Islamic State Group 'preparing' Saudi border attack
There are fears among the intelligence community in Saudi Arabia and Iraq that the Islamic State group (IS, formerly ISIS) might be planning an attack on the kingdom.
Reports suggests of increased militant activity on a stretch of the Iraqi border with Saudi Arabia where IS are active. Although al-Anbar's border region is sparsely populated and arid, it runs close to Saudi towns such as Arar.
Preparing for an attack
Iraqi intelligence sources shared exclusive information with Al-Araby al-Jadeed, indicating that there are "real concerns regarding attacks on Saudi Arabia launched from of Iraqi territory".
On 5 January, suspected IS militants launched an attack on a Saudi border patrol killing two guards. The frontier territory has also been struck by occasional mortar fire that are believed to have been launched by militants operating on the Iraq side of the border.
The intelligence source says that they expect an assault that will be in a more "coordinated manner" than the last month's attack on Saudi border guards.
A Iraqi ministry of defence official, who declined to be named, said that they are investigating reports that two groups of IS militants, between 25 and 35 fighters, successfully infiltrated the border with Saudi last month.
The source says that Saudi authorities have been unable to track down the militants.
"We are investigating these reports, but the information they contain is not reassuring at all for us or for the Saudis," he says.
"This area in particular has seen coordinated attacks over the past 40 days," he says.
The Iraqi defence official believes that the Iraqi forces deployed to the border are inadequate for the job and do not have the ability to secure the perimeter.
Since the start of the year, around 30 Iraqi border guards have been killed in militant attacks.
Saudi Arabia has been threatened with attacks by IS group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the militant group released a video last week saying they would invade the kingdom.
A considerable number of IS group's ranks are filled with volunteers from Saudi Arabia.
"The link between the infiltration by two terrorist groups in Saudi territory and repeated attacks on Iraqi guard posts foretells major problems in the future," he says.
To cope with this, Iraq and Saudi Arabia have recently stepped up intelligence cooperation.
Another worrying sign of IS activities on the border region was the assasination of an Iraqi tribal sheikh in an IS suicide bombing last Friday.
Lawrence Mutab al-Hadhal al-Anzi had pledged to deploy armed tribesmen to man the border with Saudi Arabia.
Al-Araby al-Jadeed contacted Captain Fadel al-Anzi, who is in charge of the al-Enaz border post between Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
He said border guards had found signs that IS fighters are digging three new wells and scouting the area close to Saudi Arabia.
|Since the start of the year, around 30 Iraqi border guards have been killed in militant attacks.|
Anzi said that a number of Iraqi soldiers assigned to protect the border have fled fearing IS attacks.
"The day is ours and the night is theirs," he said.
"They set up presence in the area a month ago. We don't know what they want, the land is arid and is not even suitable for grazing. After we filled in the wells they dug new ones. We find tire tracks belonging to their vehicles in the sand every day," Anzi said.
Signs of scouts
Iraqi security forces have also found basic tracks made for vehicles, and signs of camp fires by IS scouts.
All of this makes Anzi believe that IS forces are planning something big on the Saudi border.
"IS can easily circumvent Iraqi checkpoints, but the fact that two IS groups have infiltrated the border means they are planning to attack Saudi border guards," he said.
"A coordinated attack might be carried out simultaneously from both sides to breach the border and allow waves of militants to cross into Iraq or vice versa."
Sami al-Obeidi, an expert on armed groups in Iraq, said that intelligence officers in borth countries feat that IS is looking to expand its activities inside Saudi Arabia. He believes the ultimate aim of the extremist group is to set up an IS branch in Saudi Arabia.
"IS' goal is not the border itself, but to breach it and use it as a new border crossing from which it can draw further human and financial resources. There are many extremists inside the kingdom that the Saudi government is restricting, and if they obtain an outlet to get into Iraq the situation will be turned upside down," he says.
The attack on the border position in Saudi Arabia has not been claimed by IS or al-Qaeda, but this could to detract the attention of Saudi security services.
Saudi Arabia appear to be taking the threat of IS militants on the border seriously, and is constructing a 600km security wall on the border of Iraq.
This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.