The recent terrorist attack in Riyadh is a grim reminder that the war against global terrorism is far from over. Indeed, the latest terrorist attack seems to indicate that the upsurge of anti-American sentiment, in the aftermath of the war against Iraq, may translate into increased violence in the days to come. The attack in the Saudi capital was the first significant terrorist incident since the military operations against Iraq, and coincided with the arrival in Riyadh of the United States of America secretary of state, Mr Colin Powell. It is believed that at least 29 persons were killed during the blast at a residential colony mainly inhabited by foreigners. The explosions were apparently caused by cars that were packed with explosives and were driven into the compound, housing the buildings. The incident demonstrates that terrorists groups, capable of mounting such daring incidents, continue to operate with impunity. The US secretary of state has claimed that the attacks had the stamp of the terrorist organization, al Qaida, on them.
In order to, however, understand the implications of the terrorist attack, attention needs to be paid to a complexity of factors. While anger and protests against the US-led operation in Iraq have been witnessed all across the globe, there is a grimmer reality that is finding support in the Muslim world. Increasingly, there are those who believe that since the US, given its technology and military might, cannot be defeated conventionally, it is perfectly legitimate to use asymmetric tactics, such as terrorism, against the only superpower. While this is a dangerous doctrine, it seems to have acquired a degree of popular legitimacy. It must also be realized that the attack in a country like Saudi Arabia reflects an uncomfortable reality. On the one hand, Saudi Arabia is one of the strongest allies of the US in west Asia and there still exists a significant number of American soldiers and large number of American expatriates based in the country.
On the other hand, the Saudi ruling regime is known to appease fundamentalist groups on its soil and even encourage them to sponsor extremist causes abroad under the pretext of charity. The consequence of this attempt at performing a balancing act has been disastrous. The bulk of Saudi population is deeply alienated from the ruling family, which is seen as authoritarian and pro-Western. Not surprisingly, the main recruiting ground for al Qaida has been Saudi territory. Indeed, a large number of those who planned and carried out the attack of September 11, 2001, in New York and Washington, were Saudi nationals, including the leader of al Qaida, Osama bin Laden. Indeed, Saudi-based self-styled charitable organizations have been a sponsor of terrorist groups in south Asia, some of which operate in Kashmir. In sum, if the US is seriously interested in winning the war against terrorism, it needs to first radically review its relationship with Saudi Arabia and the politics within the country.