Last month, the US embassy in Riyadh shut down its consular services for a week, citing security issues without offering many details. Today, the Saudis announced that they had rolled up an ISIS terrorist ring, arresting 93 people linked to a plot that targeted the American embassy by suicide bombing. The ring planned other attacks as well, the Saudis claim:
Saudi authorities say they have arrested a total of 93 people with ties to the Islamic State group in recent months, foiling their plans to carry out terrorist attacks including a strike on the U.S. Embassy in the kingdom’s capital. …
The timing of the alleged suicide attack, however, matches with a decision by U.S. officials to halt all consular services starting March 15 at the embassy and diplomatic missions in Jiddah and Dhahran over security fears.
The missions resumed those services a week later, though the embassy urged Americans in the kingdom to take extra precautions when travelling throughout the country.
Saudi Arabia is part of the U.S.-led coalition bombing the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The group has called on its supporters to launch attacks inside Saudi Arabia.
It’s worth noting, of course, that the kingdom’s royal family rules with an iron grip in Saudi Arabia. They wouldn’t be the first absolute rule to use terrorism as a handy cover for putting down normal dissent. At least at first blush, though, this doesn’t appear to be the case, even though two-thirds of the suspects are Saudi nationals. It also matches up with the largely unexplained closures of the Riyadh embassy that began on March 15th:
Due to heightened security concerns at U.S. diplomatic facilities in Saudi Arabia, the U.S.
Embassy and Consulates have cancelled all consular services in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dhahran for Sunday, March 15 and Monday, March 16, 2015. Telephone lines to the Consular sections will not be open during these two days. In an emergency, please use the emergency contact numbers provided below.
All U.S. citizens are encouraged to be aware of their surroundings, and take extra precautions when travelling throughout the country. The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of traveling to Saudi Arabia and limit non-essential travel within the country.
The embassy re-opened for business on March 22nd, and then offered a slightly more specific explanation on March 26th:
The U.S. Embassy has been made aware of information indicating that, as of late March, individuals were planning to attack restaurants in Riyadh which U.S. citizens frequent. Also, as of mid-March, a terrorist organization identified a residential compound on the outskirts of Jubail, Eastern Province as a target for an alleged attack. Saudi authorities are actively investigating both threats and the Embassy and Consulates are monitoring the situation.
Additionally, in light of the Saudi-led military coalition airstrikes in Yemen, increased security and check points around the Kingdom should be expected. As a reminder, and as stated in the Department of State Travel Warning for Saudi Arabia, U.S. government personnel are restricted from traveling within 50 miles of the border with Yemen, which includes the cities of Jizan and Najran, without permission from Embassy security officials. Please take this into consideration when planning your travels within Saudi
If all 93 arrested suspects took part in a single cell, that would be a remarkably large conspiracy, and a remarkably bad organizational structure for a terrorist group to use. Assuming it’s on the level, it looks like the Saudis rolled up an entire network operating in the kingdom, or stumbled onto multiple cells independently but captured them all at once. Either would be considered an intelligence success, especially at preventing another Khobar Towers-style debacle. If US intelligence shared in the operation — and it would seem so, given the propitious and limited embassy closure — so much the better.
This still shows just how dangerous the radical Sunni terrorist army of ISIS is to the other Sunni nations in the region, perhaps especially to them, as ISIS wants to claim leadership over all of Sunni Islam on behalf of the genocidal leadership of their group. At some point, the Saudis and the Jordanians will have to stop playing defense on the ground and start pressing the point in Anbar. Perhaps this will motivate them to do so.