The ultra-violent al Qaeda offshoot group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) has targeted Saudi Arabian intelligence officers for a campaign of assassination as part of plans by the group to expand activities inside the oil-rich kingdom.
A Twitter campaign by ISIL terrorists was launched Friday that sought information on Saudi intelligence officers. It followed a fatal knife attack against a Saudi police officer last week.
U.S. intelligence agencies monitoring ISIL’s social media communications identified the campaign as a crowd-sourced effort to gather names and other personal information about Saudi intelligence officials for the assassination campaign.
The campaign, according to U.S. officials, appears aimed at destabilizing Saudi Arabia, the location of two of Islam’s holiest cities.
U.S. officials said social media monitoring indicated that thousands of Saudis are supporting ISIL, as indicated by social media use. Twitter users in the kingdom account for 40 percent of all Twitter users in the Arab world.
The assassination campaign is also part of a larger effort by ISIL to recruit jihadists in the kingdom and, as it did in other locations in the Middle East, to gain the release of Muslim terrorists held in prison.
In the case of Saudi Arabia, ISIL wants to increase its ranks by winning the release of imprisoned jihadists, including women terrorists.
Evidence of the ISIL recruiting drive in Saudi Arabia first appeared in June when leaflets were distributed in the capital, Riyadh.
The campaign is being carried out under a hashtag in Arabic that translates to "Revealing the identities of the dogs of the Saudi intelligence agencies."
A pro-ISIL propagandist who is known to U.S. intelligence is said to be leading the campaign.
Saudi National Guard police detective Turki al-Maliki was killed in Riyadh on July 28 and online supporters of ISIL said the murder was part of the new assassination campaign.
However, a U.S. official said the campaign targeting Saudi intelligence officers did not begin until a day after the killing. Analysts believe SIL may be exploiting the murder as a way of launching the anti-intelligence campaign.
Several online jihadists said the killing was the first phase of the campaign against the Saudis.
The crowd sourcing produced nearly 30,000 postings, including data on numerous people who are supposedly linked to the Saudi intelligence, known as the General Intelligence Presidency.
The Tweets included personal information on locations, Twitter names, pictures, and telephone numbers.
ISIL terrorists urged those taking part in the campaign to first verify the information to avoid killing innocents.
The Twitter campaign also prompted a social media political battle with pro-Saudi Tweeters using the assassination hashtag to issue statements of support for Saudi armed forces and security agencies.
Saudi Arabia remains a key target for both ISIL and the mainline al Qaeda group, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, which has been active in seeking to destabilize and take over Yemen.
AQAP claimed credit for carrying out a bombing attack on a Saudi border post near Sharurah on the Yemen border on July 4.
Two terrorists blew themselves up at the border post, killing five Saudis. Five terrorists also were killed and a sixth was arrested.
An AQAP video of the attack released last week said the attack was linked to winning the release of Saudi jihadists.
The video concluded with a threat to conduct further attacks deep inside Saudi territory and not just on the borders.
Meanwhile, ISIL last week released the second edition of an English-language magazine in a sign the group is seeking to recruit and influence westerners who can be used to conduct attacks.
The 44-page magazine known as "Dabiq" was released Wednesday. Its release has renewed fears among U.S. and western counterterrorism officials about ISIL’s aspirations to recruit Americans and others who can be used in future attacks against the United States and Europe.
ISIL remains in competition with al Qaeda for both supporters and fighters and is attempting to gain greater support among international jihadists after its June incursion into Iraq. The group has taken over a large part of Iraq, including the second largest city Mosul.
U.S. officials said a recent statement by Mullah Omar, leader of Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgency, has given inspiration to ISIL.
In a recent religious message, Omar appears to shy away from supporting central al Qaeda in its political battle with ISIL.
Omar stated that his main focus is on Afghanistan and maintaining peaceful relations with neighboring states.
Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s leader and successor to Osama bin Laden, has not directly addressed ISIL’s declaration of a "caliphate," or prophetic Islamic state in charge of all Muslims.
However, al Qaeda central has launched a propaganda campaign that included renewing ties with Omar’s Taliban.
But the failure of Omar to directly address the split led ISIL backers to claim he had turned down al Qaeda’s appeal for continued allegiance.