A few hours after the blasts in Riyadh, a chain of commentaries mushroomed around the world. These op-eds ran before the media broadcast the names of the victims. By the next morning, the official "version" of the attack (in Washington, D.C., and abroad) was to label it as a Muslim-on-Muslim attack, blaming the Islamist al-Qaida for mass murdering Muslims in their spiritual motherland Arabia, and during their holiest month of the year, Ramadan.
A U.S. State Department official quickly spread the word. "This was is not against America and the West only, " he said, "it is also against Islam." He concluded that al-Qaida's jihad was a "war against civilization." This version of the Saturday, November 10, terrorist attack is convenient for the U.S., its allies and the general campaign against terrorism. It could be turned into an immense rallying banner around the world. If al-Qaida starts massacring fellow Muslims, then it would generate an internal Islamic war and lift the mantra of "Crusade" from Washington's efforts. Diplomatic analysts on both sides of the Atlantic hoped this would be a pragmatic shift in the War on Terror. In fact it wasn't. And here is why.
The characterization of the Riyadh's attacks took off without accurate data. Both the BBC and CNN ignored the victims: their names, their socio-economic realities and the history of the Jihadists in this regard.
First the statistics: According to Diaspora-based Lebanese sources, among the injured from the attacks about 90 victims were Lebanese. Five Lebanese nationals were burned to death, including two children, Jad and Raya Mezher. A newly married woman, Nina Joubran, was also massacred. A pregnant woman, Houry Haytaya, and her husband, Dany Ibrahim, were also killed. Another family, the Haidars, were murdered, as well. The fact is certified: The massacre of the Muhayya compound was directed at the Lebanese Christian community living in Saudi Arabia.
Media commentators and news rooms were too fast in describing the horror as Islamist terrorists murdered "Muslims." This is not to say that al-Qaida and its alike do not kill Muslims. They have terminated more than 48,000 Muslim civilians in Algeria and many moderate Muslims in Egypt. But the Muyahha attack targeted the Lebanese Christians for very specific reasons. A community of roughly 100,000 Lebanese people has been working in the Kingdom since the mid-Sixties. Many of these Lebanese Christians have since become a pillar of the Saudi economy. The contribution of the Lebanese (from all communities, although particularly the Christians) to Saudi prosperity is widely known in the business world. The most recent waves of Lebanese include representatives fo the liberal sectors and management planners. They are found in all spheres of the work force and as advisers to government. It is to note that more than 80 percent of these migrants are Christians, and many among them are Maronites (Eastern-rite Roman Catholics).
Al-Qaida aimed at this vibrant community as a way to cripple one the pillars of Saudi economy. With one car bomb, the Jihadists wanted to kill as many of these Lebanese "infidels" as possible, because these Lebanese migrants were both "kafirs"and economic assets. Osama's audio message, played on al-Jazeera in October, called for the cleansing of Arabia from all people of the Book. There are no Jews left in the Peninsula. Most of the Americans are either gone or in well-protected communities. The next on the Jihadists hit-list are the Lebanese Christians.
Last weekend's massacre was the first step toward their elimination. The other steps will come in the form of an alleged "help" extended to them. In fact, few days after the tragedy, the Syrian-controlled government of Lebanon declared it would reduce the price of the tickets for a one way return flight to Lebanon, or to any other country of their choice. The ethnic cleansing of the Lebanese from Arabia seems to become more sophisticated than the Balkan's predecessor.
But why this Jihadist determination to obliterate Lebanese Christians? Are they not Arabs? To be academically correct, they are not. The Christians of Lebanon, particularly the Maronites, speak Arabic very well, but they have their own ethnicity: Aramaic. They are the descendants of the Phoenicians. In their religious services, the Syriac language is still used as it was spoken by Jesus, some 2033 years ago.
But al-Qaida has more recent political reasons to aim at them. It is known, in the circles sympathetic to the Jihadists that Lebanese Christians have pro-Western affinities, work in American companies in the Peninsula and constitute an obstruction to the radical clerics designs on the Kingdom's infrastructure. Worse by Jihadist standards, the Lebanese Christians have been at the forefront of the campaign against terrorism. Both in the U.S. and elsewhere, they have produced top translators, diplomatic analysts, staffed official media agencies and were recruited by the military. On Al-Jazeera and on the LBCI, many Islamic fundamentalists went to the length of calling General John Abuzaid a traitor to his "roots."
But jihad against the Lebanese Christians has a very long history. Decades before 9/11, al-Qaida's predecessors have slaughtered Lebanese monks in Deir Ashashe in 1975; massacred thousands of Christians in Damour in 1976; and raped, maimed and razed villages in East Sidon in the mid-1980s. Even after the so-called end of the War in Lebanon, bin Laden's men were still rampaging in Christian areas of Lebanon into the new Millennium In January 2000, al-Qaida terrorists murdered a number of civilians in Kfar Habou in Northern Lebanon, slicing the body of a pregnant woman and torturing a nun to death in a Beirut suburb. Lebanese Christian blood was spilled by the organization responsible for September 11 throughout the 1990s. Symbolism wasn't absent from al-Qaida guidelines. Many McDonalds, Pizza Huts and other American-themed restaurants, located in the Christian sectors of Lebanon, were bombed over the past 12 years.
The Jihadist paragdim is systematic. From Beirut, to Riyadh, passing by Haifa, the region is to be made Lebanese-Christian free. Al-Qaida wants to sign and enjoy its horrors. According to Pierre Atallah, the Lebanese journalist in exile in Paris, who lost his nephew and niece, "the terrorists were machine gunning the victims for more than twenty minutes. Killing has proceeded before the blasts." The bombing in Riyadh was not set by Jihadists against other Muslims; it was a slaughter of Christians. But by way of consequences, it is a Muslim image that al-Qaida was maiming.
Few hours after I have finished writing this piece, an al-Qaida commander out of Iraq admitted that the compound was "under surveillance for many months." Al-Hijazi added it was known "that a large group of Lebanese Christians were living there." He openly declared, "After consultation, we decided it was appropriate to attack this place and destroy it, including the people who lived there, because it housed Americans and a large majority of Christians holding Lebanese citizenship."
With these words, al-Qaida has declared war on Lebanese Christians, and if it gets the opportunity, on Christians worldwide.
Walid Phares is a Professor of Middle East Studies and Religious Conflict and a Terrorism expert with MSNBC.