CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen says that the bombings in Riyadh yesterday bear the fingerprints of al-Qaeda. The style of the attacks, multiple simultaneous events, possible use of suicide drivers, and gunmen around the scenes are hallmarks of al-Qaeda. It is clear that Saudi Arabia has been a significant base of financial and logistical support for al-Qaeda for years.
However, Bergen mentions that this may have been a major strategic miscalculation for al-Qaeda:
This is a Saudi operation to a large degree, and I think this is a huge wake-up call for the Saudis to really get very, very serious about clamping down. They have done some things in the past; for instance, trying to crack down on Saudi charities that may be funneling money to al Qaeda. They say that they’ve arrested hundreds of people and they’ve questioned thousands more. But clearly that was not enough to prevent this kind of attack.
And I think this is the moment where the Saudis will finally say, “We have to get very serious about this.” Because not only is this politically damaging for them, this is also potentially economically damaging, because the workers at these compounds, many of them work in the oil business, which is the main export of Saudi Arabia.
al-Qaeda has already been severely weakened by the worldwide anti-terrorism campaign since September 11, 2001. If the Saudis gets serious about cracking down on fundamentalism, it would be a major blow to what remains of al-Qaeda. Secretary of State Powell should use this opportunities to remind the Saudis of the Bush Doctrine: states that do not get serious about removing terrorism will quickly find themselves victims of terrorism. Just as Bali found out, neutrality is no defense from terrorism. The Saudis have been hoping to play both sides down the middle, by funding Wahhabi groups while attempting to show themselves as partners in the US campaign against al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. This strategy is beginning to backfire on them, and the United States must make it clear where the Saudis must stand.