May 27, 2005

Saudi Arabia: 'Abdullah - The Man Who Will Be King

As the news networks in the United States and the Middle East flash the news that Saudi Arabia's King Fahd has been rushed to the hospital, perhaps we should take a look at who will succeed him on the throne in Riyadh.

For the past few years, because of the king's continuing poor health, much of the day-to-day responsibility for running the affairs of the oil-rich kingdom has been in the hands of the king's half-brother and almost certain successor, Crown Prince 'Abdullah bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz. 'Abdullah, regarded almost as an outsider by many of the senior royal family, may not be as close to the United States as his predecessors, possibly causing difficulties for the United States in defending its interests in the Persian Gulf.

The Saudi ruling family is extremely secretive by nature. Many observers suspect that Fahd's health is much worse than portrayed in Saudi media. The king has been ill for several years. When he suffered a stroke in 1995, the situation was serious enough for 'Abdullah to be appointed regent for several months.

When King Fahd does die, the senior members of the Saudi royal family - the sons of the kingdom's founder 'Abd Al-'Aziz - will meet to choose his successor. Although 'Abdullah is the overwhelming favorite, there have been noises of a challenge, that being Prince Sultan bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz, the minister of defense and aviation. Like King Fahd and five other members of the senior royal family, Sultan is one of the "Sudayri Seven." King Fahd is the eldest brother of the Sudayri Seven. These are seven sons of King 'Abd Al-'Aziz from the same mother, Hasa bint Ahmad Al-Sudayri. Many have assumed powerful positions in the government, based on the full fraternal relationship. In addition to King Fahd and defense chief Sultan, 'Abd Al-Rahman is deputy minister of defense and aviation, Nayif is the minister of the interior, and Salman is the governor of Riyadh province. Turki, 'Abd Al-Rahman and Ahmad also hold positions in the government. These seven brothers - and now their sons - are the power behind the kingdom's future.

Of note is the tribal affiliation of 'Abdullah's mother. She is a member of the largest and most powerful tribe in the region - the Shammar. The Shammar are found in northern Saudi Arabia, eastern Jordan, southeastern Syria and throughout Iraq. Among his Shammar cousins, 'Abdullah counts Shaykh Ghazi Al-Yawar, one of Iraq's recently named vice presidents (and former interim president).

'Abdullah bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz and the United States

Crown Prince and First Deputy Prime Minister 'Abdullah bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz Al Sa'ud, is half-brother to the king and heir to the throne since 1982, served as regent from 1 January to 22 February 1996. 'Abdullah, 80, has been the commander of the Saudi National Guard since 1963. The Saudi Arabian National Guard is an independent military force made up of descendants of the original armed supporters of King 'Abd Al-'Aziz, and is meant to act as a counter to any possible anti-government activities by the armed forces. In times of national emergency, it is attached to the army, as they were in the Gulf War against the Iraqis in 1991.

Assuming that 'Abdullah is named to succeed King Fahd, the close relationship between Washington and Riyadh may cool a bit. Fahd is the latest in a line of pro-Western Saudi kings who have used the country's immense oil reserves - the largest in the world, over 250 billion barrels - to attempt to maintain stable oil prices. These stable oil prices, and access to the oil, is a key U.S. national interest. For this price stability, Saudi Arabia has been assured that the military power of the United States is available to protect the kingdom.

'Abdullah, however, is much less enamored of the United States than his predecessors. It is believed that 'Abdullah was behind the withdrawal of American forces from the kingdom. He may be less inclined to purchase American or western weapons, and is less likely to use Saudi Arabia's power within the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to hold oil prices in check. In obvious preparation for assuming the throne, 'Abdullah has made numerous trips throughout the region as well as a visit to consult with President George Bush.

As events bring the inevitable change of leadership in Riyadh, it will be interesting to watch which way 'Abdullah leads Saudi Arabia.

May 24, 2005

NBC News - "CD serves as ‘cookbook’ for rogue terrorists"

Earlier this week, I was on NBC Nightly News in a Lisa Myers segment about the availablility of terrorist training materials available on CD and the internet. Here's the transcript:

CD serves as ‘cookbook’ for rogue terrorists
Experts say seized CD-ROM teaches anyone how to spread terror

By Lisa Myers & the NBC Investigative Unit

HAIFA, Israel - Israeli forces foiled a nighttime Hezbollah operation two years ago, seizing a small fishing boat in the Mediterranean. Onboard were rocket fuses, detonators and other ingredients for a terror attack.

The boat's captain is now behind bars in an Israeli prison.

"I did not know what we were carrying, I was only steering," says Mohammed Darwish.

Israeli intelligence officials say the most dangerous items found on the boat were not the explosives, but dozens of CD-ROMs that amounted to a virtual cookbook for terrorists.

Israeli officials provided NBC News with what they say is an edited copy of the Hezbollah disc. It includes detailed instructions on how to build a suicide bomb vest, which recently appeared on a militant Islamic Web site.

But experts say other, more lethal, sections of the disc have never been made public.

"I have not seen anything like this before," says Lt. Col. Rick Francona, a retired military intelligence officer and an NBC News analyst.

Francona says he's struck by the sophistication and level of detail.

NBC News will not provide most of the details, but the disc spells out how to make anti-personnel mines, anti-tank grenades and armor-piercing mines, along with the exact chemical formula to create RDX — a high-powered explosive which could increase the lethality of major attacks.

"In the past they have had to use large amounts of low explosive," says Francona. "Now they can use a small amount of high explosive. This stuff is much harder to detect."

Already, there is evidence that terrorist videos can have deadly consequences. Francona says a suicide bomb vest similar to that posted on the Internet a few months ago was detonated in the crowded mess tent in Mosul in December 2004, killing 14 American soldiers.

In March 2005, 13 more of these suicide vests were found in Baghdad.

"You no longer have to be part of a terrorist group or a dedicated part of a cell somewhere," says Francona. "You alone can formulate or fabricate these kinds of weapons and use them effectively."

Now, for aspiring terrorists around the world, the tools of the trade are just a mouse click away.

Senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers reported this story from Haifa, Israel.

© 2005

To watch the video, go to