- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2003

President Bush yesterday promised a relentless hunt for al Qaeda terrorists involved in Monday’s suicide attack that killed at least seven Americans in Saudi Arabia, vowing “they will learn the meaning of American justice.”

The president called the terrorists — who Saudi authorities said are connected to Osama bin Laden’s Islamic extremist terror network — “killers whose only faith is hate.”

“Anytime anybody attacks our homeland, anytime anybody attacks our fellow citizens, we’ll be on the hunt, and we’ll find them and they will be brought to justice. Just ask the Taliban,” Mr. Bush said, referring to the Afghan government that once shielded al Qaeda.

Vice President Dick Cheney echoed the stern statement, saying terror attacks are part of a “conflict we’ve got to deal with on a worldwide basis.”

“The only way to deal with this threat ultimately is to destroy it,” Mr. Cheney said. “There’s no treaty that can solve this problem. There’s no peace agreement, no policy of containment or deterrence that works to deal with this threat. We have to go find the terrorists.”

The White House said the government of Saudi Arabia, which was home to 16 of the 19 al Qaeda terrorists involved in the September 11 attacks on America, is cooperating and has given the FBI permission to send a team of investigators. It also said the attacks won’t affect U.S. plans to remove troops stationed in the country.

“We’re working closely with the Saudis on this,” Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said aboard Air Force One. “These terrorists have targeted the United States and other countries. It’s likely several other nations have been hit by this attack.”

One top Justice Department official said the quick invitation to the FBI by the Saudi government was an indication that the royal family fears the terror threat might not be limited to U.S. military personnel and American citizens.

In 1996, the Saudis didn’t allow the FBI in their country to investigate the truck bombing of the Khobar Towers apartment complex in Dhahran that killed 19 U.S. servicemen and 373 others.

A dozen FBI agents and bomb technicians, led by John Pistole, deputy assistant director of the bureau’s counterterrosim division, were dispatched to Riyadh to take part in the probe of the simultaneous car bombings at three housing compounds in the Saudi capital, an agency spokesman said.

The team includes FBI agents who will, with Saudi authorities, interview witnesses and gather evidence.

Bomb technicians also have been sent to determine what explosives were used and how they were detonated, and find out their origin.

Mr. Bush, on the final leg of a five-day trip across the country to tout his tax-cut proposal, was visibly angry when he talked about the Saudi terror attack.

In a speech at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, he said: “The ruthless murder of American citizens and other citizens remind us that the war on terror continues. … I figure we’ve destroyed about one-half of al Qaeda, the top operators of al Qaeda, and that’s good. But we’ve got more work to do.”

Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence officials and law enforcement authorities said yesterday that the suicide bombings sent a message to the Saudi leadership that Islamic militants in the region remain displeased over the royal family’s alliance with the United States.

Many of the militants have sworn allegiance to Saudi-born bin Laden, who has demanded in the name of Islam and under the threat of terrorist attacks that all U.S. military personnel and civilians — known to radical Muslims as the “infidels” — be removed from Saudi Arabia, the guardian state of Islam’s two holy shrines in Mecca and Medina.

Several U.S. intelligence officials and law enforcement authorities said the militants are looking not only to drive the American military and civilian population out of the country, but also to destabilize the Saudi royal family and, eventually, overthrow a government it believes has not been loyal to Islam.

While the White House said it was satisfied with Saudi cooperation so far, the FBI ran into problems after the Khobar Towers bombing.

Agents who put that case together had trouble getting cooperation from Saudi officials during the investigation and were blocked by Saudi authorities from interrogating some suspects, forcing then-FBI Director Louis J. Freeh to urge President Clinton to push for more cooperation.

The Clinton administration declined, not wanting to offend what it believed was a key international ally.

Saudi officials later criticized the U.S. government’s 2001 indictment of 14 terror suspects — including 13 Saudis — in the bombing.

None of the suspects has been brought to the United States to stand trial.

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