The foiled terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia Feb. 24 offers a probably unnecessary reminder that the militant form of Islamic jihad has multiple targets.
Saudi security forces stopped at least two cars bearing explosives and killed the occupants as they tried to attack the giant Abqaiq processing center. Disruption of Abqaiq operations would have jolted an already shaky oil market.
It wasn't immediately certain that the terrorists, who apparently were on a suicide mission, belonged to Al Qaida or some other manifestation of militant jihad. They might have been local dissidents with political aims confined to Saudi Arabia. But that's unlikely.
The kingdom has been targeted by Al Qaida in the past. And the attack fits a recent analysis about effects of the Iraqi war and occupation on jihadist thinking.
Writing in the Winter 2006 edition of The Middle East Journal, Thomas Hegghammer argues that the 2003 war in Iraq and subsequent occupation changed the ideology of Islamist extremism in four fundamental ways.
One of them is an expanded concept of the jihadist "enemy" to Europe and elsewhere, writes Hegghammer, a researcher at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment who studies jihadist sites proliferating on the internet.
Among other ideological changes he cites:
-- The war in Iraq provided a focal point that the movement lost with the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
-- New dilemmas and questions have arisen about the channeling of jihadist forces to Iraq, possibly at the expense of other fronts.
-- Strategic studies have developed and are being refined in jihadist writing.
"Iraq is now considered by far the most important battle arena in the fight against the Jewish-Crusader alliance," Hegghammer writes.
Frequent themes in jihadist discussions about Iraq, he notes, are that Muslims are suffering at the hands of Americans, that Iraq represents a crossroads in the "Muslim-Crusader struggle," and that Iraq represents, for the terrorist cause, the highest prospect for victory.
But there are controversies, the author adds, such as whether to press the war against Persian Gulf allies of the US.
Apparently, given events in Abqaiq, that issue has been settled.
(Online Feb. 24, 2006; author's e-mail: [email protected])