Al Khobar Towers bombings in Saudi Arabia (June 25, 1996)

The US has always blamed a terrorist group called Saudi Hizballah for the 1995 Al Khobar Towers attack but it could very well have been Al Qaeda.

The US has always blamed a terrorist group called Saudi Hizballah for the 1995 Al Khobar Towers attack but it could very well have been Al Qaeda.

AL KHOBAR, SAUDI ARABIA — Contrary to what most people think, figuring out which terrorist group carried out an attack is hard. Sure, sometimes a group will make a claim that it was behind an operation. But sometimes this claim is false, an attempt to garner attention.

Sometimes governments will attribute a terrorist attack to a specific actor in order to obfuscate. In the eyes of some authorities, it is more effective to point the finger in one direction when actually a completely different gang was actually responsible.

I believe this is exactly what happened in June 1996 at the Al Khobar Towers housing complex near the HQ of the Saudi oil company Aramco. A truck bomb exploded outside the building, which housed members of Operation Southern Watch, maintaining a no-fly zone in southern Iraq (which had been in place since the first Gulf war in 1991). All in all 19 US servicemen and one Saudi citizen were killed. Almost 500 were injured.

Saudi Hizballah

Within days the US government claimed that a group known as ‘Saudi Hizballah’ was responsible and had received help from Iran. The better known Hizballah in Lebanon is, of course, a Shia terrorist group which also gets a lot of Iranian aid. The Saudi version has been around since the late 1980s and has a stronghold in that country’s eastern province, which is largely Shia. Saudi Arabia is Wahhabi Sunni, a sect that detests Shia Muslims.

I am not so sure. An attack by Iran on the US of such a brazen nature makes no sense to me. Never say never – and I did not see all the intelligence pointing a finger at the Shia and Iran – but I believe it was Al Qaeda (AQ). It fit with AQ’s MO (yes, Hizballah did effectuate the massive car bomb against the US Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983 so it could have been a Saudi branch) and could have been a harbinger for 9/11.

Before just about anybody had heard of Al Qaeda they may have been behind an attack on a US facility in Saudi Arabia.

It was also in the Saudi regime’s interest to blame its arch enemy Iran and those perfidious Shia. After all, were not 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 Saudis? That nation has to deflect attention from the fact that its interpretation of Islam has been behind more violence than any other.

I note that Iran is also a nasty actor. In the end, it could have been as the US and Saudi Arabia maintain or it could have been AQ. We may never know for sure.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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