Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A prominent member of the Saudi royal family predicts more suicide attacks like the one last week by al Qaeda that injured a prince responsible for the kingdom’s anti-terrorism program.

Prince Mohammed al-Faisal, a prominent businessman and cousin of the target of the attack, said in an interview that despite the bombing, the government would continue a program to try to rehabilitate militants.

“The fact that there was a lull should never be misunderstood as victory against terror. These people took two decades building themselves under the radar. We should expect more time to completely amputate this cancer,” Prince Mohammed said.

Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the attack, the first against a member of the Saudi royal family in decades.

The suicide bomber blew himself up Thursday in front of Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Nayef at an iftar, the meal that breaks the fast at sunset during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Arab media reported that the bomber made his way into the prince’s home in the western city of Jiddah wearing a bomb inserted into his colon.

Saudi authorities issued a statement Tuesday identifying the bomber as Abdullah Hassan Tali Assiri, 23.

The Interior Ministry statement said Prince Mohammed bin Nayef had agreed to meet with the terrorist as part of a larger effort to persuade other terrorists to surrender.

During the meeting, Assiri, who was on the country’s most wanted list, told Prince Mohammed bin Nayef that other Saudi militants who had fled to Yemen sought safe passage home because they also want to surrender.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu-Bakr al-Qirbi said over the weekend that Assiri was living east of the Yemeni capital, San’a, and that he had gone to Saudi Arabia claiming he wanted “to encourage his colleagues to follow his example and abandon al Qaeda.”

Al Qaeda branches in Saudi Arabia and Yemen merged earlier this year, becoming al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The last major terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia took place in February 2006, when suicide bombers tried and failed to blow up one of the world’s largest oil facilities in eastern Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi government has arrested nearly 1,000 suspected members of al Qaeda in the past few years. On Aug. 19, the Interior Ministry said it had arrested 44 militant suspects; in July, 330 al Qaeda members were convicted in a mass trial.

The Saudis operate an extensive terrorist rehabilitation program that involves schools with lectures from clerics, who teach that violence against civilians is not part of Islam. The program also involves generous subsidies from the Saudi government to help reformed terrorists rejoin society.

It has broad support in Saudi Arabia despite the fact that it does not always work.

“I believe we are on the right track; we just have to keep on doing more of what we have done, and maintain our vigor, alertness and energy. And most importantly, we must never be under false impressions that we have won, because that’s what terrorist wants,” Prince Mohammed al-Faisal said in the interview. “It would be naive to assume that there won’t be other attempts on individuals.”

Jamal Barzinji, a Muslim scholar living in the Washington area, condemned the attack on the Saudi prince and said there is no place in Islam for terrorism.

“It is against Islam at any time to carry out an attack like that. The fact that it occurred during Ramadan makes it all the worse.”

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