Saudi Arabia announced today that a man who authorities arrested for the shooting deaths of two policemen in Riyadh earlier this month was acting on instructions he received from the Islamic State.
Yazied Mohammad Abdulrahman Abu Nayan, 23, the alleged perpetrator of an April 8 shooting in the Saudi capital, was captured in a farm house outside the city, according to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).
"He said he was executing instructions he received from the terrorist organization ISIS of Syria," the SPA said in a statement, using an alternative name for the Islamic State (IS), which is also referred to as ISIL or daesh.
Officials said they found evidence that Nayan and an accomplice, who has not been arrested, were preparing car bombs for use in Saudi Arabia. Authorities also confiscated automatic weapons and munitions. Cellphones found near the farm house reportedly contained messages exchanged with members of IS in Syria, along with "audio and video confirmation of the attack." Authorities set a $267,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the second suspect, identified as Nawaf al-Enezi.
Saudi Arabia is a member of the US-led coalition that has targeted IS in Syria, and the attacks are alarming for the Kingdom. Last year the militant group told its followers that in lieu of traveling to the group's self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq and Syria, it should target Westerners, Saudi authorities, and members of the Shia minority in Saudi Arabia.
IS has now carried out five attacks in Saudi Arabia, including a November shooting in its Eastern Province that left eight Shia worshippers dead. In late January, four suspected IS militants launched an attack from within Iraq on a border post near the Saudi town of Arar. The militants, one of whom detonated a suicide vest, killed two guards and a high ranking Saudi General before dying.
In February, Saudi officials told VICE News that additional bombs and large amounts of cash found among their belongings "indicated they had the intention of carrying out" further operations in Saudi Arabia. Col. Ali Mohammed Asiri said Saudi authorities tied the four men to others in the country, who were soon apprehended.
"Thank God, authorities were able to capture the other cells," he said. "We discovered them in Saudi and they got arrested."
Nayan and al-Anzi were evidently not among those rounded up by Saudi authorities.
When asked if he thought there were more terrorist cells presently operating inside of Saudi Arabia, Col. Asiri replied that "there are cells in Saudi," and that "every day we discover a new location for these terrorist groups."
Allen Keiswetter, a scholar at the Middle East Institute and former state department official, said for many years the Saudis have kept careful tabs on jihadists in the country, and avoided the casualty tolls seen in terrorist acts elsewhere in the region. But some still slip through, he added.
IS expansion in Iraq scares the Saudi government so much it has begun construction on a planned 600-mile border wall to separate it from the country.
"The Saudi government is both well organized and has the support of the vast majority of the people, but there is a conservative streak that appeals particularly to young men," said Keiswetter. "Their vulnerability is reflected in the fact that a significant number of Saudis have been recruited by ISIS."
In late March, a Saudi-led coalition began air strikes in Yemen to push back Shia Houthi militias. This week, the Saudi government said the campaign had ended, but continued to launch targeted sorties in the country.
Al Qaeda, the transnational terror organization that once counted IS as an affiliate before the two broke apart last year, holds significant territory in the south and west of Yemen. Both groups follow hardline strains of Sunni Islam, which some observers trace to the ultraconservative Wahhabi practices of Saudi Arabia.