TIME energy

ISIS’s Ultimate Goal: Saudi Arabia’s Oil Wells

Saudi Arabia oil
Saudi Arabia has the richest reserves of oil on the planet Marwan Naamani—AFP/Getty Images

The terror group has its sights set on the world's biggest oil reserves

Originally appeared on OilPrice.com

For the terrorist group known as the Islamic State, Syria and Iraq were a good place to start their campaign, but in order to survive and prosper it knew from the outset that it had no choice but to set its sights on the ultimate prize: the oil fields of Saudi Arabia.

It is in that direction that the battle for control of the world’s largest oil fields is currently heading.

Islamic State — which has its origins in al-Qaeda – knows fully well that in order to sustain itself as a viable and lasting religious, political, economic and military entity in the region, it has to follow the same objectives established by al-Qaeda when Osama bin Laden broke off his relations with the Saudi monarchy and vowed to bring down the House of Saud.

Bin Laden’s ire at the Saudi monarchy stemmed from the fact that Saudi King Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al Saud invited the American military to use Saudi Arabia as a staging area to build up forces to take on the then Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein after Iraqi troops occupied Kuwait in August of 1990. Bin Laden objected to the presence of “infidels” in the land of the two holy mosques, and asked the king to allow his outfit to tackle Saddam Hussein’s troops.

Similarly, IS knows that it will only feel secure once Saudi Arabia is part of the Caliphate, and its oil fields are under IS control — which is why the group has two logical next steps.

First, to capture and secure the most important country in the Muslim world: Saudi Arabia.

If the battle for Syria and Iraq attracted tens of hundreds, (some say tens of thousands) of young Muslims, the battle for control of Islam’s two holiest sites, Mecca and Medina, are very likely to attract many more fighters into the ranks of the Islamic State.

And second, to take on the United States — the one remaining superpower that could stop its march on the oilfields of Saudi Arabia, and ultimately the rest of the Gulf.

After much hesitation, it now appears that the Obama administration has come around to realizing the true danger posed by IS. Washington, along with some of its NATO allies, is now formulating a plan to defeat IS.

However, it may be wise to point out that Washington’s track record in dealing with Middle East problems has not been something to crow about. As a point of reference, one need only mention Iraq and Afghanistan — both prime examples of how not to do things.

Even if the U.S. can defeat IS militarily, any victory would only be temporary since eventually, U.S. troops will pull out and the remnants of IS would emerge from their respective hiding places, as they did after Saddam Hussein’s capture and death. Indeed, a U.S. intervention — through its massive air campaign — will foment even greater animosity toward the West in general, and the United States, in particular. It’s all déjà vu.

The one power that can effectively move against IS in a manner that would appear legitimate to other Muslims is Saudi Arabia, as Nawaf Obaid, a fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and Saud al-Sarhan, research director at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies pointed out in a joint opinion piece published Sept. 9 in the New York Times.

The authors dispute the widely believed notion that Saudi Arabia created IS and is funding it. “Saudi Arabia is not the source of ISIS — it’s the group’s primary target,” they write.

As Obaid and al-Sarhan put it, “The Saudi leadership has a unique form of religious credibility and legitimacy, which will make it far more effective than other governments at delegitimizing ISIS’s monstrous terrorist ideology.”

What makes IS powerful today is the fact that they laid out their military strategy based on where oil fields are located. The fact that they went after northeast Syria and northern Iraq is not coincidental by any means. Islamic State may be ruthless and brutal, but it is first and foremost a terrorist organization with an astute business plan.

The capture of oil wells in Syria and Iraq has made the group financially self-sufficient. Now it’s all or nothing.

Read more on OilPrice.com

UK Wants U.S. Supreme Court To Limit BP Liability For Deepwater Horizon

How do you Spend $35 Billion in a Town of 13,000 People?

Kremlin Says Sanctions Will Cost Europe

The Consequences Of Fracking: Two Clashing Views

Investigation Reveals Surprising Way Foreign Governments Buy Influence In D.C.

Junior Mining Companies Looking for Financial Lifeboats

TIME Foreign Policy

Kerry Enlists Saudi King in War of Ideas Against ISIS

Saudi King Abdullah listens to U.S. Secretary of State Kerry before a meeting at the Royal Palace in Jeddah
Saudi King Abdullah listens to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry before a meeting at the royal palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Sept. 11, 2014 Brendan Smialowski—Reuters

Persuading would-be jihadists that ISIS distorts Islam “probably far more important than the military,” the U.S. Secretary of State says

On the night of Sept. 11, John Kerry arrived at the royal palace here for a meeting with the King of Saudi Arabia. Abdullah bin Abdulaziz makes his home in this coastal city during the summer months, and the palace is a testament to his country’s vast oil wealth. Kerry entered through a vast atrium beneath a towering powder dome perhaps a hundred feet high. To greet the King, he ascended a carpeted staircase beneath a huge chandelier, and into a grand sitting room where his majesty awaited. The elderly monarch, clad in brown robes and white headscarf, remained seated as Kerry leaned down to kiss his cheeks.

To say the least, Sept. 11 is an awkward date for an American official to be visiting Saudi Arabia. Many consider Abdullah’s government at least indirectly culpable for the terrorist attacks on that day in 2001, thanks to the Saudi kingdom’s generous financial support for Sunni fundamentalists whose harsh, Salafist version of Islam helped to spawn al-Qaeda. “Saudi Arabia created the monster that is Salafi terrorism,” writes Ed Husain of the Council on Foreign Relations. Some suggest even more direct responsibility: former Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Bob Graham believes “there was a direct line between at least some of the terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks and the government of Saudi Arabia.”

But there was no sign of discomfort and certainly no mention of the date as the U.S. Secretary of State and the Saudi King bantered genially, via a translator, through a short photo opportunity before getting down to business. The U.S.-Saudi diplomatic relationship has long since moved on from Sept. 11. Today, Washington considers King Abdullah a crucial ally in the fight against Islamic terrorism in general — and against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in particular. During his whirlwind diplomatic tour to assemble America’s coalition against ISIS over the past week, Kerry repeatedly stressed the King’s role in a growing effort to undermine ISIS’ religious legitimacy in the Muslim world. “We are fighting an ideology, not a regime,” Kerry told reporters traveling with him on Monday.

Kerry is so animated by this war of ideas that he calls it even more important than the military campaign against the group. Sitting in a gilded room at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Paris, Kerry sounded irritated at the media’s focus on air strikes and ground forces. “The military piece is one piece,” Kerry said. “It’s a critical component — but it’s only one component.”

“Probably far more important than the military in the end,” Kerry continued, is the effort “to start drying up this pool of jihadis.” The goal is to mobilize Arab leaders, preachers, and media outlets behind a message that ISIS does not represent a “pure” vision of Islam, but a grotesque distortion of it. That, they hope, can blunt ISIS’ ability to recruit new fighters among impressionable young Muslim men. Stopping a fighter from signing up, Kerry said, is “a far better mechanism than having to go chase him down in the battlefield.”

U.S. officials say no one is more important to that effort than King Abdullah. And the King is happy to oblige. While Saudi money has long helped nurture a fundamentalist Sunni doctrine that inspires groups from al-Qaeda to Boko Haram, Islamic radicalism has come to threaten the King as well. This helps to explain why the royal palace in Jeddah is guarded by three gated checkpoints, several armored vehicles and a truck-mounted machine gun at its front entrance. Such groups see Abdullah as an American lackey who defames the holy land by cooperating with infidels. After a spate of al-Qaeda attacks within the kingdom in the mid-2000s, the Saudis have worked extremely closely with the U.S. on counterterrorism.

ISIS seems to have raised the King’s anxiety another notch, however. He has banned Saudis from traveling to join the fight in Syria, lest they return to threaten his regime. Last month Saudi authorities arrested dozens of suspects linked to ISIS — including members of an alleged cell plotting attacks within the country.

But Abdullah wields a potent weapon in his defense: his influence over Saudi Arabia’s religious leaders. The King has a symbiotic relationship with his kingdom’s hard-line clerics, whose words hold sway far across the Muslim world. The clerics recognize Abdullah’s legitimacy in return for funding, official positions and Abdullah’s tolerance of their strict form of Islam — which forbids women from driving and imposes beheadings for offenses like adultery, drug possession and sorcery.

Abdullah can also summon his clerics to action. In a speech last month that a U.S. State Department official calls “unprecedented” in its vehemence, Abdullah denounced radical Islamists for using Islam to justify their actions — and castigated Saudi clerics for not making the point more forcefully. Days later, the kingdom’s top religious authority declared that ISIS and al-Qaeda “are enemy No. 1 of Islam.” Another senior cleric soon declared it “a major sin” to join ISIS. He added that the group’s fighters might avoid damnation if they murder their commanders.

The U.S. strategy doesn’t stop with the Saudis. During a visit to Cairo on Saturday, Kerry also urged Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi to pressure his country’s religious leaders. Cairo is home to two of the most important institutions of Islamic learning, al-Azhar University and Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah, making it “essentially the intellectual heart of the Arab world,” as a senior State Department official puts it. “So one of the issues is to have [Egypt's] religious institutions speak out against [ISIS] … to have the imams talk about it in Friday sermons, and to otherwise sort of increase the volume on this message.”

The effort also extends beyond the mosque. The U.S. is pressing major Arab media outlets, including Dubai-based al-Arabiya and Qatar’s al-Jazeera, to broadcast more antiradical programming. (State Department officials say Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Richard Stengel — a former managing editor of TIME — will soon return to the region to pursue that topic.)

But the King is the most important player of all, experts say. “Saudi Arabia is the only authority in the region with the power and legitimacy to bring ISIS down,” wrote Nawaf Obaid, of Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and Saud al-Sarhan, of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, in a Sept. 9 New York Times op-ed. “[T]he Saudi leadership has a unique form of religious credibility and legitimacy, which will make it far more effective than other governments at delegitimizing ISIS’ monstrous terrorist ideology.”

Much like the date of Kerry’s visit to the royal palace in Jeddah, it is a deep irony that Saudi Arabia has become so critical to extinguishing the flames of Sunni radicalism it helped to spread. But it’s not an irony that Kerry cares to dwell upon. Asked by TIME on Monday about Saudi Arabia’s past responsibility for radical extremism, the Secretary of State bridled.

“There is no constructive purpose whatsoever served by going backwards,” Kerry said. “There are lots of question marks that people can dig into for history about mistakes that were made,” he added. “Nothing is served right now by chewing that over.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 10

1. Could a Saudi Arabia-Iran alliance be the key to stopping ISIS?

By Lina Khatib at the Carnegie Middle East Center

2. Microsoft may buy Minecraft for $2 billion. Why? Because the game provides creativity, community, and a unique learning experience.

By Robin Sloan in Medium

3. Apple Pay – the least glamorous of yesterday’s announcements – could upend and vastly expand the mobile payment world.

By Maggie McGrath in Forbes

4. With extraordinary social media use and Internet access, Egypt may yet have a chance at saving itself.

By Enas Rizk at the Elcano Royal Institute

5. The Department of Education is making a smart investment by giving states with strong parental involvement in education an edge in a new grant competition.

By Lauren Camera in Education Week

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia Sentences American, 23 Others, for Terrorism

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal addresses a news conference following a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), on the situation in the Gaza Strip, in Jeddah
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal addresses a news conference following a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Jeddah on Aug. 12, 2014 Mohamed Hwaity—Reuters

The Gulf state has become increasingly alarmed that its citizens are receiving training from terrorism cells in neighboring countries

(RIYADH, Saudi Arabia) — A court in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday sentenced an American and 23 other people to prison on charges they created a terrorist cell and planned attacks on foreigners and oil pipelines.

The official Saudi Press Agency reported that their sentences range from two to 27 years in prison for planning attacks against Saudi Arabia and its smaller neighbor of Bahrain.

The state report said the U.S. national was sentenced to 17 years prison, six of which are for cyber-crimes. He was ordered deported after completing his sentencing. The years he has already spent in prison will be counted as part of his sentencing.

State media did not release any names, did not disclose further details on when the attacks were planned and did not say when the men had been arrested. All have 30 days to appeal.

The group also includes one Yemeni while the rest are Saudi. The Specialized Criminal Court, created in 2008 to try terrorism cases, slapped them with travel bans after prison.

Other charges against various members of the group include financing terrorism, embracing “deviant ideology”, disobeying the king, using the media to support terrorism, providing shelter to wanted people and training for combat.

Countries around the world are growing increasingly concerned that battle-hardened extremist fighters are training a new generation of international fighters that could launch attacks back home. Those fears have gained urgency because of the horrific methods of Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq.

Saudi Arabia, which at times turned a blind eye to its citizens taking up arms against its foes in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, criminalized fighting in conflicts abroad this year.

They have also made sweeping arrests in recent days. Saudi police announced on Monday they had arrested 88 people suspected of being part of an al-Qaeda cell that was planning attacks inside and outside the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia was hit by a wave of attacks starting in 2003 that lasted for about two years. The attacks were launched by al-Qaeda militants who wanted to topple the monarchy, but Saudi officials responded in a massive crackdown at the time that saw many flee to neighboring Yemen.

The Saudi king, concerned with al-Qaeda and its breakaway Islamic State militants, said over the weekend that extremists could attack Europe and the U.S. if there is not a strong international response to terrorism. His remarks appeared aimed at drawing Washington and NATO forces into a wider fight against the group in Iraq and Syria.

TIME Middle East

Hamas Still Has Some Friends Left

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters at parliament in Ankara, Turkey, July 22, 2014.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters at parliament wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh, in Ankara, July 22, 2014. Burhan Ozbilici—AP

Though Egypt has turned its back on Hamas, other countries are coming in from the cold

With the fighting in Gaza intensifying daily, the ruling militant group Hamas is finding itself pushed to the limit. Trying to match Israel’s vast military might is an impossible task, and even finding the resources to launch rocket attacks against Israeli targets could only be achieved by heavy foreign investment.

But which country wants to invest in Hamas? The West certainly doesn’t. The militant Palestinian organization has been a firm fixture on the United States’ Foreign Terrorist Organizations list since 1997. Hamas’ only hope is its neighbors in the Arab world.

Hamas has two clear allies, according to Middle East experts: Qatar and Turkey. Both have given Hamas their public support and financial assistance estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Qatar also hosts Hamas’ political bureau which includes Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal,” says Shashank Joshi, Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. “Qatar has a long history of providing shelter to Islamist groups, amongst them the Muslim Brotherhood and the Taliban.”

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, which came to power in 2002, supports what Joshi calls “other neo-Islamist allies.” Though the Turkish government explicitly rejects the label “Islamist”, their social conservatism is inspired by an Islamic ideology that Hamas shares. Last year, Meshaal visited Turkey and met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for several hours.

Both Qatar — one of the world’s richest states — and Turkey are powerful allies to have, but Hamas might wish for more support given the breadth of the Arab world. It once had it, too. Hamas used to be strongly allied with both Iran and Syria, with the former giving Hamas an estimated $13-15 million a month as recently as 2011, as well as long-range missiles. Hamas’ political bureau used to be based in the Syrian capital of Damascus before its move to Qatar in 2012.

But relations cooled dramatically with Iran and Syria amid sectarian divisions following the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. Iran, a Shia-majority country, backed the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad whose Alawite faith is a branch of Shia Islam. Hezbollah, a powerful Shia Islamist group based in Lebanon, also took Assad’s side.

However Hamas, a Sunni-led faction, sided, as most of the Arab world did, with the rebels. Cue Tehran cutting their allowance, Hezbollah allegedly ordering Hamas members out of Lebanon, and Hamas packing their bags for Qatar.

“Iran’s relationship with Hamas was always problematic,” says Chris Doyle, director of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding. “Hamas is a Palestinian Sunni group and Iran is Shia. Nevertheless, Hamas was their entry into the issue of Palestine.”

Seeking to regain its influence over this issue, Iran has attempted to foster a reconciliation with Hamas over the last 18 months. Farwaz Gerges, professor on the Middle East at the London School of Economics says the conflict in Gaza is the reason. “The current crisis has brought a kind of rapprochement between Iranian leaders and Hamas.”

Hezbollah too, Gerges notes, has invited Hamas back into the fold. On Monday, the Hezbollah-owned television channel Al Manar reported that Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, praised Meshaal for “the persistence of the Hamas resistance.” The TV station added he “strongly supported their rightful demands to end the current battle.”

Gerges is quick to point out that this doesn’t signal “a return to the warm days of the Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas leaders.” However he adds: “Out of this particular crisis, a new realignment might happen.” That may sound like good news for Hamas, but there’s another Arab country that is of late vehemently opposed to it. That would be Egypt, the largest and most influential country in the Arab world and the one responsible for drafting a potential cease-fire.

From 2012 to 2013, Hamas enjoyed Egypt’s munificence under the leadership of former President Mohamed Morsi, a longtime member of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood of which Hamas is an offshoot. When Morsi was ousted last year and replaced with Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, Hamas knew the good times were over.

“The most devastating thing that has happened to Hamas is the ousting of Mohamed Morsi,” comments Gerges. Sisi, whose government has orchestrated a violent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, destroyed Hamas’ tunnel network into Egypt and closed the border crossing at Rafah, devastating Hamas’ finances. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, two of Egypt’s financial backers, are also hostile to Hamas. Like Egypt, they view the Muslim Brotherhood as a clear domestic threat — and Hamas is guilty by association.

But perhaps Hamas doesn’t need Egypt. As the death toll continues to rise in Gaza, there is a groundswell of public sympathy across the Arab world for the group.

“Hamas in terms of people on the street is at the height of its political power in every single Arab country with the exception of Egypt,” says Gerges. “The longer the conflict continues, the more they gain in popularity. And for Hamas, what really matters is the public pulse.”

TIME Iraq

Iraq Leader Under Pressure to Step Aside as U.S. Looks Elsewhere

A moment of truth for Nouri al-Maliki

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki faced growing pressure Friday to make way for a new government, as the U.S. and its Middle Eastern allies turned to moderate Syrian opposition forces to curtail the growing influence of militants who control vast swaths of Iraq.

On multiple fronts, al-Maliki faced a country largely disintegrating before him. A top Shi’ite cleric urged the country’s parliament to pick a new Prime Minister before Monday, which could lead to the ouster of the highly divisive al-Maliki, a Shi’ite who has been criticized for not reaching out to the country’s Sunnis. Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalai, a cleric who represents Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, urged a new leader even as he called for national unity in a country that is quickly fracturing between Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds.

“Iraqis have passed bigger crises than this in the past history,” al-Karbalai, according to the New York Times. “We must not think of dividing Iraq as part of a solution for the current crises, the solution must protect the unity of Iraq and the rights of all its sects.”

In the north, local officials in the largely autonomous Kurdish region defied the demands of religious and government leaders, suggesting they have no intention of giving up the power they seized when Iraqi troops fled as fighters from the militant group ISIS advanced earlier this month.

“We have presented many sacrifices in the past,” Iraqi Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani told the Times. “Our lands have resorted to their origin identity.”

And American support for al-Maliki continued to appear on the wane. In Saudi Arabia, Secretary of State John Kerry stood beside Syrian opposition leader Ahmad Jarba as Jarba decried al-Maliki’s leadership.

“The policies of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, after eight years in power, have resulted in greater division,” Jarba said, according to a State Department readout of a news conference there. “Now the situation is very grave and there are sectarian militias ruling the country.”

Kerry also met with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to coordinate a response to the ISIS militants, whose gains have forced President Barack Obama to deploy a limited number of military advisers to Iraq.

The maneuvering came on a day when officials confirmed for the first time that the American military has begun flying armed drones over Baghdad to protect U.S. troops and officials on the ground. It also followed Obama’s Thursday announcement that the U.S. would provide an additional half-a-billion dollars to support Jarba’s forces, which the White House described as “appropriately vetted” fighters opposing Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Jarba’s group, which is composed of moderate Sunnis, has been fighting radical Islamist militants in Syria, particularly ISIS, as well as the government of Assad. The U.S. and its allies hope that the moderate group will play a key role in ending an insurgency that has given ISIS more territorial control in the region than any other Islamist group in recent memory.

“President Jarba represents a tribe that reaches right into Iraq,” Kerry said. “He knows the people there, and his point of view and the Syrian opposition’s will be very important going forward.”

TIME Foreign Policy

U.S. Weighs Anti-ISIS Strategy in Iraq and Syria

Demonstrators carry the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria's flags in the Iraqi city of Mosul, 360 km (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, on June 16, 2014
Demonstrators carry the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria's flags in the Iraqi city of Mosul, 225 miles (360 km) northwest of Baghdad, on June 16, 2014 AP

Questions of how lessons from the past decade apply to the growing threat from Islamist extremists in Iraq. Current and former counterterrorism officials tell TIME that the ISIS militant group storming across Iraq seems focused more on its enemies in the region than on Americans thousands of miles away, buying time for a more narrowly tailored response

What did America gain for the blood and treasure it spent in Iraq from 2003 to 2011? The rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) over the past year and the collapse of central control by the government in Baghdad in recent weeks suggest to some that the long and costly effort in Iraq yielded little.

But current and former government counterterrorism officials learned at least one important lesson from the fight against al-Qaeda allies in Iraq and elsewhere: restraint. For them, ISIS looks like a growing threat to the U.S., but not an imminent one, for now focused more on its enemies in the region than on Americans thousands of miles away. That buys the U.S. time to see if others can address the threat and to weigh helping them if necessary.

“One of the big questions right now is whether [ISIS] can turn its tactical victories in Iraq into strategic gains,” says a U.S. counterterrorism official. “With only a few thousand fighters, [ISIS] couldn’t have moved as rapidly as it has without the support of some nationalist Sunni groups and sympathetic tribes, some of which are merely drafting off of [ISIS’s] advances and may not cooperate over the long haul.”

The U.S. has been watching for signs that the Sunni tribes, aggrieved at their treatment by the post-Saddam Shi‘ite leadership of Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad, have pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Dua, but so far they have not seen it. That suggests to the officials more of an alliance of convenience between the tribes and ISIS than a long-term commitment to the group’s radical agenda. That pattern played out from 2006 to 2008, when the tribes aligned with ISIS’s predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq, but then turned on the group and drove it out.

America’s approach to counterterrorism outside Iraq has been informed by that experience as well. The success against so-called core al-Qaeda in Afghanistan left loosely linked terrorist franchises around the world aligned more in spirit than operation. At different times over the past decade, the U.S. has faced growing threats from al-Qaeda franchises in Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen. While some of those groups have posed real threats to the U.S., they have often been focused closer to home.

“The evil genius of [Osama] bin Laden was persuading people that the enemy was the far enemy,” says former senior CIA and FBI counterterrorism official Philip Mudd. “Increasingly, I see near-enemy al-Qaedas — in Yemen, in Syria, in Iraq — who want to take over the police station, kill the guards and take over the government, not necessarily saying, I want to spend a lot of time [focused on the U.S.]”

The question is what action the U.S. can take, if any, that will keep ISIS focused locally and attempt to split the tribes away from it. That strategic calculation is informed by the pre-9/11 lesson that local threats can become international threats if they don’t face a local foe, and if they are led by a visionary. “When groups that have a poisonous ideology don’t have to fight the government, idle hands are the devil’s workplace, and they start to think bigger,” says Mudd.

TIME Infectious Disease

It Looks Like Camels Actually Can Transmit MERS to Humans

Camel MERS
An Indian worker wears a mouth and nose mask as he touches a camel at his Saudi employer's farm outside Riyadh on May 12, 2014. Fayez Nureldine—AFP/Getty Images

Scientists confirm a man who died of MERS had same virus as one of his camels

Genetic sequencing has confirmed that a man who died of MERS in November likely got the disease from one of the camels in his herd.

In Nov, 2013, a 44-year-old previously healthy Saudi Arabian man came down with MERS and eventually died. A new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine reports that scientists from King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah have shown that his virus was virtually identical to the virus found in one of his camels.

The scientists report that three of the man’s friends accompanied him when he visited his camels and witnessed him put medicine in the nose of calf. Later on, it was shown that the calf had the same virus as the man, suggesting he got MERS from his camel.

The man’s friends and daughter, who also had cold symptoms recovered, as did the camel.

TIME Infectious Disease

Saudi Arabia Revises MERS Death Toll Up 48%

SAUDI-HEALTH-MERS-VIRUS
A Saudi man walks towards the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, 370 kms East of the Saudi capital Riyadh, on June 16, 2013. FAYEZ NURELDINE—AFP/Getty Images

Saudi Arabia confirmed Tuesday an additional 113 cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), dramatically raising the kingdom’s caseload to a total of 688.

Reuters reports that Saudi Arabia’s Health Ministry released the revised figures after officials conducted a deeper review of the nation’s medical records. In addition to the heavier caseload, officials raised the virus’ death toll by 48% from 190 to 282 known deaths.

“While the review has resulted in a higher total number of previously unreported cases,” read a statement from Tariq Madani, head of the ministry’s scientific advisory board, “we still see a decline in the number of new cases reported over the past few weeks.”

Saudi Arabia dismissed its Deputy Health Minister Doctor Ziad Memish on Tuesday, without elaborating on the reasons for his dismissal, Reuters reports. The sacking comes only six weeks after Health Minister Abdullah al-Rabeeah was fired amid rising MERS infection rates.

[Reuters]

TIME Infectious Disease

2 Hospital Workers Treating MERS Patient Show Virus-Like Symptoms

Ken Michaels
Ken Michaels MD talks at a Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) press conference at Dr. Phillips hospital on May 13, 2014 in Orlando, Florida. Reinhold Matay—AP

Flu-like respiratory symptoms have been seen in health care workers exposed to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome patient in Orlando, Fla. A total of 20 are being tested for the disease

Two health care workers at the Orlando, Fla. hospital treating a confirmed Middle East Respiratory Sydrome patient are showing symptoms associated with the virus.

Dr. P. Phillips Hospital, where the MERS patient is being treated, confirmed to TIME that two health workers are experiencing flu-like symptoms. One has been hospitalized, while the other is currently isolated at their home, and is being monitored. Neither has yet been diagnosed with MERS, the hospital said.

A total of 20 health care workers at Dr. P. Phillips Hospital are now undergoing testing for MERS after being exposed to the patient, the hospital confirmed to TIME. The virus is not a severe risk to the general public, but human transmission appears to happen among people who interact with those who are infected, typically in a health care setting.

Like the first patient in Indiana, the new patient lives in Saudi Arabia and is a health care worker there. The patient flew from Jeddah to London, and then to Boston, before traveling to Atlanta and finally Orlando to visit family. The patient started feeling ill during the flight from Jeddah to London, and had symptoms like fever, chills and a slight cough. The patient visited the emergency room at an Orange County hospital, and was isolated.

MERS is a respiratory virus that is in the same family as the common cold and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The disease appeared two years ago in Saudi Arabia, and to date, there are over 500 total cases, and over 100 deaths. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the risk to Americans is extremely low, and there are currently no travel restrictions in place.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said earlier today that President Obama has been briefed on the two cases of MERS in the U.S, and that the White House is “watching this very closely.”

The MERS patient is Florida is said to be in stable condition, and the first patient in Indiana has already been discharged from the hospital.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser