RAY SUAREZ: We're joined by Mamoun Fandy, senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington. He is author of "Saudi Arabia and the Politics of Dissent." And Matt Levitt, a former Middle East counter-terrorism analyst at the FBI. He's now a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
And, Matt Levitt, both the Saudis and Americans are saying it's al-Qaida. What do you think, was it?
MATTHEW LEVITT: It certainly appears to be al-Qaida, the modus operandi was the same, there's a lot of similarity between this attack and the attacks of May 12. And there were lots of threats that we knew about from al-Qaida that led to the closing of the embassy and consulates. Right now, administration officials are saying, "If it quacks like a duck it probably is a duck."
The fact is that until we capture some operatives, raid some houses and get our hands on some information, some telephone intercepts, we won't know for sure, that kind of information comes with time, we'll have to wait.
RAY SUAREZ: Mamoun Fandy, do you agree?
MAMOUN FANDY: Yes, I generally agree. Just looking at the overall picture. Recently Saudi Arabia arrested some 3,000 coming through Iraq to Saudi Arabia, they had their shootout in Mecca only on the 8th. They've interrogated people after May 12 that indeed, from my own study -- and I spend a lot of time in Saudi Arabia -- since 1990s there were followers of Osama bin Laden inside Saudi Arabia, militant people who gave a bayat to Osama bin Laden, that's a pledge of allegiance to Osama bin Laden, and they're numbered at the time when I was doing the research, was about 3,000 or so. So the sleeper cells in al-Qaida are there. And as Matt said, practically all the markings of this explosion looks like al-Qaida to me.
RAY SUAREZ: And, Mandy, why do you think it would happen during Ramadan?
MAMOUN FANDY: Well, during Ramadan, this is something very peculiar. It's about, well, there are a variety of ways of looking at it. One is that probably al-Qaida people would like to take advantage of the religiosity of the society during Ramadan, and get more recruits. But in fact the fact of that is going to be counterproductive for them. That actually by the death of the many Muslims and Arabs as your report mentioned, will turn people against al-Qaida, in fact that's what's happening in Saudi Arabia right now.
RAY SUAREZ: How does the timing strike you?
MATTHEW LEVITT: I agree with Mamoun, although the other factor is that al-Qaida is clearly out to undermine the regime, and one of the pillars of the regime is its role as protecter of the holy sites. Aside from this attack, as Mamoun mentioned, we know there were plots in Mecca, there were shootings in Mecca, someone blew himself up in Mecca, so it appears likely that there might have been plots to coincide with this, or to follow this in the holy cities.
Nothing would undermine the status of the Saudi regime as protector of the holy sites of Islam more than attacks during Ramadan, in the holy cities. Clearly this is meant to undermine the regime.
RAY SUAREZ: But just as Mamoun Fandy suggests, doesn't this also risk pushing the population into the arms of the regime? The last time there was big violence during the Haj, that sent shockwaves through the Islamic world. That wasn't something that was well received outside the holy places.
MATTHEW LEVITT: Absolutely. Al-Qaida may be banking on the fact that there are many studies, increased radicalization among Saudis, concern among Saudi elites that there's an increasingly blurry line between its political opposition and some of the radicals.
It's also very possible that the targets of this attack, which killed exclusively Muslims -- there were a few Americans who were injured, but thankfully none were killed -- it's too early to determine whether this was a results of their actual planned targeting, or if their preoperational surveillance wasn't as good as they thought and that they had actually intended to kill more Westerners.
RAY SUAREZ: Mamoun Fandy, you talked about the steps that the House of Saud has taken against al-Qaida inside the country. Do attacks like this end up weakening their government?
MAMOUN FANDY: For this one, I think, Ray, there are really about probably four implications that one can learn from yesterday's attack. It's obvious, first of all, that al-Qaida was not able to attack hard targets, but they went to soft targets. It's obvious that also Saudi Arabia is going right now I think on an all-out war on al-Qaida for the last few months, and this is why they are ferreting them out in many ways.
It is also pointing out something very important, that actually the American strategy has been relatively successful by moving that whole war on terrorism to the Middle East and were in fact successful in giving warnings, and the security system is very successful. The Saudis certainly, as Matt pointed out, if you look at Saudi Arabia right now, the basic social contract between Saudi government and its own people is based on security and prosperity. And prosperity has been slipping for the last ten years or so. So they have to deliver security, and this is why probably we find Saudi Arabia coming very strong on al-Qaida because they do not want to undermine the legitimacy of the regime in Saudi Arabia.
RAY SUAREZ: Are the Saudis more reliable allies, Matt Levitt, since their own May attacks and with these latest attacks than they were before this whole era started?
MATTHEW LEVITT: In certain ways absolutely. In the days preceding the May 12 attacks senior Saudi officials were still maintaining there was no al-Qaida presence in the kingdom, although Mamoun and others have demonstrated that we knew there was. They also had a few tangible improvements, they invited FBI and IRS agents into the country, although it's my understanding they still don't have access to all the documents they need. And they deported Christian Ganczarski, an al-Qaida associate who was tied to the Tunisia bombing to France -- they had given him a visa to escape the authorities in Germany.
So there are few things they've done. But by and large their biggest step has been in cracking down on the cells and activities within the kingdom, and that they're very good at; when it comes to sharing information from those raids with the others outside the kingdom, when it comes to cracking down on terror financing in particular that has been very very little change. My concern is the Saudis don't understand that this is a global war on terror. What happens outside the kingdom will affect attacks inside the kingdom. We learned the hard way that activities within the kingdom bear directly on attacks outside the kingdom.
When Saudi authorities finally did raid these safe houses in the days before and after the May 12 attacks, they not only uncovered the plots that transpired, they also uncovered plots to assassinate members of the royal family, to attack Saudi ministries and many plots outside the kingdom. We here received all kinds of warnings about bringing small electrical devices on airplanes and stuff like that, and a of that came straight out of those raids. The Saudis need to understand this is a global war on terror. We need to see far more cooperation, specifically on terror financing.
RAY SUAREZ: But has the situation improved, Mamoun Fandy, since May 12 in the months since, have the Saudis been more serious and more serious in their cooperation with the United States?
MAMOUN FANDY: I think they have been in terms of cracking down, as Matt pointed out, to the, on the financial side. I mean, one of the basic problems in terms of terrorism in Saudi Arabia is the issue of financing that's coming from charitable organizations inside Saudi Arabia, as well as the propaganda and the cultural justification sometimes to the actions of certain terrorists. After May 12, and after the shootout in Mecca and after this attack, things have changed tremendously -- I think the government, at least if you read Saudi newspapers and watch Saudi television and other media and their pronouncement, you will realize that the opinion pages are filled with this is a moment of reckoning, this is "To be or not to be" for the regime.
So in many ways, the Saudis realize, although a little bit later, that indeed these are not enemies of the United States or Zionism or Israel or all of that, indeed the attacks are on Muslims and Arabs inside Saudi Arabia and on Saudi citizens. So they stare that terrorism in the eye right now. So the situation has tremendously changed, at least at the level of the perception of ordinary people in Saudi Arabia as well as on the level of decision-makers.
RAY SUAREZ: Just in the past few hours, Crown Prince Fahd said he's going to -- and his government is going to -- strike at these people with what he called an iron fist. Saudi officials speaking to the Washington Post said we're locked in a struggle with the terrorists, we've killed more al-Qaida people than any other country in the world. They seem to want some recognition from other countries that they have changed their tune, that they have moved against these elements inside their own country.
MATTHEW LEVITT: They clearly do, and if you look at many of the statements they've been issuing today, frankly, they're very similar to many of the statements, very angry, very sincere, that they made May 12. Has the situation improved if you look at many of the statements they've been issuing today? Frankly, they're very similar to many of the statements that they made May 12.
The real problem is that Mamoun mentioned earlier the social contract. I believe very strongly that there are two pillars on which the Saudi regime rests, and as one of them crumbles they rely more on the other. The first is the social contract by which Saudis were given cradle-to-grave benefits from education to welfare to jobs, not to mention the lavish lifestyles that were given to the thousands of princes, and simply the economics and demographics do not allow for that to continue. It's no longer tenable. As that pillar crumbles they rely all that much more on a similar contract that is more of a religious contract.
And by that, again, the Saudis get full sway over things political, and the religious elite controls things religious, social, educational, which is why we see such anger among the religious elite, for example, with small changes in Saudi textbooks. And therefore, people ask, "How could it be that the Saudis have killed more al-Qaida operatives than anybody else, they've been fighting terrorism along with everybody else?" These are unfortunately not mutually exclusive phenomenon -- they're buying short-term stability to the cost of medium and long-term stability.
RAY SUAREZ: Matt Levitt, Mamoun Fandy, gentlemen, thank you.