At the risk of pushing the topic a bit too much, I can't resist this piece from Monday's Financial Times about the growing international dimension of Islamic terrorism in Iraq and in particular the Saudi connection. This is exactly what we should be worried about. The thought of Islamic militants fleeing Saudi Arabia for the 'relative security' of Iraq is indeed preoccupying. Ironically the relative success in mopping up the higher echelons of the old Baath establishment may only make things worse in the short term by creating a vacuum in the sunni community, a vacuum which may only too eagerly be filled by Islamic radicalism. In fairness, this was the danger some people were flagging before the war started.
Increasing numbers of Saudi Arabian Islamists are crossing the border into Iraq in preparation for a jihad, or holy war, against US and UK forces, security and Islamist sources have warned. A senior western counter-terrorism official on Monday said the presence of foreign fighters in Iraq was "extremely worrying".
A statement purportedly from al-Qaeda was broadcast on Monday by the Arab satellite television channel al-Arabiya. It claimed the al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the leader of the Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime Mullah Mohammed Omar were still alive. But it also asserted that recent attacks on US forces in Iraq were the work of jihadis. The focus of concern for US counter-terrorist officials was at first on a reconstituted Ansar al-Islam, the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group based in northern Iraq before the war. But US officials have recently acknowledged the presence of other foreign fighters in Iraq. Paul Bremer, the US administrator in Iraq, said recent raids, including one near al-Qaim last month, uncovered fighters "carrying travel documents from a variety of countries".
According to Saad al-Faguih, a UK-based Saudi dissident, the Saudi authorities are concerned that up to 3,000 Saudi men have gone "missing" in the kingdom in two months, although it is not clear how many have crossed into Iraq. Saudis who have gone to Iraq have established links with sympathetic Iraqis in the northern area between Baghdad, Mosul and Tikrit, where they have hidden in safe-houses, a Saudi Islamist source said on Monday. Pressure on Islamists in Saudi Arabia has grown since the bombing of an expatriate residential compound in May killed 35 people. The subsequent arrest of many Islamists has forced some underground while others are trying to flee to Iraq.
"Part of this movement of people has been individual, but it is getting more organised now," Saad al-Faguih said, adding that the loose organisation of Saudi Islamists did not have a clear link to al-Qaeda. "Al-Qaeda is there and not there. But its umbrella is huge, which is what has given it its ability to survive," he said. A senior UK official said there was evidence of extremists from several countries focusing on Iraq, though it was unclear what role al-Qaeda played. "I don't know whether you can talk about an al-Qaeda strategy in Iraq, though there is great evidence of al-Qaeda involvement in the jihadi cause inside Iraq. But there's as much talk about other people doing things inside Iraq," the official said.