Saudi authorities unmask ISIL cluster cell tactics

By Sultan al-Barei in Riyadh


Saudi security forces raid an 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' cell hideout in al-Harazat, Jeddah, where two of the cell's members blew themselves up. [Photo courtesy of Saudi Press Agency]

Saudi security forces recently captured an "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) cluster cell that had been planning attacks in the kingdom during a raid on its hideout in Jeddah, officials told Al-Mashareq.

Following the arrests and investigation, the authorities revealed how the cell had gone about recruiting members and carrying out its activities without detection, urging Saudis to be vigilant and report any suspicious person or activity.

At a January 25th press conference in Riyadh, Ministry of Interior security spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki identified the two cell members who blew themselves up during a raid on their hideout in Jeddah's al-Harazat.

They are Khalid Ghazi Hussein al-Sarwani and Nadi Marzouq al-Mudhaini Enazi, who was previously imprisoned on terrorism charges and released after serving his sentences and undergoing a munasaha (counseling) programme, he said.

The remaining 16 cell members were arrested, he said, revealing that three of them are Saudis and the rest are Pakistanis.

One of the cell members, Hussam al-Juhani, confessed that the two men who blew themselves up had moved around in women’s clothing to evade detection.

Others had been actively recruiting youth at mosques and Qur'an memorisation seminars.

Public awareness is key

"It is very important to reveal information about how terrorists operate to the public," said Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Shehri, a former Saudi army officer and former military attaché.

The security forces used this information to apprehend and break up the cell, he said, noting that it is important for the public to also understand how these groups operate so they can be on the lookout for suspicious activity.

"The terrorists are penetrating residential areas to seek shelter and hide, wearing women’s clothing and seeking refuge in mosques, among other things these people do to conceal themselves and evade detection," he said.

Revealing these tactics to the public increases the chances that someone will provide information on suspicious activities that could prevent an attack that claims the lives of innocent people, he added.

"These tactics used by terrorists are considered red lines in Saudi society, especially with regard to searching women and interfering with Qur'an teaching seminars and religious lessons at mosques," he said.

A dangerous network

It is difficult to track a cluster cell network, al-Shehri said, because members do not communicate with each other directly and their identities are not known to each other.

Members of the Jeddah cell had left al-Qaeda for ISIL, he added, after learning and adopting al-Qaeda's tactics and modus operandi.

"The security clampdown on al-Qaeda has forced terrorist elements to seek another source to finance their extremist causes, and ISIL was that alternative source," he said.

"ISIL recruiters also go after former terrorists to put them back on the street and use them to carry out terrorist attacks, considering that the work will be easier for them to do than for new recruits because terrorist ideology is already ingrained in them and all they need is financial support," al-Shehri said.

"Some terrorists who are arrested or carry out terrorist attacks were previously arrested on terrorism charges," said Abdullah al-Muqrin, professor of comparative jurisprudence at Mecca's Umm Al-Qura University.

This was the case with Nadi Marzouq al-Mudhaini Enazi, who had served the sentence handed down to him for fighting abroad in the ranks of terror groups.

This case "might spur a review of the punishment meted out to terrorists, the period they spend behind bars and length of the munasaha programme", he said.

Need for vigilance

Al-Muqrin cautioned that "terrorists are still using mosques to spread and disseminate terrorist ideas", though this practice has been curtailed by more stringent security measures.

These activities are typically carried out in small mosques that are far from the watchful eyes of the government and official committees tasked with monitoring the performance of imams and religious studies teachers, he added.

It is of key importance to share security information with society, said Mazen Zaki, director of the new media department at Egypt's Ibn al-Waleed Studies and Field Research Centre.

This can be easily done via social media, he told Al-Mashareq, as Saudi youth are known to consume and share news on a wide scale via these channels.

"The recent statement made by Maj. Gen. Turki, for example, provided many details on the tactics used by terrorists," Zaki said.

These were circulated on social media under separate hashtags, he said, "and drew a lot of discussion that mostly centered on fighting terrorism".

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