SANAA, Yemen, Dec. 2 (UPI) -- Saudi Arabia's offensive against Yemeni rebels is driven by its fear of what it views as a far greater threat -- al-Qaida.
Riyadh believes that if Yemen collapses into chaos, the jihadists regrouping there will step up their war against the Saudi monarchy.
A recent call by Ibrahim al-Rubaish, al-Qaida's grand mufti, or religious leader, for a new campaign of assassination among the kingdom's extended royal family underlined that alarm.
According to the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington think tank that monitors global terrorism, Rubaish made that call in a recently released audiotape that addressed a failed attempt in August to kill Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, a senior member of the House of al-Saud.
Prince Mohammed is Saudi Arabia's deputy interior minister and heads its counterinsurgency forces. He was responsible for crushing al-Qaida, which terrorized the kingdom in 2003-06.
The tape also provided a useful insight into the workings of the jihadist movement in Yemen.
The Aug. 27 attack on the prince was carried out by a Saudi al-Qaida operative based in Yemen who pretended he wanted to repent and enter the country's rehabilitation program.
He hid explosives in his body and they apparently detonated prematurely as he was about to meet the Saudi royal in his palace in the Red Sea city of Jeddah. The assailant was killed, but the prince suffered only minor wounds.
That attack, the first on a Saudi royal in decades, was seen as a major escalation in al-Qaida's renewed operations against the kingdom, the world's largest oil exporter.
It raised grave concerns about al-Qaida's strength, its intentions and particularly its use of neighboring Yemen as a sanctuary and base of operations.
Rubaish justified the attack on Prince Mohammed by saying that assassination has been considered a legitimate tactic since the early days of Islam.
He cited a sunna -- a body of traditional Islamic law -- authorizing the slaying of "polytheists" -- those who worship more than one god -- and quoted several examples of the Prophet Mohammed calling for the assassination of "enemies of Islam."
He said that Prince Mohammed was responsible for the war against mujahedin, or holy warriors of Islam, and waged it on behalf of the United States.
"Why Mohammed bin Nayef?" Rubaish asked. "Allah has favored me in the fact that I have never met Mohammed bin Nayef, may Allah deal with him as he deserves, but I have been in his prisons. I have dealt with his wardens and I have lived with those charred by the fire of his tyranny."
Rubaish then declared: "We are in dire need of reviving this sunna against the enemies of Allah, for it instills terror and fear in the ranks of the enemy.
"It is also a factor which leads the mercenaries in the ranks of the enemy to re-evaluate their work, for even though they are slaves of money, their lives are more important to them than their salaries.
"It also makes those given orders amongst the soldiers think about the assassination teams before they think about fulfilling their commands. Through them, the enemies live in fear, even in their own houses amongst their families, for they do not know when they will be attacked by the predator lions.
"They know that they are doing their best to seek revenge, even if it leads to their own death, making the matter even more fearful and terrorizing," Rubaish warned.
He has been acknowledged as the religious ideologue of al-Qaida in the Arabian peninsula since the jihadists regrouped in Yemen following their defeat in Saudi Arabia.
The grand mufti plays a key role in the organization, particularly in espousing its religious credentials. This is an important factor in the group's efforts to establish its religious legitimacy within Islam.
Rubaish, who hails from the ultra-conservative Saudi region of Buridah, was captured in Afghanistan by U.S. forces and imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay.
He was released in December 2006 with some other Saudis and enrolled in the kingdom's rehabilitation program for former jihadists.
In April 2008 he absconded to Yemen with 11 other former Guantanamo inmates, leaving his wife and three children in Saudi Arabia.