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A troop with the Saudi Special Security Forces watches a remote detonation at the Counter-Terrorism Training School camp under the Ministry of Interior in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 5, 2013.  The Saudi government has been fighting terrorism within the Kingdom for decades, and has roughly 3,000 SEF in Riyadh, alone.  Despite a fraugh relationship with the United States in the past, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have routinely shared security information in order to prevent and fight terrorism.   (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ Getty Reportage)
A troop with the Saudi Special Security Forces watches a remote detonation at the Counter-Terrorism Training School camp under the Ministry of Interior near Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 5, 2013.Lynsey Addario—Getty Images Reportage for TIME
A troop with the Saudi Special Security Forces watches a remote detonation at the Counter-Terrorism Training School camp under the Ministry of Interior in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 5, 2013.  The Saudi government has been fighting terrorism within the Kingdom for decades, and has roughly 3,000 SEF in Riyadh, alone.  Despite a fraugh relationship with the United States in the past, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have routinely shared security information in order to prevent and fight terrorism.   (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ Getty Reportage)
Troops with the Saudi Special Security Forces warm up and perform basic exercizes to increase strength and agility at the Counter-Terrorism Training School camp under the Ministry of Interior in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 5, 2013.  The Saudi government has been fighting terrorism within the Kingdom for decades, and has roughly 3,000 SEF in Riyadh, alone.  Despite a fraugh relationship with the United States in the past, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have routinely shared security information in order to prevent and fight terrorism.  With the recent death of HRH King Abdullah, the international community is looking to the newly appointed HRH King Salman to see how he develop the Kingdom's relationship with the West.  (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ Getty Reportage)
Troops with the Saudi Special Security Forces repel into a recreated scene of an explosion and ongoing attack at the Counter-Terrorism Training School camp under the Ministry of Interior in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 5, 2013.  The Saudi government has been fighting terrorism within the Kingdom for decades, and has roughly 3,000 SEF in Riyadh, alone.  Despite a fraugh relationship with the United States in the past, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have routinely shared security information in order to prevent and fight terrorism.  With the recent death of HRH King Abdullah, the international community is looking to the newly appointed HRH King Salman to see how he develop the Kingdom's relationship with the West.  (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ Getty Reportage)
Troops with the Saudi Special Security Forces perform drills on searching a premises under a terrorist attack at the Counter-Terrorism Training School camp under the Ministry of Interior in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 5, 2013.  The Saudi government has been fighting terrorism within the Kingdom for decades, and has roughly 3,000 SEF in Riyadh, alone.  Despite a fraugh relationship with the United States in the past, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have routinely shared security information in order to prevent and fight terrorism.  With the recent death of HRH King Abdullah, the international community is looking to the newly appointed HRH King Salman to see how he develop the Kingdom's relationship with the West.  (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ Getty Reportage)
Troops with the Saudi Special Security Forces repel down a building during a simulated terrorist attack at the Counter-Terrorism Training School camp under the Ministry of Interior in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 5, 2013.  The Saudi government has been fighting terrorism within the Kingdom for decades, and has roughly 3,000 SEF in Riyadh, alone.  Despite a fraugh relationship with the United States in the past, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have routinely shared security information in order to prevent and fight terrorism.  With the recent death of HRH King Abdullah, the international community is looking to the newly appointed HRH King Salman to see how he develop the Kingdom's relationship with the West.  (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ Getty Reportage)
Troops with the Saudi Special Security Forces warm up and perform basic exercizes to increase strength and agility at the Counter-Terrorism Training School camp under the Ministry of Interior in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 5, 2013.  The Saudi government has been fighting terrorism within the Kingdom for decades, and has roughly 3,000 SEF in Riyadh, alone.  Despite a fraugh relationship with the United States in the past, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have routinely shared security information in order to prevent and fight terrorism.  With the recent death of HRH King Abdullah, the international community is looking to the newly appointed HRH King Salman to see how he develop the Kingdom's relationship with the West.  (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ Getty Reportage)
Troops with the Saudi Special Security Forces perform a show of force below images of the Royal family, from left: King Salman bin AbdulAziz, King AbdulAziz, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, at the Counter-Terrorism Training School camp under the Ministry of Interior in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 5, 2013.  The Saudi government has been fighting terrorism within the Kingdom for decades, and has roughly 3,000 SEF in Riyadh, alone.  Despite a fraugh relationship with the United States in the past, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have routinely shared security information in order to prevent and fight terrorism.  With the recent death of HRH King Abdullah, the international community is looking to the newly appointed HRH King Salman to see how he develop the Kingdom's relationship with the West.  (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ Getty Reportage)
Saudi Special Security Forces camp under the Ministry of Interior train at the Counter-terrorism Training School in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 5, 2013. The Saudi government has been fighting terrorism within the Kingdom for decades, and has roughly 3,000 SEF in Riyadh, alone. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)Saudi Special Emergency Forces under the Ministry of Interior train at the Counter-terrorism Training School in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 4, 2013. The Saudi government has been fighting terrorism within the Kingdom for decades, and has roughly 3,000 SEF in Riyadh, alone. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ GettyReportage)
Troops with the Saudi Special Security Forces demonstrate how they respond to a hostage situation at the Counter-Terrorism Training School camp under the Ministry of Interior in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 5, 2013.  The Saudi government has been fighting terrorism within the Kingdom for decades, and has roughly 3,000 SEF in Riyadh, alone.  Despite a fraugh relationship with the United States in the past, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have routinely shared security information in order to prevent and fight terrorism.  With the recent death of HRH King Abdullah, the international community is looking to the newly appointed HRH King Salman to see how he develop the Kingdom's relationship with the West.  (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ Getty Reportage)
Troops with the Saudi Special Security Forces pretend to execute a terrorist during a simulated attack on a compound at the Counter-Terrorism Training School camp under the Ministry of Interior in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 5, 2013.  The Saudi government has been fighting terrorism within the Kingdom for decades, and has roughly 3,000 SEF in Riyadh, alone.  Despite a fraugh relationship with the United States in the past, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have routinely shared security information in order to prevent and fight terrorism.  With the recent death of HRH King Abdullah, the international community is looking to the newly appointed HRH King Salman to see how he develop the Kingdom's relationship with the West.  (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ Getty Reportage)
Saudi Special Emergency Forces under the Ministry of Interior train at the Counter-terrorism Training School in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 4, 2013.  The Saudi government has been fighting terrorism within the Kingdom for decades, and has roughly 3,000 SEF in Riyadh, alone.  (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)Saudi Special Emergency Forces under the Ministry of Interior train at the Counter-terrorism Training School in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 4, 2013.  The Saudi government has been fighting terrorism within the Kingdom for decades, and has roughly 3,000 SEF in Riyadh, alone.  (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ GettyReportage)
Saudi Special Security Forces perform a simulated raid on a terrorist group at an indoor shooting range at the Counter-Terrorism Training School camp under the Ministry of Interior in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 5, 2013.  The Saudi government has been fighting terrorism within the Kingdom for decades, and has roughly 3,000 SEF in Riyadh, alone.  Despite a fraugh relationship with the United States in the past, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have routinely shared security information in order to prevent and fight terrorism.  With the recent death of HRH King Abdullah, the international community is looking to the newly appointed HRH King Salman to see how he develop the Kingdom's relationship with the West.  (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ Getty Reportage)
Saudi Special Security Forces perform a simulated raid on a terrorist compound at an indoor shooting range at the Counter-Terrorism Training School camp under the Ministry of Interior in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 5, 2013.  The Saudi government has been fighting terrorism within the Kingdom for decades, and has roughly 3,000 SEF in Riyadh, alone.  Despite a fraugh relationship with the United States in the past, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have routinely shared security information in order to prevent and fight terrorism.  With the recent death of HRH King Abdullah, the international community is looking to the newly appointed HRH King Salman to see how he develop the Kingdom's relationship with the West.  (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ Getty Reportage)
Troops with the Saudi Special Security Forces simulate how they would break up a demonstration with water cannons and protective gear at the Counter-Terrorism Training School camp under the Ministry of Interior in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 5, 2013.  The Saudi government has been fighting terrorism within the Kingdom for decades, and has roughly 3,000 SEF in Riyadh, alone.  Despite a fraugh relationship with the United States in the past, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have routinely shared security information in order to prevent and fight terrorism.  With the recent death of HRH King Abdullah, the international community is looking to the newly appointed HRH King Salman to see how he develop the Kingdom's relationship with the West.  (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ Getty Reportage)
A troop with the Saudi Special Security Forces watches a remote detonation at the Counter-Terrorism Training School camp
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Lynsey Addario—Getty Images Reportage for TIME
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Meet Saudi Arabia’s Special Security Forces

Jan 29, 2015

In March 2013, photographer Lynsey Addario, along with TIME's Africa Bureau Chief Aryn Baker, gained access to Saudi Arabia's highly secure and secretive Special Security Forces' training grounds. They witnessed how the elite soldiers' intense exercise regimen has prepared them to face all forms of terrorism or threats in the Kingdom. Following the death of King Abdullah, Interior Minister Muhammad bin Nayef, who leads his country's counterterrorism program and oversees these forces, was named Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. He is now second-in-line to the throne.

Every country has its moment of reckoning. For Saudi Arabia, it was May 12, 2003, when 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 epidemic that unleashed car bombings, suicide attacks and targeted assassinations on a country that had known relative calm for nearly a decade. The number of 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 bent on destroying the Saudi monarchy. The government responded by bolstering its Special Security Forces, crack anti-terror teams that work under the Ministry of Interior to root out terrorists in the Kingdom.

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. Lessons learned from those early days now form the core of Saudi Arabia’s Special Security Forces curriculum. The forces, which number about 10,000, go through a rigorous training program designed to prepare soldiers for every possible contingency, from an attack on a VIP convoy to hostage search and recovery, bomb clearance, storming militant hideouts, pinpoint parachute landings, precision shooting and surveillance. In March 2013, TIME was granted rare access to a demonstration that put the newly trained recruits through their paces. “2003 to 2007 was a good lesson for us. The kind of training we have now reflects the new era of terrorism,” said Major Ahmad Hakimi, as he guided us through the purpose built facilities just outside Riyadh.

The facility boasts a massive, foam-covered and bullet proof shooting arena with adjustable housing configurations, to mimic urban house clearing. The adjoining warehouse features an entire airplane fuselage so commandos can practice combatting would-be hijackers. Outside recruits practice dropping from helicopters into fake compounds, in the style of the bin Laden capture. They climb up and rappel down water towers and practice hand-to-hand combat with designated “enemies.” They don’t pull their punches either—learning to take a gut punch is part of the training.

Basic military training lasts three months, followed by another month of basic security training and an additional specialization that can last for anything from two months to seven. There is a strong focus on explosives, and Hakimi seemed to take particular delight in having his visitors inadvertently set off pyrotechnic “bombs” triggered by every day objects, from the tab on a can of Pepsi to a doctored Koran or a small briefcase. None of the disguised bombs were invented, he explained. Militants had used each at one time or another in the Kingdom, to devastating effect. “It’s important to realize that anything has the potential to set off a bomb. We have to be aware,” he said.

Saudi society is strictly segregated along gender lines. Even when it comes to security issues, female police deal with women and male police, men. I asked if there were any women in counterterrorism training. Hakimi laughed, and pointed out that there would be no need in Saudi society. So what happens in the case of female terrorists? I asked. Hakimi, our voluble guide with an answer for everything, was momentarily stumped. “I guess,” he allowed, “we deal with terrorists as terrorists. It doesn’t matter when they are trying to harm our nation.”

Lynsey Addario, a frequent TIME contributor, is a photographer represented by Getty Images Reportage.

Michelle Molloy, who edited this photo essay, is a senior international photo editor at TIME.

Rich Nation, Poor People: Saudi Arabia by Lynsey Addario

Fatima Hazazi stands in front of boxes of medicine she requires monthly to treat her kidney problem at home in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 2, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, Fatima and her family rely on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Fatima Hazazi stands in front of boxes of medicine she requires monthly to treat her kidney problem at home in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Despite the extremely wealthy sector of society in Saudi Arabia, and the the veneer of widespread affluence projected outside the Kingdom, severe poverty is as much a part of life in Riyadh as wealth.Lynsey Addario—Getty Images Reportage for TIME
Fatima Hazazi stands in front of boxes of medicine she requires monthly to treat her kidney problem at home in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 2, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, Fatima and her family rely on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Saudi children play on old furniture outside of the home where they live in squalor in a neighborhood in South Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,  March 1, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, this family relies on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
One of twelve children living in a house where Yayeh Mussawa rents with his family plays in squalor in a neighborhood in South Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,  March 1, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, this family relies on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Saudis beg in a line on a street known to locals as 'the beggers' street,' in a neighborhood in South Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,  March 1, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, many poor Saudis rely on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Saudi children do dishes and live in squalor in a neighborhood in South Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,  March 1, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, this family relies on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Selma Saleh, a poor Saudi woman, sits on her bed in squalor in a neighborhood in South Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,  March 1, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, this family relies on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Matara stands with her two boys next to a sink without water, where she lives in squalor in a neighborhood in South Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,  March 1, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, this family relies on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
A young man begs on the streets in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 3, 2013.   Despite an extremely wealthy sector of society in Saudi Arabia, and the the veneer of widespread affluence projected outside the Kingdom, severe poverty is as much an aspect of life in Riyadh as wealth. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Saudi citizens rest after presenting Saudi Billionaire HRH Prince al Waleed bin Talal with petitions for his help at a desert camp outside of Riyadh, in Saudi Arabia, February 27, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, many poor Saudis rely on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Billionaire HRH Prince Waleed bin Talal, greets Saudi citizens at a desert camp outside of Riyadh to accept their petitions for his help, in Saudi Arabia, February 27, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, many poor Saudis rely on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Billionaire HRH Prince Waleed bin Talal, greets Saudi citizens at a desert camp outside of Riyadh to accept their petitions for his help, in Saudi Arabia, February 27, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, many poor Saudis rely on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Billionaire HRH Prince Waleed bin Talal, greets Saudi citizens at a desert camp outside of Riyadh to accept their petitions for his help, in Saudi Arabia, February 27, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, many poor Saudis rely on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Young Saudi women pray in a friend's home before going out to dinner in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, February 25, 2013.  Though statistics are difficult to confirm, youth unemployment and poverty are on the rise in Saudi Arabia.  While society is increasingly open to women in the workforce, there are still limited jobs in which women and men can work side by side.  There are a great number of highly educated Saudis who can not find work suitable for their qualifications.  (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
A Saudi woman bids on an Arabian Horse at an auction outside of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 3, 2013.   Despite an extremely wealthy sector of society in Saudi Arabia, and the the veneer of widespread affluence projected outside the Kingdom, severe poverty is as much an aspect of life in Riyadh as wealth. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Saudi men pray at dusk at a camel market outside of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 3, 2013.   Despite an extremely wealthy sector of society in Saudi Arabia, and the the veneer of widespread affluence projected outside the Kingdom, severe poverty is as much an aspect of life in Riyadh as wealth. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Saudis stand around after an auction for Arabian Horses at a club outside of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 3, 2013.   Despite an extremely wealthy sector of society in Saudi Arabia, and the the veneer of widespread affluence projected outside the Kingdom, severe poverty is as much an aspect of life in Riyadh as wealth. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Fatima Hazazi stands in front of boxes of medicine she requires monthly to treat her kidney problem at home in Riyadh, S
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Lynsey Addario—Getty Images Reportage for TIME
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