Officials said today that the Saudi government had now largely “destroyed” Al Qaeda as an organization in Saudi Arabia, wiped out public sympathy for the group, and said that drone strikes over the past year in Yemen have weakened the group there. But they remain very much aware of AQAP’s efforts to regroup in Yemen in order to launch attacks against not only the West but also the Saudi kingdom.
Formerly Al Qaeda had separate branches in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, but by early 2009 they had merged into one organization.
“To us, they are very dangerous because we are a major target of their terror,” said Maj. Gen. Mansour Sultan al-Turki. “On the other hand, they rely very much on young Saudis to be recruited. They also rely a lot on Saudi financing. So we have to make sure they do not get either of these two things.”
Easy to sneak off to Yemen
General Turki emphasized that the current situation in Yemen is similar in many ways to that of Afghanistan pre-9/11, when Osama bin Laden used it as a training base for jihadis from various different countries. But Yemen’s extensive coastline makes it easier for militants to come and go from the country and get supplies, while the long border with Saudi aids recruitment and potential attacks against the kingdom, he said.
“For young Saudis, it’s easy to go to Yemen for a few days without their families knowing,” says Turki, the ministry spokesman. “Even the [Saudi] government would not know about it, and that is very dangerous” because those Saudi nationals could then be used to launch attacks back home.