam," the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

After their vehicle was stopped, the two men "appeared to be very agitated, then tried to resist and escape", but security personnel were able to apprehend them, identifying them as Saudi national Abdullah al-Ghonaimy, 27, and Syrian national Hussein Mohammed Ali Mohammed, 24.

Security forces found a "firearm and an explosives belt" weighing more than seven kilogrammes in their vehicle.

"They were recruited by elements of the 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' (ISIL) outside the country to carry out a suicide attack on al-Saif restaurant and café in the city of Tarout," the statement said. "They intended to carry out the attack at 11 p.m. on the day of their arrest."

Security plans succeed

"The foiling of the two attacks is clear evidence of the success of the security plans being implemented in the Saudi street to maintain security and pursue elements of terrorist groups," said retired Saudi army officer and military attaché Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Shehri.

"There is no room for failure or a breakdown in the security system in this matter," he told Al-Mashareq.

The solidarity between citizens and security agencies is one of the reasons these attacks were uncovered, he said, noting that Saudis have become increasingly aware they are being targeted by extremist groups such as ISIL.

Saudis realise that reporting any suspicious movement or person could save the lives of dozens of innocent civilians, both Saudis and foreign nationals, he said.

"The kingdom is in an open war against terrorism at this time," al-Shehri said, adding that uncovering individual suicide attacks, known as "lone wolf" attacks, is one of the most difficult security tasks.

The ability to thwart these attacks without civilian casualties demonstrates the high level of professionalism among the Saudi security forces, he said.

Saudi Police Col. Jamal al-Nukhaifi told Al-Mashareq the arrest of foreign fighters indicates that fewer Saudi youth are being entrapped by ISIL recruiters.

This is a positive outcome of the efforts of Saudi social and religious institutions, which are working to spread the truth about terrorists and their ideas, he said.

"The uncovering and foiling of the attacks is the most powerful counter-propaganda against the group, which has no aim but to shed the blood of innocents," he said.

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