Saudi Arabia says al-Qaida has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of a Saudi diplomat in Yemen last month and threatened to kill the man unless the kingdom releases detained militants.
Saudi officials said Tuesday the terrorist network's regional affiliate, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, claimed the kidnapping in a phone call to the Saudi Embassy in Yemen. They identified the caller as a wanted Saudi terror suspect, Mashaal Rasheed al-Shawdakhi.
Gunmen abducted the Saudi deputy consul in the Yemeni port city of Aden outside his home on March 28.
The Saudi government said al-Shawdakhi demanded the release of militants jailed in Saudi Arabia and a ransom payment in exchange for the diplomat. It said the caller warned that al-Qaida will kill the diplomat, attack a Saudi embassy and assassinate a Saudi prince if the demands are not met. Riyadh rejected the threats.
Kidnappings: a new tactic
Kidnappings of foreigners for ransom are common in Yemen, an impoverished nation where al-Qaida militants and other rebels control large swathes of territory.
But the seizing of the Saudi diplomat in Aden appears to be a new tactic for al-Qaida, according to senior analyst Robert Powell of the Economist Intelligence Unit research institute.
Reached by phone in New York, Powell said al-Qaida usually executes its prisoners or attempts assassinations such as a 2009 suicide bombing in Saudi Arabia that failed to kill the country's deputy interior minister.
Powell said al-Shawdawki's warning of further attacks on Saudi targets "sounds like bluster." He said Saudi Arabia's diplomatic and economic facilities are well-defended, and there is no indication that al-Qaida has the power to launch coordinated attacks against them.
The EIU analyst said the Saudi government has not negotiated with high-level al-Qaida figures in the past because the group is dedicated to overthrowing the Saudi monarchy. But he said the Saudis have shown a "considerable willingness" to engage with lower-level militants.
Powell said Saudi Arabia has tried to re-educate al-Qaida members, teaching them a "new path within Islam, away from violence and toward a more peaceful form of jihad." He said these efforts are aimed at assimilating militants into local tribes and stripping them away from the central organization.