Saudis paying off ISIS not to attack?

By F. Michael Maloof

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud
Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud

WASHINGTON – Following Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud’s bombshell warning that the next target of the Islamic State, or ISIS, will be Europe first and America a month after that, one Middle East source is suggesting the Saudis may have paid ISIS extortion money not to attack the kingdom.

The source, who asked to remain anonymous but is close to officials in the governments of Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, said that the Saudis years ago did the same thing when Prince al-Turki, then Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief, traveled to Afghanistan to meet with al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden.

In that meeting, Turki reportedly paid millions of dollars to bin Laden to refrain from attacking the Saudi kingdom, even though bin Laden had turned against the Saudi monarchy for hosting U.S. forces on Muslim soil to fight against then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

In expressing concern that such an event may be happening, the WND source pointed out there had been concern about a month ago that ISIS was preparing to attack the Saudi kingdom, with a number of ISIS fighters saying publicly the jihadist group would capture Mecca and Medina – two of the most holy Muslims cities in all Islam.

Until recently, ISIS forces were known to be approaching the border between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, with some cells having penetrated the kingdom before being captured.

In his most recent comments to new ambassadors to the Saudi Kingdom, however, Abdullah only warned that the West, including Europe and the U.S., would be the next targets unless there is “rapid” action.

“If we ignore them, I am sure they will reach Europe in a month and America in another month,” Abdullah was quoted as saying in the daily Asharq al-Awsat.

“Terrorism knows no border, and its danger could affect several countries outside the Middle East,” Abdullah told the new ambassadors.

The king’s prediction sent shockwaves through the international media, even garnering the top headline on the widely popular Drudge Report.

But with no similar concerns from Abdullah about a possible attack on Saudi soil, WND’s source questioned whether Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan may be working negotiations behind the scenes to keep ISIS at bay.

Bandar is a nephew of Abdullah. For years, he was the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., becoming close friends with former U.S. President George W. Bush. Following that stint, he returned to Saudi Arabia and became the chief of the Saudi intelligence service and Saudi national security council.

President George W. Bush and Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan
President George W. Bush and Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan

From the time the U.S. created the Sunni Mujahedeen to fight against the then Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the early 1980s, Bandar played a key role in operations to dispatch jihadist fighters and helped provide financial, military and human support.

WND’s source said that given his close association with jihadist groups over the years, Bandar may have the necessary contacts to pay extortion money to ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, just as Turki did years earlier to bin Laden.

The source said Bandar has a history of such activity, referring to his efforts in Syria to buy fighters to go against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is allied with Iran.

The Saudis, who are Sunni, are concerned that Iran – which is Shia – will extend its influence in predominantly Sunni Gulf Arab countries. The Sunnis and Shia have been at odds since the death of Mohammad in 632 A.D.

Today, Iran and Saudi Arabia are engaged in proxy wars from Bahrain and Iraq to Syria and Yemen. The Saudis are concerned that the Shia in countries such as Iraq and Syria and even Lebanon will have more influence over what the Saudis believe are Sunni regions in the Middle East.

All the jihadist fighters from such prominent groups as Jabhat al-Nusra, Abdullah Azzam Brigades and the Islamic State are extremist Sunnis who seek to make all lands dominated by Sunnis into a caliphate that will be subject to strict Shariah, or Islamic law.

Bandar was known to have been working for a time in northern Lebanon and then in Jordan to pay fighters to join various Islamist groups. The fighters would be trained in Jordan, many by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, then transferred through Turkey and into Syria.

Many of the fighters whom the U.S. trained and Bandar financed belonged to jihadist groups that not only took over from the opposition fighters of the Free Syrian Army, but later peeled off to join ISIS.

As a consequence, many of the ISIS fighters display many of the tactics and fighting techniques employed by U.S. Special Forces, a development which has raised mounting concern in Washington should the fighters who survive the battlefield return to their homeland, including the U.S.

In a display of Bandar’s relationship with jihadi fighters, he had met with Russian President Vladimir Putin late last year in the hope of getting the Russian president to switch his support away from Assad and Iran and back the Syrian opposition, which by then had thoroughly infiltrated the opposition and had control over larger weapons.

Bandar reportedly told Putin that he controlled like a “light switch” the Sunni Chechen fighters who had been attacking Moscow’s subway and international airport and were threatening to attack the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Putin not only refused Bandar’s request to Putin to give up his backing of Assad and Iran, but reportedly grew angry with Bandar for what amounted to a threat on the Russian homeland by jihadist fighters who are under the control of Saudi Arabia.

F. Michael Maloof, senior staff writer for WND/ G2Bulletin, is a former security policy analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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