For those who had begun to suffer under the illusion that the Arabian Peninsula was on the threshold of liberating itself from the hydra-headed monster called Al Qaeda, the recent targeting by the terror outfit of a prominent Saudi royal has come as a real jolt. That a suicide bomber came close to assassinating Prince Muhammad bin Naf has shown that Al Qaeda, the organisation that has claimed responsibility for the attack, has not lost its ruthlessness in pursuit of an ideology that seeks to topple the House of Saud. By all accounts, the attack was bold in conception and audacious in execution. The high-value target was a Prince who has spearheaded Saudi Arabia’s drive against terrorism. A string of recent successes had made him a symbol of the Kingdom’s resolve to root out terrorism from its desert stronghold. Had the assassination attempt succeeded, it would have shaken the Saudi monarchy to its core. For Prince Muhammad is the son of the Interior Minister, Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz, who is number three in the Saudi royal hierarchy. On a global scale, success would have boosted the morale of Al Qaeda, whose self-styled Emir, Osama bin Laden, has publicly declared war on the Saudi royal household.
But it may not be all or nothing. Despite the failure of the assassination attempt, the masterminds must now be hoping to derail Prince Muhammad’s rather successful counter-terrorism campaign, which has combined proactive use of selective force with a policy that encourages militants to surrender. Saudi Arabia would do well to continue this policy because, despite Al Qaeda’s palpable activism, the militant outfit has suffered hefty blows. It is heartening that Prince Muhammad has stated that the Kingdom would continue to pursue extremists, without changing course significantly. An uphill task awaits the Saudi royal. In a globalised world, the negative images of America’s war on terror, increasingly symbolised by the horrors of Guantanamo Bay, the Predator drone strikes that indiscriminately target innocents along the Afghan-Pakistan border, and the gross injustice meted out to Palestinians, continue to draw Muslim youth from countries in the region towards Al Qaeda. The House of Saud would also do well to adopt a less ostentatious lifestyle and erase the perception, real or imaginary, of moral decadence and material corruption which continues to push the Kingdom’s youth towards nihilistic extremism, which is falsely touted as pristine Islam.