Finally, Some Good News In the War on Terror

There appears to have been a pretty significant victory in the battle against al Qaeda this weekend: Saudi security forces managed to kill four leaders of the “Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” cell in a firefight Friday night, including the cell’s leader, Abdulaziz al Muqrin. al Muqrin was the terrorist credited with masterminding the kidnapping and beheading of Paul Johnson.

Now, typically leadership strikes like this aren’t terribly crippling for groups like al Qaeda cells, because their loosely-organized, market-like structure allows new leaders to fill the void relatively quickly. But al Muqrin appears to have been a special case, a charismatic leader with no local peers to step into his shoes:

Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former head of Saudi intelligence and now the country’s ambassador to Britain, said security forces have eliminated four of five known al Qaeda cells in the country in the past year. He also expressed confidence that Muqrin’s group would be rounded up soon as well.
“Only one al Qaeda cell remains operational in Saudi Arabia,” Turki said in an interview this month with Jane’s Intelligence Review, a London-based publication. “Even now, it’s in the process of being dismantled.”
Nawaf Obaid, a security consultant to the Saudi government, said the al Qaeda branch would likely collapse if Muqrin is caught. “He’s been able to keep his group mostly intact, until recently,” he said. “If you catch him, the whole cell gets destroyed. He’s the only leader of his caliber left.”

So hopefully this could be a crippling blow to the al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula cell.

Of course, not all leadership strikes are so successful — for proof, just look at Saturday’s Israeli-style effort by the U.S. to bump off al Qaeda leader Abu al Zarqawi by launching an air strike on an apartment building in Fallujah where he was thought to be holed up. The result: at least 18 dead Iraqi civilians, and no luck getting al Zarqawi (turns out he wasn’t in the building after all).

But even in the face of this terrible mistake, it’s heartening to see Johnson’s killer run to ground so quickly — especially given the stakes involved should Saudi Arabia slide into anarchy. If that ever happened, it would be an entirely new ball game — and one we would be playing at an even more substantial disadvantage.