ISIS 'Attack Saudi Border Post and Infiltrate Town'

saudi arabia border
A military truck belonging to the Saudi border guards force patrol near a fence on Saudi Arabia's northern borderline with Iraq July 14, 2014. Faisal Al Nasser/Reuters

Dozens of Islamic State (ISIS) fighters have infiltrated a Saudi Arabian border town via Iraq before melting away into the general population, according to claims by the terror group's supporters on social media.

A famous anti-government Saudi tweeter known as 'mujtahidd', not known for ISIS sympathies, posted to his 1.2m followers that an attack was carried out on border guards with the help of a cell inside the Kingdom before they reached the town of Rafha, sparking a search by Saudi intelligence services.

ISIS-affiliated social media accounts started circulating a photo of a border checkpoint they claimed had been captured by the terror group's militants.

"They claim that they control [the border gate]," says Kovan Direj, a Syrian-Kurdish journalist monitoring the Twitter war. "They [claim they] went to the border gate and after that group melted into the city and now the secret service of the Saudi Arabians are looking for them."

While analysts have cautioned that no official confirmation of the border infiltration has been released by Saudi Arabia or ISIS, there has been a large-scale propaganda war between ISIS supporters and Saudi citizens using the hashtag #Rafha to claim that the raid either did or did not happen.

Charlie Winter, researcher at the anti-radicalisation thinktank Quilliam Foundation, revealed that there appears to be a "heavy campaign" from Saudi social media accounts to prevent the hashtag "becoming something dominated" by the Islamic State.

"You have people in Saudi Arabia saying 'be careful with this, it's just a rumour, it's just the Islamic State trying to destabilise the Kingdom'," he said.

However, when asked if ISIS and its supporters had previously fabricated an attack of this kind, Winter admitted that he could not recall another instance.

"They will always exaggerate but I have not seen something like this completely pulled out of the bag before."

If confirmed, the border infiltration into the conservative Kingdom would increase concerns about ISIS among the ruling Saudi elite. Riyadh is already constructing a 600-mile-long wall along its northern border with Iraq in an attempt to keep the terror group at bay.

The wall, which will stretch from the northwest town of Turaif near Jordan, to the northeastern town of Hafar al-Batin near Kuwait, will hold 40 watchtowers, 38 communication towers, 32 military response stations and 240 armed rapid response vehicles to patrol the border.

On the weaknesses of the Saudi border from such attacks, analysts note that there is little resistance on the Iraqi side of the border in what is essentially barren desert in the provinces along the frontline.

"[ISIS] are able to move freely without any issues all the way from northwestern Iraq to southwestern Iraq, as long as they avoid where they know where the ISF (Iraqi Security Forces) are," says Iraq expert and Director of Research at Integrity, Sajad Jiyad.

"Saudis cannot do anything as they are not allowed to operate in Iraq," he added.

On the timing of the alleged attack, experts are split on why the radical Islamists would conduct the raid.

Some believe that any attack may have been orchestrated to coincide with the death of King Abdullah and the succession of King Salman, capitalising on instability, while others feel border attacks stem from a longstanding hatred of the ruling Saudi elite.

"In the wake of King Abdullah's death, it would make sense for IS to try and destabilise them in this way, whether it was an incursion or whether it was just by disseminating rumours to scare people," says Winter.

However, Jiyad says that for ISIS, any attack would be "an opportunity to project power, to actually show that they are in Saudi".

"To be able to carry out those attacks reaffirms that it's not just guys holding up a flag. It's a powerful recruiting tool and a message that they are working beyond borders."

Torbjorn Soltvedt, principal MENA analyst at global risks analytics company Verisk Maplecroft, believes that the rumoured raid and the dissemination of its details across social media could be attributed to the terror group's losses in the Syrian town of Kobane and territory in northern Iraq to Kurdish forces.

"Perhaps this is a way for them to maintain some momentum and some positive focus. They are clearly concerned about losing momentum and the impact that has on morale within the group. So an audacious attack on the Saudi border would be a propaganda coup for them."

The terror group view the Saudi elite as its "arch-nemesis", says Winter. "They are seen as the tyrants above all tyrants."

Last November, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi called for attacks within Saudi Arabia in a rare speech, causing a heightened terror threat within the Kingdom.

ISIS militants carried out another border attack earlier this month near the town of Arar, on the border along from Rafha, killing a Saudi general and two border guards.