Al-Qaida Claims Kidnapping of Saudi Diplomat in Yemen, Makes Demands

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.

Al-Qaida bluster

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.

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin
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