London, Nov. 10: The al Qaida appeared yesterday to have unwittingly alienated a vast spectrum of Arab opinion and helped America’s war on terrorism by attacking Muslims it considers traitors to the faith, intelligence sources in Riyadh said.
Seventeen people, mostly of Arab descent, including four children, died in the suicide attack against a housing compound in Riyadh.
The attack has engendered unprecedented condemnation throughout West Asia and will have damaged al Qaida’s appeal as anti-western and pro-Islamic. The killings will have also alienated conservative Muslims in largely tribal Saudi Arabia and boosted efforts to identify and weed out terrorist “sleeper” cells by winning over many more people willing to act as informants, Saudi officials believe.
The largely discredited tactic of targeting fellow Muslims, known as al-Takfeer Walhigrah (atonement and withdrawal), was first used by Ayman al Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s chief lieutenant, in Egypt a decade ago.
After the deaths of up to 1,000 people in a wave of terrorism that culminated in the 1997 Luxor massacre, which killed 67 tourists, Egypt’s security forces were able to turn the tables on the terrorists. Exploiting public aversion to the atrocities, police were able largely to ignore civil rights in a relentless pursuit of extremists.
Al Qaida also used the tactic in suicide bombings in Morocco in May, which killed 32 people. The targeting of the Muslim compound in Riyadh, like the killing of anyone dealing with tourists, is legitimised for extremists because of association with “infidels”.
A way of life in which women drive into the compound and Muslims share western food at picnics around swimming pools is anathema to the fundamentalists.
In attacking the Muhaya compound, al Qaida was sending the message that Muslims of “lesser faith” will be punished and guest workers from other Muslim nations would be advised to avoid Saudi Arabia. Al Qaida also wanted to embarrass the Saudi government by making it appear unable to protect Muslims in the last two weeks of Ramazan.