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Viewing cable 09RIYADH1121, SAUDIS CONDEMN ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT, RALLY BEHIND

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09RIYADH1121 2009-08-31 04:04 2010-11-28 23:11 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Riyadh
VZCZCXRO4632
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHRH #1121/01 2430443
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 310443Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY RIYADH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1465
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 RIYADH 001121 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/29/2019 
TAGS: PREL PGOV PTER SA
SUBJECT: SAUDIS CONDEMN ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT, RALLY BEHIND 
PRINCE 
 
REF: A. RIYADH 1110 
     B. RIYADH 939 
     C. RIYADH 921 
     D. RIYADH 928 
 
Classified By: CDA Ambassador Richard Erdman for reasons 1.4(b) and (d) 
 
SUMMARY AND COMMENT 
-------------------- 
 
1.  (C) In the aftermath of the failed assassination attempt 
targeting Assistant Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin 
Naif (MbN) (ref A), King Abdullah and other officials 
responded swiftly and decisively to reassure the public that 
the Prince was well, and reaffirm the Kingdom's commitment to 
combating terrorism.  The press and the public universally 
condemned the attack, characterizing it as a direct assault 
against the Saudi state and Islam.  A more measured reaction 
in the blogosphere hints at how this most recent incident 
might affect domestic debate on the proper approach to 
dealing with domestic terrorism, with some calling for 
continued leniency and emphasis on reform and others arguing 
the Saudi government is being too lax.  The attack seems to 
have strengthened the already positive public reputation of 
Prince Mohammed bin Naif, and many religious-minded Saudis 
will see his miraculous survival, almost unscathed, as a sign 
of Divine protection and blessing for his efforts against 
Al-Qaeda and other extremists.  For his part, Prince Mohammed 
has told us the attack has only strengthened his resolve, and 
convinced him that the Kingdom's counter-terrorism strategy, 
combining firmness with understanding, is effective and 
should continue.  End Summary and Comment. 
 
 
OFFICIAL REACTION SWIFT AND DECISIVE 
------------------------------------ 
 
2.  (U) Official condemnation came from all quarters 
immediately following the attack.  The Saudi Press Agency 
published photographs of King Abdullah and MbN, wearing a 
bandage on his left middle finger, meeting at the hospital in 
Jeddah.  News channel Al-Arabiya played a tape of the visit 
throughout the day in which the visibly concerned King 
praised Allah for the Prince's safety and described the 
attack as an attack against both Islam and the country: 
"Thanks be to God that you are safe and nothing has happened 
to you.  Everything you might have suffered in the service of 
your religion and homeland will not be for nothing, God 
willing."  MbN responded that this attack "would only 
strengthen our resolve to root out the terrorists," and 
admitted that he was at fault for failing to require a full 
search of the bomber.  Official reports note that the 
would-be assassin was on a list of 85 wanted terrorists, that 
MbN was aware of his planned attendance, and that he had been 
expected to turn himself in at the event. 
 
3.  (U) Other prominent religious and political figures were 
widely quoted in the press the day after the incident.  The 
Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia told Okaz newspaper the attack 
was "not unexpected," and called the assailant "deviant" and 
"corrupt to the core."  Justice Minister Mohammed Al-Issa 
"thanked Allah" for keeping the Prince safe.  Interior 
Ministry Spokesman Major General Mansour Al-Turki reaffirmed 
the Ministry's commitment to fighting terrorism, 
characterizing the attack as "an isolated incident" and 
adding "those who think the war on terror is over in the 
Kingdom are mistaken." 
 
 
PRINCE FETED IN PAPERS, PUBLIC SHOCKED BY ATTACK 
--------------------------------------------- --- 
 
4.  (U) All major Arabic and English dailies led with the 
story, focusing prominently on MbN himself and his role in 
the Kingdom's war on terror.  Al-Sharq Al-Awsat dedicated the 
first three pages of the August 29 edition solely to the 
attack on the Prince and related subjects.  Other papers 
included lengthy biographical profiles of the Prince, 
editorial cartoons dealing with the event, and even poems in 
his honor. 
 
5.  (U) The articles and editorials show broad support for 
MbN and, more generally, the fight against terrorism.  Many 
depicted the event as an assault on the Saudi state that 
called for a patriotic response.  Saudi journalist Dawood 
Al-Shiryan wrote in Al-Hayat that the attack was "terrorism 
as a political rebellion attempting to undermine the 
authority of the state."  Okaz called the attack "an attack 
on the security of the nation...that should make everyone 
alert and ready to fight."  The August 29 editorial cartoon 
in Al-Watan depicted a prone terrorist, wearing an explosive 
belt and holding a detonator in each hand, dead and bleeding 
 
RIYADH 00001121  002 OF 003 
 
 
from a wound caused by the Saudi flag planted in his back. 
In the same paper, a caricature accompanying a poem 
celebrating the Prince as "Engineer of Love and War" shows 
him carrying a shield resembling the Saudi flag. 
 
6.  (U) The public's reaction as portrayed in an Arab News 
article was of "shock, disgust, and dismay," noting that the 
timing of the attack during the holy month of Ramadan was a 
particular source of ire.  One student in Jeddah said "Yes, 
there is frustration among a section of people regarding our 
foreign policy, but what happened...is deplorable and utterly 
un-Islamic."  A Riyadh-based professional questioned whether 
the Kingdom should continue with its rehabilitation programs, 
saying these efforts had been "nullified" by the attack and 
that the perpetrator had "betrayed our leaders."  Others 
called the attack "evidence that the government's anti-terror 
tactics have been largely successful," and observed "panic in 
the terror camp" and "frustration with the government's 
continued success of hitting (terrorists) hard." 
 
 
DIVERSE REACTION IN THE BLOGOSPHERE 
----------------------------------- 
 
7.  (U) On his Saudi Jeans blog, Ahmed Al-Omran expressed 
relief that the Prince was not seriously injured and hope 
that the incident would not "add fuel to the fire" of the 
debate between liberals and conservatives.  He added, "this 
is a time for solidarity and national unity, let us not ruin 
it."  A contributor to blog Al-Saha encouraged MbN to 
continue to demonstrate openness and patience with 
terrorists, not revert to iron-fisted policies.  An informal 
poll on the same website indicated strong support for the 
Prince, with 58% of voters suggesting MbN should replace his 
father as Interior Minister.  Liberal blog Al-Tomaar said the 
attack was the result of "spoiling terrorists and treating 
them leniently," referring to the SAG's widely-touted 
terrorist rehabilitation scheme (ref B). 
 
 
CONTACTS RESERVE COMMENT 
------------------------ 
 
8.  (C) Post contacts were reluctant to comment substantively 
on the attack over the phone, telling us that it was common 
for royals to welcome well-wishers during Ramadan, that they 
were relieved MbN was not injured, and that they wondered why 
the man was not checked.  When the subject was broached at a 
meeting between PAS officers and Deputy Minister of Higher 
Education Mohammed Alohali on August 29, however, he went 
somewhat beyond the fulsome praise of MbN as "Qahir al 
Erhaby" (conqueror of terrorism) that is the stuff of most 
media commentary.  "We know what we,re up against," said 
Alohali, adding that dangerous extremists were still a threat 
to the country.  This, he said, was the reason the SAG was 
pushing educational reform so hard. 
 
 
TERROR, YEMEN ALREADY HOT TOPICS 
-------------------------------- 
 
9.  (U) Saudi soul-searching about the root causes and extent 
of domestic terrorism has been evident since 2003, and the 
August 20 announcement that 44 suspected Al-Qaeda militants 
had been arrested in the Kingdom injected it with new vigor. 
On August 22, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist Husayn Al-Shubakshi 
praised the Saudi security forces for their "pre-emptive, 
focused, professional, and secret blows," and credited MbN 
directly for the Ministry's success. 
 
10.  (U) In an August 27 piece in the same paper, columnist 
Mshari Al-Zaydi also considered the arrests a success, while 
citing the need to confront terrorism as an ideological 
issue.  That this new batch of terrorists was predominantly 
Saudi, middle-aged, and well-educated challenged previous 
assumptions that economic deprivation and youthful religious 
zealotry were responsible for domestic terrorism, and 
indicated that the government needed to rethink its approach. 
 "Saudi Arabia is now confronting a new virus that is 
constantly evolving," he writes, adding "the ideological 
doctor who is holding on to the surgeon's scalpel...is yet to 
enter the operating theater." 
 
11.  (C) Although unvoiced in the gushing media paeans to 
MbN, ordinary Saudis are wondering how this assassination 
attempt came so close to fruition.  According to today,s 
edition of "Okaz," the suspect managed to make his way from 
Yemen into Saudi Arabia some weeks ago, and finally rented a 
furnished apartment in Jeddah.  We anticipate that such 
reports will inevitably spur some introspection into how well 
the security services are patrolling the Asir region. 
 
 
RIYADH 00001121  003 OF 003 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
ERDMAN