- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 14, 2003

A U.S. envoy yesterday accused Saudi Arabia of ignoring requests for more security before Monday’s terrorist attack in Riyadh, while the Saudi foreign minister acknowledged security “shortcomings.”

The White House pledged to “push” the Saudi government for greater cooperation in the war against terrorism, but emphasized that the terrorists, not the Saudi royal family, were to blame for the attack that killed 34 persons, including seven Americans.

However, Robert Jordan, the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said the kingdom “on several occasions” ignored requests for security improvements.

“As soon as we learned of this particular threat information, we contacted the Saudi government,” Mr. Jordan told CBS News. “They did not, as of the time of this tragic event, provide the additional security we requested.”

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal acknowledged security could have been tighter around U.S. housing installations in Riyadh, where the attack injured 200 people, including 40 Americans.

He also said all 15 attackers, nine of whom died in the bombings, were Saudis.

“The fact that the terrorism happened is an indication of shortcomings,” he said at a news conference. “We have to learn from our mistakes and seek to improve our performance in this respect.”

The Saudi minister said Mr. Jordan never asked him to beef up security.

“Each time the American Embassy or any other embassy seeks the intensification of security measures, the government fulfills this request,” he said.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said there was still room for improvement.

“We’ve had good cooperation with the Saudi government, and I’m sure that in the wake of this terrible incident in Riyadh, that we will seek to intensify our cooperation,” she told reporters. “We can always do better.”

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said of Saudi security measures: “There are additional things that can be done.

“We will continue to push Saudi Arabia for additional cooperation, but the people who carried this attack out are the ones the president is focused on. These are the terrorists who did this.”

Meanwhile, federal law enforcement and terrorism officials said that while the Saudi government appears to be cooperating with U.S. authorities in the Riyadh bombing investigation, they question that government’s overall commitment to fighting terrorism and rounding up Islamic extremists.

“They have come so late to the party that they themselves are suspect,” said one key official. “The Saudi government’s lack of cooperation in the past makes them barely recognizable when they do offer to help.

“In the wake of such a dramatic wake-up call as the Riyadh bombings, with so much implication for both the United States and Saudi Arabia, it begs the question: Who are we really talking to when we speak with the Saudi security apparatus? Are they friend or foe?” the official asked.

The officials said the Saudi government’s quick invitation for a multi-agency task force of U.S. investigators, including the FBI, to assist in the Riyadh probe shows that the royal family now fears that the terror threat may not be limited to U.S. targets.

The law enforcement and terrorism officials noted that al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, a Saudi national, was praised and supported financially by many Saudi citizens, most of whom belong to the same Muslim extremist sect known as the Wahabi. They also said 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were Saudi nationals.

The officials said the suicide bombings sent a message to the Saudi leadership that Islamic extremists are displeased with the royal family’s alliance with the United States.

Many of those extremists, they said, have found safe harbor in Saudi Arabia and are committed to bin Laden’s pledge to rid the region of all U.S. military personnel and civilians.

U.S. intelligence officials believe Islamic extremists also are trying to destabilize the royal family and eventually overthrow the government.

A top Justice Department official noted that the Saudi government has not always cooperated with U.S. authorities in the pursuit of international terrorists. In 1996, it refused to allow FBI agents into the country to investigate the truck bombing of the Khobar Towers apartment complex in Dhahran that killed 19 U.S. servicemen.

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