October 7, 2009 / 10:44 AM / 10 years ago

Q&A- Main security challenges for Saudi Arabia

RIYADH, Oct 7 (Reuters) - A recent attempt to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s security chief has raised concerns over new methods of hiding explosives, as well as al Qaeda using Yemen to revive its operations against Saudi Arabia, experts say. [ID:nL6259885]

Here are the main security challenges facing the kingdom.

HOW SUCCESSFUL IS THE SAUDI CAMPAIGN AGAINST AL QAEDA ?

Apart from the assassination attempt against the security chief in August there was no major attack since 2007 when Saudi Arabia managed to halt a campaign by al Qaeda killing nearly 200 people.

In August, Saudi Arabia said it had arrested 44 militants who planned to carry out attacks and seized weapons and electronic detonators. Hundreds others were arrested last year.

A Saudi court has sentenced one person to death this year in the first publicly reported sentences. The court gave verdicts against 289 Saudis and 41 foreigners which included jail terms of up to 30 years. [ID:nL8111096]



WHAT ARE THE WEAK POINTS?

The U.S. said in a recent report Saudi Arabia made progress in combating terrorism, arresting and prosecuting suspects and curtailing funding but loopholes remain such as donations of individuals and charities to support extremists abroad.

Saudi Arabia implements special security operations to protect the annual haj pilgrimage when up to three million Muslims travel to Mecca and Medina.

"There have been concerns that during haj non-Saudi individuals associated with extremist groups could exchange funds to support terrorism and violent extremism outside of Saudi Arabia," the Government Accounting Office said.

Cash is widely used in Gulf societies, even for larger amounts and often do not raise suspicion with custom officials.



WILL SAUDI ARABIA APPLY TOUGHER SECURITY MEASURES?

Diplomats say Saudi Arabia might switch to more harder techniques but will not give up rehabilitation programmes for repentant militants to "correct deviant thinking".

Top clerics are now backing state efforts to fight extremists but diplomats say despiteall efforts extremism is not entirely rooted out in the Saudi clergy or parts of society. In addition, young Saudis have joinedmilitant groups in Iraq.

"The line between social tradionalists and Wahhabi extremists is so thin as they share a lot of ideology (in common)," said Ghanem Nuseibeh, senior analyst at Political Capital in Dubai.

The kingdom has re-educated thousands of teachers and preachers after the Sept 11 2001 attacks in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis linked to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, also a Saudi national.

(Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Samia Nakhoul)



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