Saudis flock to stadium in defiance after foiled ISIL plot

By Sultan al-Barei in Riyadh

Saudi security personnel guard Jeddah's al-Jawhara stadium, where they recently foiled an 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' bomb plot. [Photo courtesy of Saudi Press Agency]

Saudi security personnel guard Jeddah's al-Jawhara stadium, where they recently foiled an 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' bomb plot. [Photo courtesy of Saudi Press Agency]

An "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) plot to bomb al-Jawhara football stadium in the Red Sea port of Jeddah provides further proof the group has no qualms about killing civilians, Saudi officials told Al-Mashareq.

Investigations into a foiled plot to bomb the stadium, which is part of the King Abdullah Sports City complex, show the cell plotting the October 11th attack was directly linked to ISIL, the interior ministry said on October 30th.

They also revealed that the stadium was to be targeted with a car bomb packed with 400 kilogrammes of explosives that would have caused destruction within an impact zone of up to 1,100 metres, the ministry said.

The blast was meant to go off during a World Cup qualifying match between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the ministry said, and would have left civilians of various sects, ethnicities and nationalities dead or wounded.

Security forces arrested the cell members, who have been identified as Pakistani nationals Sulaiman Arabdeen and Farmanullah Naqshband Khan; Syrian national Hassan Abdulkareem Haj Muhammad; and Sudanese national Abdulazeem al-Tahir Abdullah Ibrahim.

"The bombing attack on al-Jawhara stadium was a major terrorist operation," said retired Saudi army officer and military attaché Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Shehri.

"Whoever planned it was well aware of the magnitude of the catastrophe that would have resulted from it and its impact on Saudi society," he told Al-Mashareq.

ISIL under pressure

The plot reflects the "pressure the group is under everywhere", al-Shehri said.

ISIL feels the need to conduct attacks of this nature "to retaliate against all the military and security operations being waged against it, not only in the kingdom, but around the entire world", he said.

"The pressures ISIL is currently feeling in Iraq and Syria and its loss of many regions and major cities are undoubtedly impelling it to move the battle outside its territory," he added.

The Jeddah plot did not succeed, he said, due to the vigilance of the security forces and intelligence agencies in Saudi Arabia and their full co-operation with all regional and international agencies.

Additionally, he said, the uncovering of the plot will move the Saudi people "to rally around the security agencies, by co-operating with them and reporting any movement by any terrorist".

Though he was not privy to the details of the investigation, he said, it is possible that a report by a member of the public was the key thread that led to the unraveling of the terrorist cell.

Targeting a popular sport

The uncovering of the terrorist plot spared the kingdom a major disaster that would have impacted thousands of families, Saudi Col. Jamal al-Nukhaifi told Al-Mashareq.

The stadium has a spectator capacity of more than 60,000, he said, not including the other stadiums, gyms and sports facilities in the complex.

The parking lot where the bomb was to have been placed has a 20,000-vehicle capacity, he added, "so had the car bomb exploded, it would have destroyed thousands of cars in its vicinity and put the number of dead and injured into the thousands".

Football is one of the most popular sporting activities in the kingdom, and the stands in the stadiums often are full for local games, al-Nukhaifi said, and even more so for big matches played against another country.

"Thousands of tickets were bought by UAE fans who accompanied their country's team, as well as thousands of expatriates who follow the matches," he said.

Saudi youth reject terrorism

The plot to bomb al-Jawhara stadium is but "further evidence of the criminality of these terrorists and how far removed from all human morals and values they have become", said Adel al-Usaimi, imam of al-Khair mosque in Riyadh.

Directly targeting civilians with the aim of hurting the largest possible number of people is contrary to all religious teachings and laws, he told Al-Mashareq, adding that the mere intent to commit this crime must deter anyone who even thinks of supporting them or joining their ranks.

Al-Usaimi was incredulous that anyone would remain in the ranks of the group after the uncovering of this criminal plot.

"The strongest response to this attempt came quickly from Saudi society, and the youth in particular, who turned out in large numbers to attend subsequent matches," he said.

"Saudi youth were determined to express their rejection of terrorism by issuing widespread calls for attending all football matches," he said.

The matches were offered free of charge for spectators as a form of support and to encourage them to go on living normally and to reject terrorism, he added.

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