2004 June 01 Tuesday
Did Saudis Let Terrorists Escape In Exchange For Hostages?

Survivors and witnesses say that the Saudi National Guardsmen made a deal to let the hostage takers escape in exchange for no further deaths of hostages.

Saudi commandos cut a deal to let Al Qaeda terrorists escape and stage-managed a dramatic "rescue" of dozens of hostages at a luxury housing complex, survivors and witnesses allege.

One former hostage said he overheard the militants working to cut a deal with Saudi security forces that cordoned off the complex early Sunday.

"Let us go and we'll let the hostages go," one of the hostage-takers told Saudi authorities, the survivor said.

At least 3 hostage-takers escaped but a wounded one who is reportedly the leader of the group was captured. Was this trade-off worth making? The terrorists may well end up killing many more in a future attack.

Robin Gedye of the Daily Telegraph says domestic Saudi terrorists have escaped so many times from attacks that they must have had help from Saudi security officials or police or guardsmen or foreign workers in security agencies (or some combination thereof). (free registration required)

Time and again, when Saudi police have mounted raids on al-Qa'eda suspects, many terrorists have been able to slip away as they did on Sunday. In November, several terrorists escaped from a raid in Mecca; 10 militants vanished on Aug 10 during a gun battle with police; and last May 19 al-Qa'eda suspects shot their way out of a police trap. The inevitable conclusion over last weekend's operation is that the terrorists have often had help on the inside - help to plan the operation, help with knowledge of the area and help in escaping.

The United States government first started advising Americans to leave Saudi Arabia a year ago in response to continuing attacks. It says a lot about just how rotten the Saudi government has become that when terrorist attacks first started happening Westerners were blamed and locked up on the pretense that they were liquor black marketers. Weapons seized from Al Qaeda safehouse in Saudi Arabia on May 6, 2004 were traced back to the Saudi National Guard and it is suspected that Saudi National Guardsmen may have knowingly sold weapons to Al Qaeda operatives.

Another interesting story about the Saudi National Guard and Al Qaeda came from some former Saudi Guard trainers who worked for Vinnell Corporation, Northrup Grumman subsidiary with an interesting past in oil field construction work and CIA services. Vinnell has been training the Saudi National Guard for about a quarter of a century. Therefore its trainers have insider views of what is going on in Saudi Arabia from a security standpoint and the claims by some trainers that Saudi Guardsmen are collaborating with Al Qaeda terrorists have to be taken seriously.

* Some members of the Saudi National Guard knew about the bombing in advance and gave inside help to al-Qa'ida, including possibly a detailed map of the target.

* An "exercise" organised by the national guard removed 50 of 70 security staff for the day of the bombing, thus leaving the compound "defenceless".

If all these reports of insider help are correct then the odds are higher that at some point Saudi oil production will be disrupted by terrorist action. The main factor preventing damage to oil facilities is probably Al Qaeda's preference for killing non-Muslims. The Al Qaeda leadership may see the oil facilities as Muslim possessions that should not be damaged. Also, some wealthy Saudis who make a lot of money money either directly or indirectly from the oil flow may be telling Al Qaeda's leaders that if they damage the oil fields and ports then the money that they need for waging Jihad will be reduced.

As for what we should do about this state of affairs: My most recent beating of the drums for a better energy policy can be found in Threats To Saudi Oil Fields Argue For Better Energy Policy

The US should have an energy policy shaped much more strongly by national security considerations. A national security policy for energy should include an additional $10 billion or more per year spent on energy research as part of a recognition that the world's increasing dependence on Middle Eastern oil creates national risks for the United States.

Every time we buy gas we send money to our enemies. It is time we started doing something about that fact.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 June 01 09:06 PM  Politics Grand Strategy

obelus said at June 3, 2004 11:04 PM:

Before we gasp to much with incredulousness, it is important to remember that our guys sometimes let the bad quys go as well. Theres an intriguing AP story [see above URL] that asserts our steadfast Justice Department paused from their intense efforts to hassle antiwar protesters and bust small time drug users to instruct certain prosecutors to let a suspected terrorist walk. They then quietly bought him a plane ticket to Syria.

The ostensible reason is that to fully prosecute what appears to be a very unsavory creature, intelligence gathering methods could have been compromised. In an America where the Attorney General can indefinitely detain citizens with no annoying visa issues, he cannot somehow hold onto a man who informers have said described plans to blow up fuel trucks and who bought a fake passport? It's enough to make someone curious.

Randall Parker said at June 3, 2004 11:15 PM:

Obelus, When a group of gunmen are holding hostages and have left a bunch of dead and wounded in their wake still bleeding onto the group then the guys are not just suspected terrorists. They are people in the act of committing terrorism. One doesn't need to reveal intelligence secrets to know that. One doesn't even have to prosecute them. One can close in on them shooting. Though there is the problem of the lives of the hostages the capture of the terrorists will both prevent them from future acts of killing and provide the opportunity for interrogation that may lead to the killing or capture of more terrorists.

What makes the decisions of the Saudis troubling is that they have repeatedly let attackers escape. Is this incompetence or collusion?

Yes, intelligence efforts do have to be protected at times at the cost of lives. The most famous case of paying with lives to protect a secret is Churchill's WWII decision that in order to protect Enigma he had to allow Coventry to be bombed.

Eric Weis said at June 4, 2004 3:39 AM:

Mr. Parker, I agree that some secret inside knowledge must be protected and that an on the spot judgment must be made were the convenience of 20/20 hindsight may prove an error in such a call at that moment in time. But the thought of this persons potential must be discerned, and if the controllers of that incident make a serious flaw in the call such as when Osama was being offered to the Clinton administration in the mid nineties and they turned it down then they (controlling characters) should be vetted and in such a serious mistake some form of punishment should be administered. If nothing is done then the habit of never taking the risk will prevail (such as the targeting of the convoy of SUVs in Afghanistan at the begin of the war there) the eventual fall of the attacked will happen. Conflict is risk; the winner is the better risk manager. I believe the Saudi Government is in a flux state with some of the terrorist, I think the Saudiís believe they are protected by their money, but are blinded by their arrogance in believing they are the religion and country, where the Al Quaide are simply waiting for the tipping point to really do the royal family in, there is a very strong support for what the Al Quaida stands for in the populous of that country and support for their attacks against "infidels and dhimmi" is over whelming in support by the entire Arab and Muslim people of the middle east and Asia. If you know anything about the history and life of Muhammad and how Islam was spread and still is spread then you know we (everybody that is not a Muslim) are the targets and that we are at war with not just the "Fundamentalist" but also the religion of Islam and it's followers, not because we want to war with them but because their religion will not live in Peace with us (non-believers) and it commands the faithful to physically destroy the unfaithful, the only time the Muslim is allowed to "Live in Peace" with non-believers is when the Muslims are a small minority in that country and they are to simply wait.

Bob Badour said at June 4, 2004 4:04 PM:

Muslim conscript armies are not well-known for placing their own lifes at risk--especially for non-muslim foreigners. I expect the Saudi security forces play the same calculus prevalent throughout the middle-east: What's in it for me?

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