- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 15, 2003

JIDDA, Saudi Arabia — A six-member FBI team arrived in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh yesterday after a 24-hour wait for visas in Germany, but cautioned they had come to “aid, not run” the probe into Monday night’s suicide attacks.

The government-controlled media played down news of their arrival. Although most Saudis were appalled at Monday night’s carnage — which killed eight Americans and 17 others, as well as nine attackers — anti-Western sentiment remains at an all-time high, inflamed by the U.S.-led war on Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian struggle.

Despite concerns about public hostility, there was no immediate unrest regarding Saudi cooperation or signs of official unhappiness regarding the level of U.S. assistance being offered.

Saudi and U.S. officials have clashed in the past over terrorist investigations, most notably after the Khobar Tower bombings in 1996, which killed 19 U.S. servicemen and injured more than 500.

Hours before the FBI team’s arrival, Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz gave an official statement that failed to clarify whether the terrorists who carried out the simultaneous attacks on Western residential compounds were part of the al Qaeda group that escaped May 6 when their hide-out was raided by Saudi security forces.

If members of that cell were able to carry out such a devastating operation while apparently being hunted down, as is widely believed by Saudi commentators, it raises uncomfortable issues about the competence of the kingdom’s security apparatus.

Prince Nayef said the perpetrators of the attacks had been trained in Afghanistan.

But according to the Saudi Institute, the overseas-based opposition group, a newly announced, Saudi-based organization called the Al-Mowahedoon (the Monoliths), or al Qaeda 2, may have been responsible for the attacks.

The organization’s first press release appeared on the Internet May 8. In it, the group stated its aim was to rid the Arabian Peninsula of all Jews and Christians by waging a holy war against the “infidels.”

The term Al-Mowahedoon is a common term used by Salafi religious students who were followers of Sheik Mohammed bin Abdul Wahhab, the founder of Saudi Arabia’s predominant Wahhabi Islam.

When the London-based Arabic language daily Asharq Al-Awsat asked Prince Nayef about Al-Mowahedoon earlier this week, he dismissed the group.

If responsible for the attacks, Al-Mowahedoon looms as perhaps a much greater threat to the al-Saud ruling family, because it uses similar tactics to al Qaeda but — unlike that global organization — seems to be based only in Saudi Arabia and to draw recruits from disaffected Saudi youths.

A Saudi eyewitness to the scene of the biggest explosion at the Al-Hamra compound gave chilling new details in an interview yesterday about the events surrounding the bombings.

The Saudi, who was slightly injured in the attack by flying glass and requested anonymity, said a number of the terrorists had seemed bent on suicide, but that at least two others had got out of the car before it blew up and “sprayed everyone they saw with gunfire.”

“They then escaped over the wall, where a getaway car was waiting for them,” he added.

“Anyone who had come out of their houses to see what was going on was fired at by them. If they were Arabs or Westerners didn’t seem to matter. They wanted to kill as many as possible,” the Georgetown University-educated Saudi recalled.

Meanwhile, a specialist at Jamal Jaroudi, a leading Riyadh security firm that works with more than 150 compounds, said that security at most of them was known to be “inadequate.”

Jamal Jaroudi was contracted to provide security at one of compounds targeted by the suicide bombers. Its Saudi owners, the specialist said, only sought “nominal security,” which superficially addressed the concerns of the Western expatriate residents.

“They never really went in for a full and comprehensive security audit as their prime objective was to economize on security,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Accordingly, what they installed was a basic security system, not strong enough to withstand a real threat, he added.

“We have been advising the owners of these compounds not to look at security as a burden. But they did not take us seriously,” he said.

The specialist said a typical compound in Riyadh spends five to six times less than what would be needed for a state-of-the-art security system.

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