Al-Qa'ida in Saudi Arabia 2003 and 2004

Term Paper, 2005

36 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents


I. Al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula – Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri

II. Saudi al-Qa'ida in 2003 and 2004
1. Building Structures of the Organization: Yousef Salih Fahd Al-Ayeiri
2. Saudi al-Qa'ida Starts to Operate: the Attacks of May 2003
3. The Crackdown
4. Khalid Ali bin Ali Hajj and attacks of November 2003
5. Abd-al-Aziz al-Moqrin
6. Saleh Al-Oufi and Saud bin Hamoud al-Otaibi: the decline of Saudi al-Qa'ida

III. Ideology and Structure of Saudi al-Qa'ida
1. The World after September 11, 2001 and the New Strategy of al-Qa'ida
2. Iraq and Saudi Arabia as Major Fronts in the War Against “Infidels”
3. The Structure of Saudi al-Qa'ida
3.1. Saudi al-Qa'ida as an Ideology: Independence and Structure of the Cells
3.2. Saudi al-Qa'ida and other Terrorist Organizations in the Kingdom
3.3. Al-Haramain Brigades
3.4. The Connection Between Saudi al-Qa'ida and Usama Ibn Laden




Saudi Arabia is without a doubt the most important country in the Middle East. Its economic importance for the world and religious importance for Muslims could hardly be exaggerated. Therefore, when the first bombs exploded in Riyadh in May 2003, the shockwaves could be felt all around the world. Prophecies of Saudi rulers being overthrown and the Saudi Kingdom sinking into the chaos of civil war dominated the world press

The picture of Saudi Arabia at the beginning of 2005 – almost two years after the attacks - looks much different. Saudi Arabia seems – for the time being – rather stable and the events of May 12th and November 8th 2003 appear to be a thing of a past. The monster of Islamic radicalism, which becomes alive once in a while in the Kingdom, seems to be defeated for now.

But the fight was neither easy nor won forever. In the meantime war in neighboring Iraq, which motivated most of those who wanted to fight against The Americans to leave the Kingdom, made it easier for Saudi rulers to fight against those few who stayed. Very soon, however, the situation is due to change. A history and analysis of the way that Saudi al-Qa'ida acted in 2003 and 2004 may give a glimpse of the things to come after the situation in Iraq changes and the Mujahideen start coming back home, like they did after the wars in Afghanistan in the 1980s and again in 2001.

I. Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula – Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri

The history of Saudi Al-Qa’ida or “Al-Qaida’s Committee in the Arabian Peninsula”[1] begins with Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Born in Mecca, but during the time of arrest citizen of Yemen, al-Nashiri fought against Soviet troops in 1980s in Afghanistan.[2] There, he met Usama Ibn Laden for the first time. Later they separated: Usama Ibn Laden went to Saudi Arabia and later to Sudan, while al-Nashiri traveled mainly between Afghanistan and his homeland: Yemen. They met again in 1996, when al-Nashiri came back from Tajikistan and Usama Ibn Laden moved from Sudan to Afghanistan.[3]

Despite pressure to swear allegiance to the leader of al-Qa'ida, al-Nashiri refused and went back to Yemen. Only on his trip back to Afghanistan one year later did he formally join Usama Ibn Laden’s organization. But it is almost certain that he was motivated rather by the need for financial support to fulfill his plans, than by his admiration for the leader of al-Qa'ida.[4]

However, having joined al-Qa'ida, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri was very active member of this terrorist network. He took part in organizing the bombings on American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998 and reportedly was also planning the assassination of a high-ranking Yemeni intelligence official, who was cooperating with the USA[5]. But al-Rahim al-Nashiri’s specialty was organizing attacks on naval vessels. Having come up with this idea in 1997, he planned to attack American and British ships in the port of Aden and in the Strait of Gibraltar, the 5th Fleet Headquarters in Bahrain as well as the USS Sullivans early in 2000.

Only the attack on another American military aircraft carrier, the USS Cole in October 2000 was successful. Before it, however, a difference of opinion between al-Nashiri and Usama Ibn Laden took place. In September 2000, the leader of al-Qa’ida decided that Hasan al-Khamri and Ibrahim al-Thawar, who were already trained and prepared to conduct the attack, should be replaced. Al-Nashiri did not agree with that decision and went to Afghanistan to discuss the issue. Before leaving, however, he ordered al-Khamri and al-Thawar to conduct the operation of attacking an American or British vessel if an opportunity arose.[6]

Such an opportunity did arise on October 12, 2000, when the USS Cole was refueling in the port of Aden. Al-Khamri and al-Thawal hit the ship with two boats filled with explosive. In the explosion that followed seventeen crew members died. That was the first significant terrorist attack in the area of Arabian Peninsula since the explosion in Al-Kbobar in 1996. The way it was organized shows that Nashiri was not blindly obedient to the leader of al-Qa'ida. Ordering al-Khamri and al-Thawar to conduct an attack against western vessel, despite the lack of Usama Ibn Laden’s clear consent, was the first sign of the degree of independence that leaders of al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula had or rather demanded.

Al-Nashiri was the most important representative of al-Qa'ida on the Arabian Peninsula until the aforementioned attack on the USS Cole. After that day, however, his whereabouts is not clear. It can be determined only by following plans of other terrorist attacks, which were planned after October 2000. After al-Nashiri’s departure to Afghanistan in 2000 he was accused of participating in organizing the plot on the 5th Fleet Headquarters in Bahrain.[7] The plan for this attack was revealed in January 2002.[8] According to some reports he also gave orders to attack American and British warships in the Strait of Gibraltar in May 2002, while he was in Pakistan[9]. Soon after, in mid-2002 he reportedly tried to come back to Saudi Arabia.[10] Finally in October 2002 he was arrested. Although the place of his arrest is not entirely clear he was probably captured in one of the states of the Arabian Peninsula.[11]

The arrest of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri was a significant blow to al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula. But it was not the only one. Two other events marked the end of the first stage of al-Qa'ida’s activity in the Peninsula. First of them took place in December 2001, when Yemeni forces attacked a terrorist hideout in the region of Marib, close to the border of Saudi Arabia. This event, described by some as a “new phase” in the war on terrorism after the American invasion of Afghanistan, was rather directed towards The Islamic Army of Aden than towards al-Qa'ida.[12] Nevertheless, it forced some members of al-Qa'ida to escape to other neighboring countries.[13] Some of them probably fled to Saudi Arabia. Second event occurred just few days before al-Nashiri’s capture. Then the leader of Yemeni al-Qa’ida, Ali Qaed Senyan al-Harthi, was killed in a mortar attack organized by the USA[14]

The arrest of al-Nashiri, liquidation of bases of terrorists in Yemen and killing of Ali Qaed Senyan al-Harthi were significant blows to al-Qa'ida. It marked also the beginning of another stage in al-Qa'ida activity in the Arabian Peninsula. From Yemen it moved to another country, where until May 2003 it could act rather freely: to Saudi Arabia.

II. Saudi al-Qa’ida in 2003 and 2004

1. Building Structures of the Organization: Yousef Salih Fahd Al-Ayeiri

It is possible to distinguish three groups of Saudi al-Qa'ida members. The first one consists of people, who were fighting in Afghanistan against Soviets in 1980s. The second group are the people who went through training camps in Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. The third consist of new members of Saudi al-Qa'ida who were recruited after May 2003.[15] Yousef Salih Fahd Al-Ayeiri was a member of the first group, who, after fleeing Afghanistan, began preparing the infrastructure in Saudi Arabia for the third one.

Considered to be second in command after Nashiri, the leader of Saudi al-Qa'ida, al-Ayeiri joined forces of Usama Ibn Laden in Afghanistan at the age of 18. Very soon he was given the task of organizing and supervising training camps for the Mujahideen, who were willing to fight against the Soviets. Later he worked as Usama Ibn Laden’s bodyguard. In the meantime, in 1993, he was sent to Somalia to participate in the fight against American peacekeeping forces.[16]

Around 1996 Ayeiri returned to Saudi Arabia. Soon after he was imprisoned for alleged participation in organizing the bombing of the American military office in Riyadh in November 1995. After being freed, Ayeiri focused on creating the infrastructure of a terrorist network in Saudi Arabia. He was the main organizer of al-Qa'ida’s al-Neda website, which for a long time was the main mean of propagating the ideology of this organization and in recruiting new members.[17]

At the same time, together with Turki Mishal Al-Dandani, he started organizing training camps similar to those he supervised in Afghanistan. In mid-2003 at least one such camp named Al-Istirahat Al-Amana was known.[18] Al Ayeiri importance to the military structures of Saudi al-Qa'ida was such, that at the beginning of 2004, over 6 months after his death, new internet magazine of “The Military Committee of the Mujahideen in the Arabian Peninsula” was titled “Al-Battar”, which was also Ayeiri’s military nickname.[19]

But the Saudi authorities did not recognize his importance. On the list of 19 most wanted terrorists, which was published in May 2003, Al-Ayeiri was situated only as tenth. He is barely mentioned in regard to the attack of May 2003. But still his dominant role in the structures of Saudi al-Qa'ida is supported by the fact, that he – as probably one of very few – had contact with Usama bin Laden. A letter from the leader of al-Qa'ida was found in Ayeiri’s pocket after the latter was killed on May 31, 2003, next to the city of Turba, in the northern province of al-Youf.[20] Although over five months old, that letter was one of the only reliable pieces of evidence that any contacts between Usama Ibn Laden and members of al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula existed.

2. Saudi al-Qa'ida Starts to Operate: the Attacks of May 2003

During Ayeiri’s leadership of Saudi al-Qa’ida the most sophisticated attack on Saudi territory so far happened: four almost simultaneous raids took place during the night from 12th to 13th May 2003.

The first target was Oasis Village, al-Hamra, which was occupied mainly by The Americans and other Westerners. At least 10 people were killed there. The second aim of the terrorists was the Vinnell Corporation, which trained the Saudi National Guard. The detonation of a car bomb, which rammed front gate of the compound, caused the death of at least 8 people. Jedawal Compound, where the headquarter of Lucent Technologies is situated, was the third target. Due to the fact, that the attackers didn’t manage to breach one of the back entrances, this attack was much less successful than the previous ones: as a result of the detonation of another car filled with explosives in front of the gate two people died. Early in the morning of the of May 13, 2003 the fourth detonation at Saudi Maintenance Company Siyanco took place. In this case no casualties were reported.[21]

For the first two days the number of people killed was not clear. Witnesses were talking about “scores of bodies” in the al-Hamra compound alone.[22] The US Department of State put the number at 91, including seven Americans.[23] Only after a few days was the final number announced to be 34, including 9 attackers.[24] But still some doubts as to the real number of dead remain. Numbers given by Yusuf al-‘Ayeiri that 250-300 people were killed could easily be dismissed as he was clearly aiming at increasing the morale of Saudi al-Qa'ida members. However, the fact that no journalists were allowed into the compounds makes it difficult to determine the final number of victims.[25]

What remains clear, however, is that this attack was the biggest success of Saudi al-Qa'ida. That day also marked a turning point in the strategy of the Saudi government towards terrorists: from the state of negation that al-Qa'ida had operated in the Kingdom, Saudi rulers started to accuse every voice of discontent of sympathizing with the “deviant group” of terrorists.

Just a few days after the attack, the Saudi press announced the list of 12 people responsible for its organizing and conducting. Al-Ayeiri was not among them, although he is mentioned as “Ibn Laden’s associate[26] ”. Out of those who were mentioned, only four also appeared on the list of 19 most wanted terrorists announced on May 7, 2003. This could mean, that the Riyadh cell of al-Qa’ida was much bigger than just 19 people: number given by the Saudi government after the raid on al-Qa'ida hideout on May 6, 2003. Another explanation could be that not all of them were members of the same cell. The latter could imply that more terrorist cells operated in the Kingdom.


[1] Both forms are used to describe activity of this organization. First one is used by commentators and the second by al-Qa'ida itself in its statements. But due to the fact that not all activities of terrorists who are said to be members of al-Qa'ida are later confirmed by the Committee, the first form seems to be better and will be used in this dissertation.

[2] “U.S. Captures Al Qaeda's Persian Gulf Chief”, Fox News 23 Nov..2002, downloaded on 11/03/05,2933,71116,00.html.

[3] National Commission On Terrorist Attacks Upon The United States. The 9/11 Commission Report Washington, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2004.

[4] Ibid. pp. 152-153.

[5] “Entity Record: Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri” Sentinel TMS Threat Database, downloaded on 10/11/2004

[6] National Commission On Terrorist Attacks Upon The United States. The 9/11 Commission Report Washington, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2004.

[7] According to CNN Nashiri was in Afghanistan when the war began in October 2001: “Officials: Alleged Cole bombing mastermind captured” The Place Of Dangerous Mind, based on 23/11/2002, downloaded on 25/02/2005,

[8] “U.S. hopes al-Qaeda captive will reveal future plots” USA Today, 26 Nov. 2002, downloaded on 25/02/2005

[9] “Entity Record: Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri” Sentinel TMS Threat Database, downloaded on 10/11/2004

[10] Eldridge, T., Ginsburg, S., Hempel II, W., Kephart, J. L., Moore, K., 9/11 And Terrorist Travel: Staff Report of The National Commission on the Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. Downloaded on 25/02/2005,

[11] According to USA Today few weeks before his arrest he was seen in Yemen: “U.S. hopes al-Qaeda captive will reveal future plots” USA Today, 11/26/2002, downloaded on 25/02/2005,

[12] Clark, M, „In the Spotlight: The Islamic Army of Aden (IAA)”, Center for Defense Information, 23 Nov. 2004, downloaded on 25/02/2005,

[13] “Yemen attacks „al-Qa'ida hideout” , BBC News 18 Dec. 2002, downloaded on 26/02/2005, ,

[14] About al-Harthi killing: “Profile: Ali Qaed Senyan al-Harthi”, BBC News 05 Nov. 2002,, about his role in al-Qa'ida: „Transcript: Bin Ladin’s Former “Bodyguard” Interviewed on Al-Qa’ida Strategies”, Why War? 03 Aug. 2004 , both downloaded on 04/03/2005.

[15] „Saudi Arabia Backgrounder: Who are the Islamists?” ICG Middle East Report Number 31, 21 September 2004, p. 17, downloaded on 2/3/2005,

[16] Kohlmann, E, “A Saudi Home: al Qaeda in the kingdom” National Review Online, 09 Feb. 2004, downloaded on 03/03/2005,

[17] “Al Qaeda’s Martyrs of Confrontations – v1.0” IntelCenter, 8 Dec. 2003, downloaded on 31/01/2005,

[18] Kohlmann, E, “A Saudi Home: al Qaeda in the kingdom” National Review Online, 09 Feb. 2004, downloaded on 03/03/2005,

[19] “Al-Battar Training Camp” Middle East Information Center, 06 Jan. 2004, downloaded on 03/03/2005,

[20] “Militant Killed by Police Had Bin Laden’s Letter”, Arab News 04 Jun. 2003, downloaded on 23/02/2005,

[21] Venzke, B. „Saudi Compound Bombing“, 16 May 2003, downloaded on 25/02/2005

[22] Oust, R., Alkhereiji, M. “Bombs Rock Riyadh”, Arab News 13 May 2003, downloaded on 25/02/2005,

[23] “Saudi Attack Has 'Earmark Of Al Qaeda'”, 13 May 2003, downloaded on 20/02/2005

[24] “Hunt On for Blast Masterminds”, Arab News 16 May 2003, downloaded on 20/02/2005,

[25] “The Statement of the Shaykh and Martyr Yusuf al-‘Ayiri” in “al-Qa'ida Statements”, downloaded on 25/02/2005,

[26] Qusti , R. „12 Suicide Bombers Behind Riyadh Blasts Identified” Arab News, 08 Jun 2003, downloaded on 20/02/2005,

Excerpt out of 36 pages


Al-Qa'ida in Saudi Arabia 2003 and 2004
Free University of Berlin  (Politologie)
Islamischer Terrorismus im Spannungsfeld zwischen Transnationalität und lokaler Zielsetzung
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ISBN (eBook)
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Research paper focuses on a detailed account on al-Qa'ida (al-Kaida) in Saudi Arabia after 9/11. This work discusses all the known leaders of this terrorist organisation between the attack on the USS Cole 2000 and the bombings in Riyadh in December 2004.
Al-Qa, Saudi, Arabia, Islamischer, Terrorismus, Spannungsfeld, Transnationalität, Zielsetzung
Quote paper
Andrzej Ancygier (Author), 2005, Al-Qa'ida in Saudi Arabia 2003 and 2004, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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