Saudi Arabia Wants Help Tracking Down Terrorists
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Saudi Arabia's government has issued a most-wanted list of 85 militants operating outside the country in places like Yemen, Iran and the tribal areas of Pakistan. The Saudis are looking for help from international police agencies. The list was prompted by reports that militants are regrouping in neighboring Yemen to launch new attacks. Kelly McEvers reports from the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
KELLY McEVERS: The most-wanted list includes four men - two Saudis and two Yemenis - featured in this video that recently was posted on militant Web sites.
Unidentified Man #1: (Singing in foreign language)
McEVERS: The video is meant to mark the merger of al-Qaida in Saudi Arabia with al-Qaida in Yemen. Al-Qaida in Saudi Arabia was virtually wiped out in recent years after attacks there that killed nearly 200 locals and foreigners led to massive crackdowns by authorities. Al-Qaida in Yemen is responsible for a string of attacks in that country, including a blast outside the U.S. embassy last fall that killed 17 Yemenis.
The video says the new group's aim is to rid this region of unbelievers, then take the fight to Jerusalem.
Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)
McEVERS: Terrorism analysts say the video also was meant to embarrass American and Saudi officials. The two Saudis in the video were released last year from the American detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and afterwards, they graduated from a well-publicized rehabilitation program in Saudi Arabia.
Thomas Hegghammer is a terrorism researcher at Harvard.
Dr. THOMAS HEGGHAMMER (Terrorism Researcher, Harvard University): It was deeply embarrassing for Saudi Arabia, who has been insisting that it is safe to send back the Guantanamo detainees, that the Saudis were able to look after them.
McEVERS: Since the video's release, Saudi Arabia has sent a high-ranking counter-terrorism official to Yemen, troops have been dispatched to the Saudi-Yemeni border and the president of Yemen has called on tribal leaders to turn in suspected militants.
Gregory Johnson, editor of a forthcoming book on Islam and insurgency in Yemen, says the government there is not equipped to tackle the problem on its own.
Mr. GREGORY JOHNSON (Author): The government's lost a lot of money. It's heavily dependent upon oil exports. And as the price of oil just went down, the government - its kind of fragile alliance of different tribes and different interest groups that it strengthens with money and different goodies of the state that it can dole out, it's put those in more jeopardy. And so state power has actually decreased over the past year.
MCEVERS: Johnson says this is what makes Yemen so attractive to militants in the first place.
Mr. JOHNSON: What really needs to happen is that the U.S. and Saudi and other kind of regional and Western powers need to come together to help Yemen. And you really have to almost pursue a two-track policy, having the initial one and the short term goal be to kind of take out these individuals. But in the long term, you really need to help stabilize Yemen.
MCEVERS: Without that stability, Johnson says, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula will grow, and might even launch attacks as far away as the Horn of Africa. Here in Saudi Arabia, relatives of the men on the new most-wanted list are telling local reporters they're cooperating with officials to bring their sons home, says Saudi columnist Hamad al-Bahadi(ph).
Mr. HAMAD AL-BAHADI (Columnist): We are sorry to what happened to our children, or to our boys. And we like that Allah - God will help and the political environment will help them to come back to the right way or to the right religion.
MCEVERS: Bahadi says it's not quite so simple. Somebody had to help these militants flee the country in the first place.
For NPR News, I'm Kelly McEvers, Riyadh.
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