Overview: Saudi Arabian government officials continued to work closely with their U.S. counterparts to deploy a comprehensive and well-resourced CT strategy that included vigilant security measures, regional and international cooperation, and counterterrorist radicalization measures. Houthi militants in Yemen posed the greatest security threat to Saudi Arabia. Houthi attacks increased in frequency and sophistication over the year, to include attacks with ballistic and cruise missiles, unmanned aerial systems (UAS), and unmanned surface vessels (USV). Saudi operations in Yemen included counterterrorism missions against AQAP and ISIS-Yemen.
Saudi Arabia was a full partner and active participant in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and provided significant operational and logistical support for Defeat-ISIS activities in Syria and Iraq.
2020 Terrorist Incidents: Saudi Arabia suffered numerous cross-border attacks in 2020, including nearly weekly Houthi attacks against targets in southern and western Saudi Arabia using ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, UAS, USV, and floating mines. Terrorist incidents also included small-scale attacks perpetrated by ISIS sympathizers. Significant terrorist incidents included the following:
- On September 10, Houthi militants attacked Riyadh using ballistic missiles and multiple UAS. No deaths or casualties were reported.
- On November 11 an IED wounded at least three persons in an attack on a ceremony organized by the French consulate in a non-Muslim cemetery in Jeddah. ISIS sympathizers were responsible for the attack.
- On November 23, Houthi militants struck a Saudi Aramco petroleum storage facility in Jeddah. The land attack cruise missile strike damaged a 550,000-barrel diesel storage tank. No casualties were reported.
- On November 25 a USV attack damaged a Greece-flagged oil tanker at an Aramco fueling terminal in Shuqaiq, in southern Saudi Arabia. Authorities did not report any casualties.
- On December 14 a USV attacked a Singapore-flagged oil tanker at an Aramco fueling terminal. The attack caused significant damage and some injuries.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The State Security Presidency and its Saudi General Investigations Directorate conducted terrorism-related investigations in 2020. On January 7, Saudi Arabia arrested Muhammad bin Hussein Ali al-Ammar, one of the top terrorist targets in the country. Al-Ammar was wanted for several crimes including the kidnapping of a judge and other terrorist activities. Many international human rights groups continued to assert that the Saudi Arabian government misused CT laws and courts to prosecute lawful dissidents, women’s rights activists, and prominent clerics.
Saudi Arabia remained committed to securing its borders and denying safe haven to terrorists. With an extensive border security network, the Ministry of Interior monitored passenger manifests for inbound and outbound flights and used travel document security technology, traveler data. and biometric screening capabilities at ports of entry. The General Directorate of Border Guards took command of Combined Task Force (CTF) 152 responsible for maritime interdiction in the Arabian Gulf and the Royal Saudi Naval Forces took command of CTF-150 for operations in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Saudi Arabia is a member of FATF and MENAFATF. Its FIU, the Saudi Arabia Financial Investigation Unit, is a member of the Egmont Group. Saudi Arabia is also a co-lead of the Defeat-ISIS CIFG and a co-lead with the United States of the Riyadh-based TFTC.
In collaboration with other TFTC member states, in July, Saudi Arabia sanctioned six individuals and entities affiliated with ISIS terror-support networks in the region.
Countering Violent Extremism: CVE efforts expanded under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform efforts. The Saudi Arabian government continued making progress in revising textbooks used in the public K-12 curriculum, to reduce intolerant and “extremist” content; however, problematic language remained. Mecca-based Muslim World League Secretary General Dr. Mohammed al-Issa spoke out against those who have harmed Islam’s reputation with their violent extremist views and conducted interfaith outreach in promotion of tolerance.
Saudi Arabia reported on CVE efforts to foster moderation and regulate religious activities. Ministry of Islamic Affairs officials continued to conduct outreach to imams across the country, encouraging them to refute what the government perceives to be extremist ideology in their sermons, and replacing imams preaching inflammatory rhetoric in mosques. Deradicalization programs in Saudi prisons and at the Mohammed bin Naif Care and Counseling Center in Riyadh remained a main feature in the reintegration of former violent extremists into Saudi society with ongoing monitoring. Saudi Arabia also supported the Jeddah-based Sawt Al-Hikma Center at the OIC in its public-messaging efforts to combat extremism. The Saudi Arabian government also operated the “Etidal” Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology, which works with governments and other groups to combat and refute extremism.
International and Regional Cooperation: Saudi Arabia continued regional diplomatic efforts to fight terrorism, as the country partnered with several nations on bilateral and regional bases to improve information sharing related to counterterrorism activities. Saudi Arabia is the largest donor to the UN Counter-Terrorism Center (UNCCT). And Abdallah Yahya al-Mouallimi, Saudi Arabia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, is the chair of the Consultative Council of UNCCT. The Saudi Arabian government also worked through the Riyadh-based Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition to strengthen international efforts by hosting several symposia and signing cooperation memoranda with U.S. Central Command and the OIC. Saudi Arabia is also a member of the GCTF, the OIC, and the GCC.