- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2005

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Terrorists are “in the final stages” of planning new attacks in this oil-rich desert kingdom, with foreigners as the most likely targets, Britain and Australia warned yesterday.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told The Washington Times that the people of the United States should show more understanding and respect for its key Persian Gulf ally’s fight against terrorism.

The United States announced Sunday that it was closing its fortresslike embassy in Riyadh and two major consulates — in Jidda and Dhahran — at least through today in response to new intelligence about a terrorist threat received during the weekend.

The Australian government yesterday warned its citizens not to travel to the country and advised that terrorists might attack housing compounds as they did in a bloody onslaught in May 2003.

A similar warning on the British Embassy Web site said, “There are credible reports that terrorists are in the final stages of planning attacks.”

Western diplomats have been on edge since a wave of attacks began two years ago, seemingly aimed at driving Westerners out of the country. At least 91 foreign nationals and Saudi civilians have been killed.

But a Saudi security official suggested yesterday that there was no firm evidence of an imminent attack and said no extra forces were being deployed beyond the existing high level of protection.

“You will not see more security out there than you saw yesterday or the day before,” said Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, a senior security official. “We don’t want to scare people.”

But he said security forces were hunting for 20 or more men who have been listed as terrorist suspects, “and we know these men would like to attack and kill people, especially foreigners, if they could.”

Prince Saud, responding earlier to questions from The Times, said official U.S.-Saudi relations had fully recovered from the strains caused by the September 2001 attacks, but that he was concerned about mistrust from the American people.

“The facts of the fight that Saudi Arabia is waging can only convince the reasonable observer that Saudi Arabia is against” terrorism, he said.

“Remember, the objective of the whole action of the terrorists in their murder and mayhem of innocent people was to create a split. Slowly but surely, the American people must come to realize that this is so, that the country is fighting terrorism and started fighting terrorism before it came any place in the West.”

The Saudis were particularly relieved that no attack was attempted while Riyadh was packed with foreign and Saudi visitors last week for the funeral of King Fahd and enthronement of King Abdullah. Guests included a high-level U.S. delegation headed by Vice President Dick Cheney.

Western diplomats based in the region are generally very positive about Saudi Arabia’s anti-terrorist campaign.

One described the effort to root out cells run by or connected to al Qaeda as “a model counterterrorism campaign,” combining tough security actions with social education.

The British and Australian embassies were to remain open for business today in contrast to the U.S. facilities, but security sources declined to speculate on whether the level of danger to Americans was more severe.

Both Britain and Australia participated alongside U.S. forces in the 2003 Iraq invasion and have been subject to threats from al Qaeda leaders.

Terrorist activity has led to U.S. diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia being closed briefly several times in recent years. A statement last month said the embassy “has received indications of operational planning for a terrorist attack or attacks in the kingdom.”

• Distributed by WTN/World News & Features

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