Islamic Militants Spread to Peaceful Gulf States

Raids on militant hideouts in Kuwait and a deadly pursuit of bombing suspects in Egypt's Sinai mountains this week are solid signs of extremists' strength, and their shared ideology appears to be threatening even tranquil countries like Oman and Bahrain.

Analysts around the world differ on whether there are formal links among militants or whether Al Qaeda has aided in logistics for attacks outside Saudi Arabia, where its roots are strongest.

But they agree that with a model to follow and common issues to rally around — the Palestinian crisis, the U.S. presence in Iraq, their leaders' alliances with Washington — Al Qaeda's style is spreading.

"These terror acts will continue in waves, and possibly reach countries that have so far been spared. Oman (search) is an example, because authorities can crush cells, but the ideology survives — especially with the situation in Iraq the way it is and the presence of U.S. forces in the region," said Dia'a Rashwan, an Egyptian expert on militant groups.

Last week, Omani authorities arrested at least 100 Islamic extremists suspected of planning to carry out attacks against a popular shopping and cultural festival.

Kuwaiti security forces have renewed their fight against Islamic militancy, raiding militant hideouts and engaging in shootouts with suspects.

After a raid on Monday in which the reputed ringleader of a 24-member, largely Kuwaiti cell was arrested, Kuwaiti officials said only two suspects remained at large. The cell allegedly was plotting to attack buildings where Americans live in Kuwait (search) and offices of state security.

Saudi Arabia's tiny neighbor Bahrain (search) cracked down on suspected militants there last year. Saudi Arabia and Yemen have been aggressively fighting Al Qaeda or militants sharing its ideology for more than two years.

Asked whether Saudi militants had crossed into Kuwait specifically to plan and carry out terror attacks, Evan Kohlmann (search), a Washington-based counterterrorism expert, said: "I certainly think that's what it appears to be. I think its fair to say that this is part of a deliberate effort on the part of Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia."

In Egypt, thought to have crushed its militants in recent years, security forces clashed with militants in the Sinai desert Tuesday, killing a man allegedly involved in the Oct. 17 bombings of Egyptian tourist resorts, in which 34 people died.

Egypt linked the Sinai attacks to anger over Israeli military actions against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, downplaying any Al Qaeda connection.

Abdul Khaleq Abdulla, a political analyst based in the United Arab Emirates, said the militants are of one school of thought — bin Laden's — and regional events fuel that extremist thinking.

"While I don't think this [terrorism] has taken on a domino effect, the export of the ideology is all around us. I also tie the violence to the American presence in the region, which breeds this kind of resistance, anger and opposition," Abdulla said. "Fighting the Americans is a common denominator."

Rashwan agreed, saying the most effective way to end the violence would be for U.S.-led forces to leave Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries.

"If a foreign power no longer exists in the region, the militants will lose their excuse for carrying out terror attacks, and they will lose the popular base they now enjoy," he said.

Saudi Arabia's main terror group calls itself Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (search), lumping the entire Gulf into one entity and disregarding state borders, which it considers illegitimate.

Still, Rashwan discounted any solid link between militants in Kuwait and those in Saudi Arabia, saying instead that the experiences of each were beneficial to the other.

"A logistical or physical contact between them is not vital," he said. "The ideological connection is dominant, more than the organizational connection."

Jamal Khashoggi (search), the media adviser to the Saudi ambassador to London, said it is correct to lump the Kuwaiti militants with the Saudi militants.

"Al Qaeda is not a Saudi brand name," he said.