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Saudi in hi-tech front line battle to keep IS at bay

SAUDI TECH IS

The chain-link fences, topped with coils of barbed wire, rise and fall like a serpent’s back across the desert scrubland between Saudi Arabia and the jihadist threat across the Iraqi border.

A double-fence system and complementary hi-tech surveillance tools, officially opened in September, have become the front line of efforts to protect the kingdom from Islamic State (IS) group extremists who have seized vast areas of Iraq as well as Syria.

“As you know, the terrorists are the biggest threat,” said border guards Major Mohammed al-Rashidi, a supervisor at Judaidat Arar command and control centre where officers monitor radar and cameras about 10 kilometres (six miles) from the frontier.

That threat became painfully clear in January when three border guards including a local commander were killed in nearby Suwayf in a battle with “terrorists”.

The attack followed the launch in September of the kingdom’s air strikes on IS targets in Syria as part of a US-led coalition.

The jihadists have claimed responsibility for widespread atrocities including the burning alive in a cage of a Jordanian fighter pilot.

Saudi Arabia’s involvement in air strikes on IS targets has raised fears of retaliation by the group.

Authorities did not specifically blame IS for the Suwayf attack on the armed unit which protects the kingdom’s land and sea frontiers.

However, the interior ministry has alleged three Saudis operating “in support of” IS shot and wounded a Danish national in a separate attack in Riyadh in November.

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Authorities have also blamed IS-linked suspects for the November killing of seven members of the minority Shiite community in Eastern Province.

Border guards are taking no chances after the death of their regional commander General Odah al-Balawi and the other troopers.

Shoot on sight 

“Nowadays, anybody trying to cross the border, we deal with them as terrorists,” Rashidi said in his command centre, one of several along the northern frontier.

That means they will be shot on sight, an order that applies all along the more than 800-kilometre border.

Rashidi said they have not yet had to carry out the directive along his sector covering nearly a quarter of the frontier.

In a room resembling a small lecture hall, five officers sit at desks monitoring radar and camera feeds from the border while telephones bleep.

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