How is it that the son of a Saudi middle-class family with no history of violence suddenly became a jihadist? Get the explanations here and here. From Newsday, with thanks to the Constantinopolitan Irredentist:
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – The caller roused Abu Khaled from his slumber shortly after dawn prayers one day in mid-April. “Your son has been martyred,” a crackling voice said. “God willing, he is in paradise.”
The caller hung up; there was nothing more to say.
Fahd’s death did not come as a surprise to his family. In October 2003, he had called to tell his parents that he had left his religious school in Riyadh and made his way to Iraq to join the jihad against U.S. forces. “There was resolve in his voice,” his father recalled. “He knew that his fate was already written.”
The 24- year-old son of a Saudi middle-class family, with no history of violence, attained his dream of martyrdom in the Iraqi city of Fallujah on April 11. According to two Islamist Web sites that published accounts of his death, Fahd was killed as he evacuated women and children from Fallujah, and helped repel a U.S. Marine assault on the city.
There is no way to verify the accounts of his death, but that does not really matter to his family. To them and to many other Saudis, he is a martyr.
After the Web sites posted the news, his father received more than 30 calls of condolence. “I told all of them that I was not accepting condolences,” said Abu Khaled, who spoke on the condition neither he nor his son be identified by their full names. “My son died a martyr and I was only accepting congratulations.”
Which indicates that it was not the presence of US forces Iraq that radicalized his son; the radicalism was already there, and was just looking for an outlet.
Fahd’s journey into jihad began in a dusty neighborhood on the forgotten edges of Riyadh, a recruiting ground for al-Qaida and other militant groups.
He was born in Hael, a conservative, hardscrabble city in northern Saudi Arabia. In high school, he was a good student but not exceptional. He was devout, but not an extremist. He was tall and lanky, and he wore round glasses that made him look more fit to be a scholar than a fighter.
In mid-2000, at the age of 20, Fahd decided to go to Saudi Arabia’s leading religious school: the Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University, which trains official clerics. He left his hometown for Riyadh, the Saudi capital. It was the beginning of Fahd’s transformation from a soft-spoken religious student into a militant, according to his father and a childhood friend who spent time with him in Riyadh.
Fahd lived with three other students, and his roommates took him to Suweidi, a tough neighborhood on the outskirts of Riyadh that has seen few benefits from the Saudi oil boom. It is a place of cinder-block apartment houses punctuated by drab mosques, the streets are filled with potholes, and a little rain causes flooding. Saudi security forces have fought several gun battles with militants holed up there during the past two years.
In Suweidi, Fahd tapped into the Saudi Islamist underground. He frequented several small mosques known for fiery preachers who urge their followers to take up jihad against those they see as infidels who threaten Muslims everywhere. His friends gave him copies of the recorded sermons and writings of extremist Saudi clerics who provide theological justifications for Osama bin Laden’s actions.
Fahd grew his beard and shortened his thobe – the white robe traditionally worn by Saudi men – in keeping with the dictates of the prophet Muhammad that a Muslim’s robes should not cover his ankles. For Saudi men, that act has become a way of announcing one’s commitment to religion.
By the end of 2000, Fahd had found a political outlet for his anger: Israel and the United States. The Palestinian uprising had begun in October 2000, and Fahd was watching it unfold on Arab satellite channels like Al-Jazeera. He also was listening to preachers who denounced U.S. support for Israel and accused Washington of complicity in the deaths of Palestinian civilians.
“He was deeply affected by the Palestinian uprising and the images he saw on television,” said his friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he fears attracting the attention of Saudi security services. “He blamed America for the Palestinians’ suffering and he realized that Muslim leaders were powerless to stop Israel.”
Joining the fight
Fahd wanted to fight alongside the Palestinians, but he could not find a way to go to the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. For months, his friend recalled, Fahd was depressed and toyed with the notion of going to Afghanistan to train at an al-Qaida military camp.
Then came the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. “He began to speak openly about waging jihad against America,” the friend said. “He was very proud of what those Saudis had accomplished on September 11.”
After the U.S. attack on Afghanistan started in October 2001, Fahd could no longer go there to train. But soon, he would find another cause.
A call to jihad
In early 2002, the Bush administration began threatening a military attack against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Fahd followed the developments closely. In letters and occasional visits home, he spoke to his father of the powerlessness of Arab and Muslim regimes to help Iraq. He talked of the need for a call to jihad among the ummah, the worldwide Muslim community, to defend Iraq.
“He would say that the Muslim leaders were failures. They could not defend Iraq, but it is the duty of all Muslims to defend their fellow Muslims from infidel invaders,” his father said. “He had never been so passionate about anything like this before.”
Fahd was particularly inspired by two clerics, Sheik Salman al-Awdah and Sheik Safar al-Hawali, who were imprisoned for five years beginning in 1994 for criticizing the Saudi royal family’s decision to allow U.S. troops to be stationed in the kingdom. Spanish investigators say al-Awdah – an old friend of Osama bin Laden – was the “spiritual guide” for an Egyptian militant who is believed to have masterminded this year’s Madrid train bombings, which killed 191 people.
When the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003, Fahd was determined to go there. But with the quick fall of Baghdad, he became disillusioned. “He could not understand why the Iraqis did not put up a real fight,” his friend said. “Then when the resistance started, he had new hope.”
After the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Fadh was swept up in a debate that polarized Saudi society between militants and reformers.
In May 2003, Saudi militants launched suicide attacks against three housing compounds for foreigners in Riyadh, killing 34. The Saudi government asked for the public’s help in capturing 19 al-Qaida members suspected of plotting the bombings. In response, three radical clerics issued a statement urging Saudis to disobey their government.
Pious and devout
The statement said the suspects were not terrorists, but “pious and devout” men who were “the flower of the mujahideen.” The clerics contended the Saudi regime was acting on U.S. orders and using the bombings as a pretext for persecuting Islamic fighters. Any help to the Saudi authorities, they said, would constitute assistance to the United States in its war against Islam. “It is absolutely forbidden to betray these mujahideen,” the clerics wrote.
The most prominent of the three clerics was Sheik Ali bin al-Khudayr. Like thousands of young Saudi men who look to al-Khudayr for guidance, Fahd was mesmerized by the cleric’s taped sermons and religious decrees.
Days after al-Khudayr was arrested for his statement, an Islamist Web site posted a message from bin Laden warning the Saudi government not to harm the cleric. Bin Laden described al-Khudayr as “our most prominent supporter” and cautioned that if he was hurt, al-Qaida’s response would be “as great as the sheik’s high standing with us.”
The government’s crackdown on al-Khudayr and other militants angered Fahd, who viewed the ruling family as siding with the United States and against Muslims. “He was very upset by Sheik al-Khudayr’s arrest. He saw it as a betrayal of the mujahideen,” his friend said. “His views were becoming more extreme with each passing day.”