How ... odd.
Saudi police arrest six more al-Qaida members in alleged plot to attack Islam's holiest city(SFgate.com, Monday, June 16, 2003): Police investigating a purported Islamic extremist plot to attack Mecca arrested six more suspected al-Qaida members who allegedly escaped a raid on a bomb-filled apartment, newspapers reported Monday. The six suspects arrested Sunday join five others captured during the previous night's raid on the booby-trapped apartment, where police found six dozen bombs and other weapons. A shootout at the site killed five al-Qaida militants suspected in last month's suicide bombings in Riyadh and two security agents. The newspaper Okaz reported that the six suspects arrested Sunday fled the raid in a car that broke down on the outskirts of Mecca. The men continued on foot. Four were arrested at a mosque complex just outside the city. A fifth made it to nearby mountains, where authorities overpowered him after a three-hour standoff in which he threatened to detonate a bomb. [...] The hideout was in a neighborhood just three miles from the Grand Mosque, which houses the Kaaba, the large, cubical stone structure covered with a black cloth that is Islam's most sacred site. Muslims around the world face the Kaaba during daily prayers.
You know ... that seems a terribly odd thing for terrorists hoping to gain public sympathy to do. To be sure, it depends on what they were going to do and where they were going to do it. They were unlikely in the extreme to have attacked mosques in Mecca, for example, or to have done anything anywhere near the Grand Mosque itself, hideout aside. An attack might demonstrate that the official guardians of Islam are doing no such thing and produce public outrage that such a thing was possible.
And yet ... and yet it still seems unlikely that they would attack Mecca at all. Why do that when they can pretty much wander through Riyadh or port cities almost at will, cities where there are so very many more westerners? Why attack one of the two cities where the American military simply will not set foot? (The other being, of course, Medina.) Producing significant death or destruction in Mecca itself would almost certainly produce outright Muslim hostility to the terrorists. Even the extremist imams in Arabia itself would be unlikely to say, "Hey, blowing up stuff in Mecca! Way cool! Keep it up, guys!" in the same way they have for other bombings.
This just seems like it might be a ploy by Saudi security. It's possible that the people in Mecca that they caught were terrorists, yes -- although given the history of Saudi security forces, one wonders -- but they were perhaps using the city as a haven. The one place where authorities assume they will not carry out attacks, so they stay there with the tacit protection of the extremist imams, and the wink-nod-look the other way protection of the Saudi government.Posted by iain at June 16, 2003 05:42 PM