Monday, December 6, 2004

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Open Jiddah thread

Feel free to comment on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Jeddah here. Reuters and CNN seem to have the most comprehensive reports. Also, the Associated Press has this interesting quote from the president:

President Bush said Monday an attack on the U.S. consulate in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, showed that "terrorists are still on the move'' and trying to intimidate Americans.

"They want us to grow timid and weary in the face of their willingness to kill randomly, kill innocent people,'' Bush said. (emphasis added)

Given the obvious, deep links between Al Qaeda and Saudi society, doesn't this mean that the terrorists prefer a home court advantage?

CLARIFICATION: In other words, given that a fair share of Al Qaeda are Saudi, wouldn't this attack signal that they're not on the move so much as staying local? I don't think this is what Bush meant by "on the move," obviously, but it's just an odd phrasing choice.

Comment away.

posted by Dan on 12.06.04 at 12:23 PM


I'm not sure what you mean when you say, "Given the obvious, deep links between Al Qaeda and Saudi society, doesn't this mean that the terrorists prefer a home court advantage?"

What conclusion are you trying to draw?

posted by: kevin on 12.06.04 at 12:23 PM [permalink]

I'm sort of wondering that, too. Rather than jump the gun, I'll ask for clarification.

posted by: John on 12.06.04 at 12:23 PM [permalink]

It's one of those Bushisms. He means terrorists are still "on the go" or simply "active" and it came out wrong.

posted by: Dave F on 12.06.04 at 12:23 PM [permalink]

Indeed, it is odd but certainly we're all long used to the aporias and malapropisms of our president. Taking that into account, what might have he meant? That he will continue to insist on thinking about Al Qaeda and world terrorist threats in only the most manichean terms. In this case, his view seems especially myopic, because if there is any place in the world we could expect (and in fact obviously did expect) an attack, it would be on a fortified US embassy in Saudia Arabia. Rather than talk about terrorists being ineffably "on the move", its about time the President began totalk about what kind of progress is being made to bring the kinds of connections you mention to light.

posted by: Joseph on 12.06.04 at 12:23 PM [permalink]

Okay, I see what you're saying now, and I agree with the other commenters and you that Saudi terrorists are staying local at the moment. In fact, I can't think of a time since 9/11 that Saudis have committed terrorist acts outside of Saudi Arabia. (I forget, were Saudis implicated in the bombing of British interests in Turkey?) I would like to think that this is evidence that the US is doing some things right in the GWOT. What do others think?

Who ever knows what Bush means to say, but Dave F captures the most generous interpretation of what Bush is probably trying to say.

posted by: kevin on 12.06.04 at 12:23 PM [permalink]

I think Dave F has the right interpretation, that Bush means the terrorists are being active.

Alternatively, this could be read as a transition in AQ strategy, such as it is. The focus had been on getting the Americans out of Iraq and making the invasion appear to be a disaster. The general trend, though, has been that the U.S. military hasn't cut and run in the way that had been hoped. The other problem with the military is that they tend to kill people who are trying to kill them, and they're generally fairly good at that. Consequently, there's a turn towards targets that are less likely to shoot back. I don't know how much I believe this, but I think it's at least something to think about.

posted by: Tom on 12.06.04 at 12:23 PM [permalink]

Does anyone here think any captured terrorists won't be eventually released/allowed to escape/have their deaths announced before American security personnel can question them?

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 12.06.04 at 12:23 PM [permalink]

Tom Holsinger: Yes, I think that they won't be released. This attack was too embarassing and too much of a direct challenge to Saudi governmental authority to go unanswered.

Kevin: I believe three Saudis were implicated in the Casablanca bombings as well.

posted by: John on 12.06.04 at 12:23 PM [permalink]

Out of curiosity, does anyone know if there were American soldiers at the consulate? If not, is this the norm at consulates worldwide? I noted that the CNN report references Saudi forces as well as contract guards, but there is no mention of any American troops.

posted by: Michael on 12.06.04 at 12:23 PM [permalink]

My understanding is that some complement of Marine guards is standard at most American consulates. Some news reports reference unspecified actions of Marines at Jiddah after the attack started, but the official line is that Saudi security engaged and repelled the terrorists.

I'm not sure what is interesting about the President's statement, which sounds to me like a slight variation on his usual boilerplate after every terrorist attack. We're not talking about Richard Nixon here; parsing Bush's statements, especially those made in immediate reaction to an unexpected event, for subtleties and hidden meanings is essentially pointless.

In any event the sequence of events in Jiddah suggest that these particular terrorists, emulating Sunni terrorists in Iraq, are most interested in intimidating locals, not Americans. I use the word "suggest" advisedly; the attack appears to have come when a car full of gunmen that had been shadowing the consulate took advantage of the front gate's opening to admit Saudi consular employees. This may only have been a target of opportunity.

posted by: Zathras on 12.06.04 at 12:23 PM [permalink]

Regrettably, the Saudis aren't going to put a dent in AQ terrorism as long as their domestic claims are things like "AQ is a front for the Mossad" or that "OBL is just a good-old-boy who was lead astray by the Zionists." They can't possibly make changes because they are unwilling to address the cause of the problem. Which is also part of the problem in the WhiteHouse: all problems are blamed on political opponents than on the real cause of the problem.

When Western individuals are targetted in KSA, the offical claim in KSA is that the victims were participants in bootlegging/rum-running. For those who've never been there, or only know about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from the press, KSA is a "dry" country, where alcohol is illegal.

posted by: Peter on 12.06.04 at 12:23 PM [permalink]

There are US Marine Security Guards at the Consulate in Jeddah. They--as all USMSG detachments--have a very specific and limited role. Their only mission is to provide enough time for classified documents and equipment to be destroyed in case of attack. They will, of course, protect lives as required.

But they work within the embassy or consulate buildings themselves. Outside the building, security is provided in several layers. Working outward from the Marines, there're are USG-contracted security guards (depending on local law, these may be armed with sidearms). Then outside the walls are local security services, in this case, the Saudi National Guard.

The issue of USMSG presence is one that's negotiated separately with every country. Some countries are wary about non-native troops being present, particularly if they are armed. (I seem to recall that Denmark was Marine-adverse at one point, though that may have changed.) In all instances, the USMSG wear civies outside their watch stations, carrying their uniforms to the buildings and changing there. They intentionally keep a low profile.

Interestingly, this attack in Jeddah seems to have taken its toll on the Marine House, on the consulate compound. It was directly attacked with incendiary grenades and, essentially, burnt to the ground. Whether this was intentional or not isn't clear; their building is close to the entry that was forced by the attackers.

This particular attack did not take place at the main gate, but at a service gate, through which consulate deliveries are made, but also used for entry/exit by certain staff and vehicles. The structures near the gate include the exterior mail screening room and the General Services Office facilites.

Peter: That particular line of thought has been suppressed within the Saudi government and media. While there are certainly Saudis who continue to believe it, attacks within Saudi Arabia have dampened the appeal of that monstrosity.

posted by: John Burgess on 12.06.04 at 12:23 PM [permalink]

Unless the terrorists plan on bombing their own homes, the phrase makes perfect sense. When the cops are staking out drug dealers, when they get in their cars the phrase 'they are on the move' is totally appropriate. That doesnt mean they are driving to Columbia.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 12.06.04 at 12:23 PM [permalink]

All this talk of Bushisms and what he means to say just goes on and on-- "On the move" is an expression used to denote armies gathering for an attack or positioning themselves for advantage. As in Roman troops were "on the move" during the summer of 30 AD. It has a somewhat antipicatory meaning. Everytime Pres. Bush speaks it is not necessary to deconstruct what he is saying.

posted by: Gorman on 12.06.04 at 12:23 PM [permalink]

Thank you, Mr. Burgess, for your input. I was mainly curious because there was no mention of American troops in any of the reports. I'm somewhat comforted by the fact that there are Marines at consulates/embassies worldwide, although their limited role is interesting.

posted by: Michael on 12.06.04 at 12:23 PM [permalink]

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