After a day of fighting, jihadist forces that infiltrated from Syria will withdraw from the village of Arsal in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley and turn over captured security personnel under a 24-hour ceasefire brokered by the local Committee of Muslim Scholars. In return, the militants demanded a statement be issued by Lebanon's army assuring that Syrian refugees in Arsal would be safe from any "revenge" attacks after their withdrawal. Clashes in the village left at least 17 soldiers dead, with several more reported missing. The fighters appear to be from both ISIS and the Nusra Front. The fighting was sparked by the Lebanese army's arrest of Syrian militant Imad Jomaa, who had recently switched allegiance from Nusra to ISIS. Reports indicate that the Nusra militants have already started to withdraw, while it is uncertain that ISIS forces will honor the deal. Saudi Arabia has pledged an emergency $1 billion in aid to Lebanon to help fight the jihadists, with the money to help cover a new $3 billion arms deal with France. (Al Jazeera, Daily Star, Lebanon, Aug. 6)
A Saudi Arabian court on April 21 sentenced three people to death for their roles in attacks on expatriate resident compounds in Riyadh in May 2003, bringing the total death sentences to eight. Another 77 people have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from two to 35 years by the court, which was created to handle terrorism cases. The 2003 attacks, in which blasts at three residential compounds in Riyadh left 35 people dead, were part of a three-year campaign by al-Qaeda aimed at destabilizing Saudi Arabia. The identities of the 85 defendants have not been disclosed, though the Sabq news website has reported that five men sentenced to death a day earlier had been found guilty of assembling the car bombs used to attack the compounds. They have 30 days to appeal their sentences, all of which were handed down for charges of taking part or abetting in the attacks.
Notable human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair was taken into custody in Saudi Arabia April 15 after a hearing at the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh. Abu al-Khair, founder and chief of the Saudi Arabia Monitor of Human Rights, faces charges that include inciting public opinion. Amnesty International (AI) condemned Abu al-Khair's imprisonment demanding his immediate release. In their press release AI criticized Saudi authorities stating that "Waleed Abu al-Khair's detention is a worrying example of how Saudi Arabian authorities are abusing the justice system to silence peaceful dissent. Nobody should be jailed for peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression." According to AI, Abu al-Khair faces charges including breaking allegiance to and disobeying the ruler, disrespecting the authorities, offending the judiciary, inciting international organizations against the Kingdom and founding an unlicensed organization. In October Abu al-Khair was sentenced to three months in prison on similar accusations related to "ridiculing or offending" the Saudi Arabian judiciary.
A Saudi Arabian court on Jan. 12 sentenced to death a member of a militant cell convicted of producing explosives used in a May 2004 suicide attack on a western company operating in Saudi Arabia's northwestern port city of Yanbu. According to reports, the court also handed down sentences ranging from three to 12 years to 10 other co-defendants convicted of lesser offenses, including financing the attack and sheltering those involved. Reports indicate that the attack stemmed from a 2003 al-Qaeda initiative, which sought to interfere with relations between the US and Saudi Arabia. The accused have 30 days to appeal their sentences.
The past year has seen a spate of dangerous brinkmanship in the Persian Gulf, with Iran and US naval forces along with those of the Gulf's oil-rich Arab mini-states playing chicken over the strategic choke-point of the Strait of Hormuz. But in addition to this show-down over a global oil outlet, the Gulf has seen escalating militarization in the guise of narcotics enforcement. Bahrain's Gulf Daily News on Nov. 26 ran a story boasting of the exploits of a 29-nation Combined Maritime Forces group, based at the petro-kingdom's sprawling US Navy base and commanded by Capt. Robert Slaven of the Royal Australian Navy. While it claims to have "considerably reduced the number of terrorist attacks in the region" over the past decade, it's most concrete gains are hashish and heroin seizures.
The US Department of Defense announced Dec. 16 that two Guantánamo Bay detainees have been transferred to Saudi Arabia. Saad Muhammad Husayn Qahtani and Hamood Abdulla Hamood had been held since 2002, but neither had been charged with a crime. The two men were recommended for transfer in 2009 after a review by the the interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force. According to a statement:
Robin Wright, author of Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World (and a "distinguished scholar" at the United States Institute of Peace and the Wilson Center) has an op-ed in the New York Times Sept. 28, ingenuously entitled "Imagining a Remapped Middle East"—as if nobody ever has. Wright sees a portending breakdown of Syria into smaller entities—the oft-discussed Alawite mini-state on the coast and the inevitable Kurdish enclave in the north. But Wright predicts the separatist contagion spreading from Syria to the rest of the Middle East—using some of the most clichéd names imaginable, e.g. Iraq breaking into "Sunnistan" and "Shiitestan." (Note to "distinguished scholar" Wright: the "stan" suffix is of Persian origin, and very unlikely to be taken up by Arabs, of whatever sectarian affiliation.)