Its been a few months since I commented on the security situation in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The reason is twofold. First I’ve spent a ton of time outside of Saudi traveling, and second, that there isn’t a ton of information put forward regarding what the actual risk level is. Information travels mostly by way of mouth here or via social media, which is good in that some information does eventually filter thru, and bad because often times these reports are embellished. Here’s what I do know. Security in public places is at the highest I have seen it during my time here (this includes the previous time I spent in Saudi after the Arab Springs.) As I’ve previously mentioned there is a much larger police presence than when I was here in 2010/2011. Since the end of April there has been a marked increase in security at local Riyadh malls amidst fear of suicide bombings. I’ve been to the malls a few times, and I can honestly say that this new “security” doesn’t make me feel any safer. Women are required to open their purses or bags for examination by an often bored lady who is most likely on her cell phone. She may or may not actually look in your bag. She most certainly will not care about what you might be hiding under your abaya. You know that large black cape women must wear that literally has room enough inside for a whole other person. Because obviously if you were going to carry something dangerous into a mall this wouldn’t be the first place you would carry it right?! It’s much less security than you would see at any concert or sporting event in the US. In no way do I feel safer by it.
Here’s what I also know from following the news……there have been several shootings of police officers here in Riyadh. Pretty much one incident a month since March. There was the arrest of some 93 people suspected of having ISIS ties, 2 of whom were planning an attack on the US Embassy in Riyadh. There was a suicide bombing last week that killed 21 men and injured around 100 others, for which ISIS has reportedly taken credit. UPDATE: Literally as I was writing this post I came across a Facebook message about a bombing that happened about an hour ago outside of a mosque in Dammam. Current reports say 4 people were killed. Reports are also suggesting that the bomber was dressed as a woman and was intending to enter the female section of the mosque. It does appear that security incidences are increasing.
That being said I have not heard of any incidents affecting ex-pat workers. While I have kept a slightly lower profile I haven’t felt anymore unsafe than I did prior to the increased security measures. In fact, last night over dinner with a couple of friends we discussed the absurdness of the fact that we went out to eat at a local mall where there was security for the sole purpose of catching someone who might attempt to take a bomb to the mall. This would seem crazy were we in a western country, but here in Saudi, such is life…..stay safe people.