Saudi Arabia is very pleased to welcome President Trump to the Kingdom. This visit will strengthen counterterrorism cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the United States on a variety of fronts.
The U.S. War on Terror and the Saudi War on Terror are the same. Both nations face the same enemy. Your fight is our fight. Saudi Arabia has long been a target of terrorism – from Al-Qaeda, from Daesh and from terrorist proxies sponsored by Iran. That is why Saudi Arabia targets the men, the money and the mindset that support terrorism. Security cooperation is at an all-time high – not just between Saudi Arabia and the United States, but between Saudi Arabia and international organizations all around the world. The Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism is the latest example of multilateral cooperation to destroy terrorism.
President Trump’s visit sends a very clear message to the world that the U.S. and the Arab Muslim countries can form a partnership. It will lead to enhanced cooperation between the U.S. and Arab and Islamic countries in combating terrorism and extremism, and it will change the conversation with regards to America’s relationship with the Arab and Islamic world.
Saudi Arabia has been a Target of Terrorism
Saudi Arabia fights terrorism because it has been a frequent target of terrorism. Saudi Arabia mounted an aggressive campaign against Al-Qaeda terrorists operating in the Kingdom in the early 2000s, which ultimately led to the destruction of Al-Qaeda inside the Kingdom.
These fights against terrorism are ongoing to the present day. In 2016, Saudi Special Forces thwarted planned and imminent terrorist attacks at the Prophet’s Mosque during Pilgrimage season, the U.S. consulate during Ramadan, an international football match at the al Jawahara Stadium in Jeddah, a checkpoint in Damman, tourist areas on Tarout Island on the Arabian Gulf. They also prevented seven suicide attacks targeting mosques in the Eastern Province.
Such examples of terror attacks attempted and executed in the Kingdom underscore the motivation Saudi Arabia has to stamp out terrorism. It also proves that accusations that the Kingdom supports terrorism are illogical and defamatory. As Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir has said, “Why would we support an ideology whose objective it is to kill us?”
Counterterrorism: Targeting the Men, the Money and the Mindset
Saudi Arabia pursues terrorists using a variety of law enforcement and military tools. In early January 2017, the Ministry of Interior announced that Saudi Security Forces had arrested more than 300 foreign nationals from nine nations over the past two years for involvement with Daesh. Saudi Arabia has enthusiastically joined the U.S.-led military campaign against Daesh, carrying out 341 airstrikes in support of coalition strikes in Syria. Further, the Saudi government has said that the Kingdom is willing to participate with its own forces if the U.S.-led coalition is prepared to engage in ground operations.
Saudi Arabia has enacted one of the strictest financial control systems in the world to combat terror financing. Saudi Arabia works with its international partners to place sanctions on entities that assist in terror financing. Saudi Arabia serves as co-chair of the Counter-ISIL Finance Group alongside the U.S. and Italy. The Kingdom works particularly closely with the U.S. Treasury Department and cooperating with U.S. requests for certified bank records. Saudi Arabia has established a major intelligence department to monitor and investigate any suspected financial transactions. This is usually done in coordination with the Saudi Monetary Agency and the banks. This led to convicting more than 226 persons in terrorist financing activities, prosecuting more than 240 suspects, freezing and investigating more than 117 suspected accounts, closing all unlicensed charity collection locations.
The terrorist mindset is a perversion of Islam – and Saudi religious leaders have been the first ones to say so. Saudi Arabia has suffered repeated terrorist attacks, and has been at the forefront of fighting extremism and terrorism in the region and in the world. Following three simultaneous terror attacks on July 4, 2016, the imams of the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina vehemently condemned terrorism and urged waging a tough fight against the “evil goals” behind extremist organizations. The following day, on the celebration of the Eid Al- Fitr, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz said in an address to all Muslims that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will “strike with an iron fist” the terror groups that seek to recruit youths to “extremism and violence.” King Salman pledged efforts to “distance them from masterminds of misleading ideas.”
Security Cooperation is at an All-Time High
Counterterrorism cooperation between the Saudi Arabia and the United States is at an all-time high. In February 2017, CIA Director Mike Pompeo honored Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif with the George Tenet Medal to recognize his significant contributions in the fight against terrorism, demonstrating the close cooperation between the CIA and Saudi Ministry of Interior. The U.S. National Security Agency collaborates with the Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense, focusing on internal security and terrorist activity in the Arabian Peninsula. The Kingdom hosts the United States Military Training Mission as a special Security Assistance and Security Cooperation organization, strengthening collaboration between the two nations. Saudi-U.S. counterterrorism cooperation has resulted in the prevention of a number of terrorist plots on U.S. soil; including critical intelligence sharing that foiled a cargo plane-bombing plot by AQAP in 2010.
Terrorism is a global scourge, and it requires a global solution. Saudi Arabia regularly coordinates with international organizations in fighting terrorism. In 2011, Saudi Arabia signed an agreement with the United Nations to create the United Nations Centre for Counter Terrorism, donating an initial $10 million for its establishment. The Kingdom donated an additional $100 million in 2014 to enhance its capabilities. UNCCT has initiated more than 30 non-military counterterrorism projects around the world at the global, regional and national levels. In 2016, Saudi Arabia announced plans to link internal sections of its databases to the General Secretariat of Interpol to ensure a more effective method of investigation.
Furthermore, Saudi Arabia has created the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism – a multilateral coalition of 41 member nations. The Islamic Military Alliance recognizes that Muslim nations have a unique role to play in defeating terrorism. The Islamic Military Alliance conducted the “North Thunder” military drill — the largest military exercise in the history of the Middle East — in northern Saudi Arabia in late February through early March of 2016. On March 27, 2016, the Chiefs of Staff of the armed forces of the Alliance member countries issued the Riyadh Declaration, a statement of their joint commitment to fight terrorism. In April 2017, Pakistan approved the appointment of Raheel Sharif, the retired former Chief of Staff of the Pakistani Army, to serve as military leader of the Islamic Military Alliance. The Saudi Ministry of Defense has launched the Ideological Warfare Center to counter extremist ideologies that cause terrorism. The IWC is staffed with experienced experts from Saudi Arabia and around the world to provide diverse perspectives on how to combat terrorism online.
This type of burden sharing, with nations taking responsibility for their own security while continuing to cooperate with the United States — is a key component of Saudi Arabia’s defense and foreign policy.