Interior Minister Prince Nayef of Saudi Arabia and his son, Deputy Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, have many enemies. For decades, the powerful and unaccountable elder Prince Nayef has “overseen” the Saudi police force; Nayef once boasted that his law enforcement agency solves 100 percent of the kingdom’s annual crimes. Nayef regularly uses torture to elicit confessions from Saudi nationals as well as visitors from other countries, and for this human rights officials have repeatedly referred to Nayef as “the grim reaper of international law.” More recently, the elder Nayef was put in charge of a program to help terrorists living in and around Saudi Arabia to repent and change their ways. To administer the program, Nayef put his son, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, in charge.
On August 28, one of those alleged to have repented — Abdullah Hassan Taleh al-Asiri, a 23-year-old Saudi national — almost succeeded in killing the younger prince by exploding himself during a meeting. The royal family had high hopes for a better outcome in its attempts to bolster support for its controversial program. It even went so far as to gamble flying al-Asiri into the kingdom from Yemen on a royal jet, despite the fact that al-Asiri is on a list of 85 terrorists wanted by the Saudi authorities. Scott Stewart of STRATFOR Global Intelligence explained what happened during the meeting:
After al-Asiri entered a small room to speak with Prince Mohammed, he activated a small, improvised explosive device (IED) he had been carrying inside his anal cavity. The resulting explosion ripped al-Asiri to shreds but only lightly injured the shocked prince — the target of al-Asiri’s unsuccessful assassination attempt.
Al-Qaeda was quick to take credit for the suicide bombing (according to SITE). After all, it was a major public relations coup. For starters, the royals had been tricked — promised surrender and instead given a Trojan horse. Saudi’s princes pride themselves on having impenetrable personal security systems. Instead, this recent incident revealed a major flaw in the royal armor, not to mention in the country’s airline security system. Al-Qaeda was quick to point out (through jihadist websites) that al-Asiri had passed through two major security checkpoints, in the Najran and Jeddah airports, before boarding a royal jet with explosives hidden up his bum.
A bomb hidden in his anal cavity? Why does this sound so terribly familiar?
A little over two years ago, on March 6, 2007, a 35-year-old Iraqi national named Fadhel al-Maliki attempted to board a US Airways flight out of Los Angeles International Airport. A TSA agent noticed al-Maliki was acting odd. “He was nervous and sweating,” the FBI’s Los Angeles spokesman told me when I inquired about the incident the following day.
Hidden in al-Maliki’s rectum was a device containing electrical wires, chewing gum, and a rock. Larry Fetters, security director for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at the airport, told reporters that al-Maliki “was secreting these items in a body cavity and that was a great concern because there were also some electric wires associated with that body cavity.” In other words, TSA feared al-Maliki had a bomb.
The FBI also told me that it was al-Maliki’s behavior that triggered the discovery. The Iraqi national was asked to step aside after an agent noticed his strange behavior and became suspicion of him. After some “heavy questioning about his odd behavior” and after being repeatedly asked by federal agents “why he was sweating,” the former Iraqi security guard confessed to having the untoward items hidden where the sun does not shine. “They are for therapeutic reasons … to relieve stress,” al-Maliki told the TSA. He claimed the rock was from another planet. The bomb squad was called in.
Ultimately, no explosives were found accompanying the strange rectal contraption, but people around the country had a scatological field day with the story. Newspapers ran headlines like “Bum Threat Triggers Alert.” Bloggers made jokes. Guffaws from law enforcement officials added to the humor of the situation; the FBI agent I spoke with laughed several times during our conversation. TSA turned al-Maliki over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for deportation. His green card documents had expired and he had prior arrests.
Suspicious behavior at an airport security checkpoint resulted in Fadhel al-Malki being discovered as a persona non grata, even if he was not a terrorist threat. That allowed ICE officials to deport him. Security officials at two airports in Saudi Arabia had no such luck in determining that Abdullah Hassan Taleh al-Asiri, a non-repentant al-Qaeda operative, was actually transporting explosives inside himself. What this means is that al-Asiri could have blown himself up on any Saudi airliner he chose to board. He also could have blown himself up on a Saudi royal family member’s jet. But al-Asiri had a far more specific target in mind: Prince Nayef. That al-Qaeda almost succeeded in killing a royal means trouble is brewing inside the kingdom. As the once powerful father and son lose control, one wonders how long the pretense of forgiving and forgetting the terrorists will hold up.