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Special Security Force

The Special Security Force was the Saudi equivalent of a special weapons assault team (SWAT), such as had been incorporated into police forces in various parts of the world. Reporting directly to the minister of interior, the force was organized after the poor performance of the national guard during the revolt at the Grand Mosque at Mecca in 1979. The force was equipped with UR-416 armored vehicles from West Germany and nonlethal chemical weapons. According to The Military Balance, the force had a personnel strength of 500 in 1992, although estimates from other sources have ranged much higher. It was reported in 1990 that the antiterrorism unit of the Special Security Force was being disbanded and its German training staff repatriated. The forces numbered about 10,000 in 2013.

In Saudi Arabia the regular army is excluded from many sensitive duties linked to counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, with the Saudi Arabian National Guard playing the key role. The Special Security Forces and the Special Emergency Forces play particularly important roles in the effort against al-Qa’ida.

The first embryo of the Special Forces emerged in 1382H in a form of a company. Its role then was to guard crown prince, HRH late prince Faisal bin Abdul Aziz, may Allah have mercy upon his soul. In 1383H, the company was boosted by additional personnel and was named "Command of the Guard of HRH crown prince," that used to report directly to the manager of Public Security.

In 1386, its name was changed to "Ministry of Interior Company." Its role has been expanded to include guarding of ministry of interior and its facilities, guarding of VIPs and providing support to other security forces. In 1388H, it underwent reconstruction and its name was changed to "Emergency Forces of the Ministry of Interior." In 1389, its name was changed to "Emergency Force of the Central Region." It was separated from Public Security and was integrated into the General Investigation Department. In 1390H, it was separated from the General Investigation and became member of the higher officers' committee. Separate budget was allocated to the force.

In 1391H, it was renamed "Special Security Force" with tasks that need exceptional effort. In 1398H its name was changed to "Special Security Forces." Its general commander was given the same status as general managers of the security forces sectors. Several new arrangements have been added to its tasks. Branches have been established in the western and eastern regions.

On 12 May 2003 [1423H] heavily armed militants affiliated with al-Qaeda attacked residential compounds in Riyadh, killing 36, including nine Americans. That assault was just the beginning of a terror wave that unleashed car bombings, suicide attacks and targeted assassinations on a country that had known relative calm for nearly a decade.

During an attack on 08 November 2003 on a residential compound in Riyadh, there were gun battles between terrorists and security forces. All of the terrorists got away. They had arrived in a car with the markings of the Special Security Forces, one of the main units of the security apparatus engaged in hunting down al-Qa'ida. It seemed to some that the use of a Special Security Forces car meant that this was an "inside job," and that al-Qa'ida had infiltrated parts of the security forces.

The attacks climaxed in 2004, when more than 60, including several foreigners, died throughout the country in a campaign of violence orchestrated by al-Qaeda militants. The government responded by bolstering its Special Security Forces.

For three years, the Special Security Forces battled with militants in the country’s urban expanses, until the threat died down with the capture and killing of the al-Qaeda chief and hundreds of other militants in “pre-emptive” strikes in late 2006 and early 2007 [1426H].

The term “security forces” is used as a broad term to encompass a range of units that fight insurgents. Paramilitary forces and intelligence and police units typically (though not always) take the lead before an insurgency is full-blown.



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