Crime in Saudi Arabia

The rate of crime in Saudi Arabia is often described as low by foreign ministries and other sources,[1][2][3] In 2013, the number of crime cases reported by the Ministry of Justice was 22,113, a 102% increase over 2012.[4]

"Crime in Saudi Arabia is relatively low when compared to some developed nations, but may be increasing due to higher levels of foreign workers and higher levels of unemployment among Saudi residents."

— John Wilson, on the crime situation in Saudi Arabia, in the book International Security and the United States: An Encyclopedia[5]



According to the US State Department Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) as of 2014, "U.S. citizens and Westerners continue to report incidents of crime, including robberies and attempted robberies." Cases of sexual assault are believed to be underreported "because victims are customarily blamed".[6] (For example, in 2009, a 23-year-old woman was sentenced to a year in prison and 100 lashes in 2009 for adultery after being raped by five men. In 2007, a 19-year-old victim of rape by seven men receiving a sentence of six-months in jail and 200 lashes.[6])

Foreign affairs ministries of other countries have stated that there is a low rate of crime in Saudi Arabia.[1][2][3]


While as late as the 1980s the kingdom could and did boast of being "practically crime-free," the crime rate among jobless youth grew by 320% from 1990 to 1996.[7] Convictions for drug possession rose from 4,279 in 1986 to 17,199 in 2001.[8] Credited with rising crime are a "population boom, rapid social change, and massive unemployment" leading to "a breakdown in traditional forms of social control and constraint.[8]

Types of crime


Petty theft is a problem especially in crowded areas.[1] The nation has strict laws prohibiting drug trafficking; drug trafficking is a capital crime. Despite strict laws, however, illicit trafficking takes place in considerable amounts through underground channels especially marijuana, cocaine and homegrown psychedelic drugs.[9] Saudi Arabia is a signatory to all three international conventions on drug control.[10] To curb money laundering, improved anti-money laundering laws have been enacted.[9] The country has implemented all the forty recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) for combating money laundering and all eight recommendations of the FATF regarding terror financing. A Financial Intelligence Unit exists for the purpose of monitoring flows of funds.[11]

The most common crime in 2002 was theft, which accounted for 47% of total reported crime.[5] Saudi Arabia is a destination point for workers from South and Southeast Asia who are subjected to conditions which include involuntary servitude, non-payment of wages, confinement and withholding of passports as a restriction on their movement. Domestic workers are particularly vulnerable because some are confined to the house in which they work and are unable to seek help. Saudi Arabia is also a destination country for children trafficked from other Middle Eastern countries like Yemen, African countries like Nigeria, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan and Asian nations like India, Bangladesh ,[12] Pakistan and Afghanistan for the purpose of forced begging and involuntary servitude as street vendors. Some Nigerian women were reportedly trafficked into Saudi Arabia for commercial sexual exploitation.[9]


Threat of Islamic terrorism is a matter of concern.[13] From 2000 to 2004, when a number of expatriate workers were killed in car bombings, questions arose over the seriousness and sincerity of Saudi efforts to prevent or investigate attacks. Before May 2003, the only public statements of any investigation or prosecution of attacks were Saudi accusations against the (mainly British) western expatriates themselves. Saudis arrested and detained several, claiming they were 'alcohol traders' fighting a turf war over the illegal distribution of alcohol. According to author Thomas Hegghammer, "today, few outside Saudi Arabia believe that alcohol traders carried out the bombings", as the suspects were well-paid professionals with no prior record of violent crime, no forensic evidence was provided against them, and attacks of a very similar nature on western nationals continued despite the arrests of the alleged perpetrators.[14]

After 26 foreigners were killed in a May 2004 attack by three car bombs on foreign residential compounds in Riyadh, American intelligence sources quoted by the Daily Telegraph, stated the operation "depended on a significant level of `insider` knowledge of the compounds," and this and other evidence indicates that al-Qaeda has infiltrated even the elite National Guard, which was involved in compound security.[15] Bombers wore uniforms of security forces, in both the May 2003 compound bombing and another in November.[16]

In May 2004, militants took dozens of hostages attacking three buildings in the oil-industry town of Khobar over a 25-hour period killing 22 and injuring 25 —mainly foreign workers — killing one victim by tying him to the back of a vehicle and dragged through the street. Despite being surrounded by Saudi security, three of the four gunmen escaped.[17][18][19][20][21]

While attacks by militants have decreased dramatically since late 2004, there are continued reports of terrorist planning. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) of the Government of Australia claimed they received reports that terrorists are masterminding attacks against assets belonging to the Government of Saudi Arabia, oil infrastructure, aviation infrastructure, embassies, hotels, shopping malls and many Western interests such as residential housing complexes, gatherings of foreign tourists for recreational or cultural activities etc.[1] The United States Department of State reported "There is an on-going security threat due to the continued presence of terrorist groups, some affiliated with al Qaida, who may target Western interests, housing compounds, and other facilities where Westerners congregate".[22] Terrorist attacks in the country targeted both native people and foreigners. DFAT further stated "Terrorist attacks could occur at any time, anywhere in Saudi Arabia, including in Riyadh, Khobar, and other major cities".[1]


In 1988, the murder rate in Saudi Arabia was .011 per 100,000 population, sexual offenses were .059 per 100,000 population, and thefts were .005 per 100,000.[23] In 2002, a total of 599 crimes were reported in Saudi Arabia, or .06 crimes for every 100,000 people. By 2006 those numbers had gone down with murder at .010 per 100,000 population, sexual offenses at .046 per 100,000, and thefts offenses at .04 per 100,000.

Sharia law

The Saudi legal system is based on Sharia or Islamic law and thus often prohibits many activities that are not crimes in other nations, such as alcohol or pork consumption, public displays of non-Islamic religious symbols or text, affection between opposite sex, "indecent" artwork or media images, sorcery, homosexuality, cross-dressing, and fornication or adultery. One of the main organizations enforcing traditional Islamic morality in the kingdom is the "Religious Police" or Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. It is difficult to know, with any certainty, how many people have been charged or punished for violating these laws.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Saudi Arabia Government of Australia, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  2. 1 2 Saudi Arabia Foreign and Commonwealth Office
  3. 1 2 Saudi Arabia Department of Foreign Affairs
  4. "Crime rate up 102%". Arab News. 24 July 2014. Retrieved 3 October 2014.
  5. 1 2 Karl R. DeRouen; Paul Bellamy (2007). International Security and the United States: An Encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 674. ISBN 0-275-99253-5.
  6. 1 2 "Saudi Arabia 2013 Crime and Safety Report". OSAC Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Retrieved 30 September 2014.
  7. "Downward spiral of unemployment and juvenile delinquency". Arab News. 17 April 2004. Retrieved 3 October 2014. The high rate of unemployment among youth seems to be the cause of the growing crime rate. According to a report released by The Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency at the end of 2003 crime rates among jobless youth grew by 320 % from 1990 to 1996. By 2005 the crime rate is expected to grow by 136%. This figure is particularly significant since until just a few years ago Saudi Arabia had a low crime rate, so much so that the country could boast being practically crime-free.
  8. 1 2 Bradley, John R. (2005). Saudi Arabia Exposed : Inside a Kingdom in Crisis. Palgrave. p. 148.
  9. 1 2 3 Saudi Arabia The World Factbook
  10. Country Profiles - Saudi Arabia United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
  11. First independent human rights organization in Saudi Arabia Archived November 21, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  13. Watching a Saudi Succession The New York Times
  14. Hegghammer, Thomas (2010). Jihad in Saudi Arabia: Violence and Pan-Islamism since 1979. Cambridge University Press. p. 82.
  15. Gedye, Robin; Bradley, John R (16 May 2003). "Bomber 'moles' in Saudi forces". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 11 June 2014.
  16. Bradley, John R. (2005). Saudi Arabia Exposed: Inside a Kingdom in Crisis. macmillan. pp. 113–4. Retrieved 12 June 2014.
  17. "Lessons from al-Qaeda's Attack on the Khobar Compound", by Abdul Hameed Bakier, 11 August 2006, The Jamestown Foundation
  18. "Al-Qaida's Next Action Hero, An insider account of the Khobar assault", by Daniel Kimmage, 16 June 2004, Slate (magazine)
  19. "Midnight at the Oasis", by Michael Griffin, June 2004, NthPosition
  20. "Negotiating hostage crises with the new terrorists", by Adam Dolnik, Keith M. Fitzgerald, Praeger, 2007, ISBN 978-0-275-99748-9
  21. "Saudis storm besieged compound" on CNN, 30 May 2004
  22. Saudi Arabia United States Department of State
  23. James Sheptycki; Ali Wardak; James Hardie-Bick (2005). Transnational and Comparative Criminology. Routledge Cavendish. p. 95. ISBN 1-904385-05-2.
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