Islamist Attacks Spark Backlash in Arab Countries

Car bombings in Saudi Arabia. A chilling tale of a foiled Al Qaeda plot in Jordan. A fire-fight in the Syrian capital.

With attacks such as these, which targeted or resulted in the deaths of Arab civilians, Islamic militants have angered not just their enemies but also the very Muslims they claim to champion.

"These people do not have a specific logic, and unfortunately, we are facing a group of insane people," said Imad Shuaibi (search), a Syrian political analyst, summing up the sense of fear and frustration in Damascus after unidentified attackers last week set off a bomb and then fired bullets and grenades at Syrian security forces in a diplomatic neighborhood.

A Syrian gym teacher caught in the crossfire was killed, along with two attackers and a policeman.

Likewise Jordanians expressed fear, denounced terrorism and rallied in support of their government after Jordanian state television aired a videotape last week of several several suspects admitting to planning a chemical attack that could have killed 80,000 people.

In the face of such outrage, militants now appear to be distancing themselves from terrorism at home, recognizing it could cost them support.

A man who identified himself as Musab al-Zarqawi (search), the alleged mastermind of the Jordan plot, denied that there were plans for a chemical bomb in a statement posted on a militant Islamist Web site.

"The [allegation] that there was a chemical bomb to kill thousands of people is a mere lie. God knows, if we did possess it [a chemical bomb], we wouldn't hesitate one second to use it to hit Israeli cities..."

Al-Zarqawi, believed to be a close associate of Usama bin Laden, is also wanted by the United States for allegedly organizing terrorists to fight U.S. troops in Iraq on behalf of Al Qaeda. He remains at large.

Another denial followed the suicide car bombing of a government security building in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia late last month that killed five people and wounded 148 — among them children from nearby homes.

A man claiming to be Al Qaeda's top agent in Saudi Arabia vowed in a tape posted on a Web site known for its militant Muslim content that there would be more attacks on Americans in the kingdom while distancing the extremist network from the attack on the Saudi institution.

Days after the threat, at least six Westerners, including two Americans, were killed Saturday by unidentified gunmen — apparently Muslim extremists — who attacked an oil contractor's office in western Saudi Arabia.

Abdullah al-Taimani, a 13-year-old Saudi, was wounded in the back by a grenade fragment after stumbling into a car chase that followed Saturday's shooting. He had been headed to a mosque for prayers.

"These people are not Muslims. What they have done will only land them in hell," Abdullah's father told reporters as he sat at his son's hospital bedside Sunday.

The militants made an unusual and horrific appeal to recruit young Saudis, dragging the bloodied corpse of a Westerner through a high school parking lot and urging the students to join their Arab brethren in a holy war in Iraq.

They appear to have badly miscalculated the response: school officials said some of the boys ran from the scene crying; others spoke of nightmares.

"This is not right," said a traumatized 18-year-old. "This is un-Islamic."

Saudi authorities have cracked down on accused militants since of string of terror attacks that began with coordinated suicide bombings at Riyadh housing compounds last May that killed 34 people, including eight Americans.

The crackdown has included official and clerical denunciations of terrorism and the thinking behind it.

As part of the campaign, two prominent Saudi clerics charged with advocating violence were shown on Saudi television late last year renouncing Islamic militancy and attacks against innocent people.

Nevertheless, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, who runs the day-to-day affairs of the kingdom in the name of his invalided brother King Fahd, blamed internal Saudi terrorism on "Zionists."

"Zionism is behind terrorist actions in the kingdom," Abdullah told a gathering of princes in Jiddah following the Saturday attacks. "I can say that I am 95 percent sure of that."

He said Zionism had misled "some of our sons," but did not elaborate. Anti-Israeli sentiment runs high in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Arab world because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Arab intellectuals have organized conferences devoted to denouncing militancy and portraying true Islam as tolerant and peaceful.

The grand sheik of Al-Azhar (search), the Cairo mosque and university considered by many to be the world's leading seat of Sunni Islam learning, has repeatedly denounced Al Qaeda and scoffed at its argument that the West threatens Muslims.

For a minority of Muslims, though, the angry rhetoric of the extremists has more resonance. It speaks to their uncertainty about the future at a time of confusing economic and social change and to their pride in their religion at a time when they feel it is being vilified as terrorist.

The failure of the region's dictators to meet the desires of their citizens, who want better lives and more democracy, has been cited as a reason extremists find willing listeners to their argument that radical Islam can provide solutions.

Fouad al-Hashm, a columnist for the Kuwaiti daily Al-Watan, said Arab governments themselves encouraged fundamentalism in an attempt to shore up the legitimacy of their regimes.

"It is time that religion goes back to the hearts and spirits and mosques, and leaves politics," al-Hashim said.