Accessibility links

Should the Saudis Fight Terrorism Differently?

Muslim militants in Saudi Arabia stormed the heavily fortified U.S. consulate in Jeddah Monday, prompting a gun battle that left twelve dead, including three gunmen. The U.S. consulate says five of its non-American employees were killed, while Saudi security officials say four of its forces died in the clash. VOA's Jim Bertel reports this attack is the latest in a series of recent terrorist plots against foreigners and foreign targets in the kingdom.

Monday's attack was swift and violent. The three-hour siege and gun battle came to an end with Saudi security forces regaining control of the facility.

In Washington, U.S. President George W. Bush promised to find out who was behind the attacks. "The attacks in Saudi Arabia remind us that the terrorists are still on the move,” he said. “They're interested in affecting the will of free countries. They want us to leave Saudi Arabia. They want us to leave Iraq. They want us to grow timid and weary in the face of their willingness to kill randomly and kill innocent people."

The attack in Jeddah is the first major terrorist strike in Saudi Arabia since May, when Muslim militants attacked and took hostages at the Oasis housing complex in the eastern city of Khobar. Twenty-two hostages, mostly foreigners, died when Saudi security forces stormed the complex.

In the past 18 months, violence by Islamist extremists has included bombings, kidnappings and killings. Walter Cutler, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, believes al-Qaida is behind the attacks. "Those who are opposed to American presence in the Gulf and those who are opposed to the government of Saudi Arabia, the Saudi royal family, for being aligned too closely to the West."

These groups also accuse the Saudi royal family of being insufficiently Islamic. The ambassador added, "There are religious, conservative elements who feel that the country should be directed by those who are more conservatively religious than the Saudi royal family."

Ambassador Edward Walker of Washington's Middle East Institute says the majority of Saudis do not share this radical view. "There have been some clerics in Saudi Arabia who have been what I would call irresponsible and they're stimulating young men to engage in terrorism. I don't think it's the mainstream at all,” said Ambassador Walker.

The Saudis have apparently counted on that. They have combined efforts to hunt down violent extremists with amnesty offers to those who give up. But Monday's attack shows the strategy of killing or capturing the militants may not be working. And analysts say Saudi Arabia has got to do more to protect foreigners and its own citizens.