- The Washington Times - Friday, May 16, 2003

The White House said yesterday that Saudi Arabia needs to do more to fight terrorism as the administration continued to express its frustration over lax security and unheeded warnings.

“Saudi Arabian officials, high-level officials, have acknowledged and recognized that terrorism has hit their soil, and that not only American lives were lost, but Saudi lives were lost, as well as other countries’, and that they need to face up to these threats and take action,” Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said.

The White House comments came a day after a U.S. envoy accused Saudi Arabia of ignoring requests for more security before Monday’s terrorist attack in Riyadh, which killed 25 persons, including seven Americans, in addition to the nine suicide bombers.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice also took issue with Saudi security, saying, “I’m sure that in the wake of this terrible incident in Riyadh that we will seek to intensify our cooperation.”

A six-member FBI team arrived in Riyadh yesterday after a 24-hour wait for visas in Germany but cautioned that they had come to aid, not run, the probe into Monday’s suicide attacks.

Despite the holdup, U.S. Ambassador Robert Jordan told reporters at his residence in Riyadh that he expects “good cooperation” from the Saudis.

“I think both parties have learned from past experiences,” the Associated Press quoted him as saying. “There is a sincere, good-faith effort on both parts to cooperate, to work as partners, to share information without jealousy or petty bureaucracy.”

Saudi officials, quoted in the local press, suggested that the men who attacked three compounds Monday night had received their orders directly from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, but a Saudi security source said such assertions were premature.

“We don’t rule it out, but it’s too early in the investigation to say this. There is no evidence so far,” the senior source told Reuters news agency.

While the White House expressed satisfaction at the arrival of the FBI team in Riyadh, the administration offered a pointed directive to Saudi leaders about what comes next.

“We expect full cooperation in the investigation, and I think all indications are from the FBI assessment team that Saudi Arabia is cooperating. I think Saudi Arabia has provided good cooperation with us on the war on terrorism, but there is more that can be done,” Mr. McClellan said.

One administration official said the FBI would seek cooperation at each step.

In the past, however, Saudi authorities have hampered investigations into terrorist attacks on Americans there, including the bombing of the Khobar Towers barracks in 1996, which killed 19 U.S. servicemen.

After the coordinated attacks Monday, committed by 15 Saudi-born men and attributed to al Qaeda, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal acknowledged security shortcomings. “We have to learn from our mistakes and seek to improve our performance in this respect.”

But yesterday, Prince Bandar bin Sultan said Saudi Arabia did everything it could to protect foreign nationals.

“Our security agencies and the air force came to the conclusion there were adequate measures in place there,” he said.

That does not square with criticism by the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Mr. Jordan said Wednesday 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 said. “They did not, as of the time of this tragic event, provide the additional security we requested.”

Several weeks before the bombings, the United States asked the Saudi government for increased security at all Western facilities in the country. The Saudis responded but did not fulfill the U.S. request.

Prince Bandar said Mr. Jordan asked for additional security for only one compound, a request to which the Saudis complied. “That compound that he was concerned about was the only place that the evil people who did this attack did not cause injuries, except killing the Saudi guards,” he said.

Last week, the Bush administration dispatched Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley to Riyadh to underscore U.S. fears of an imminent attack.

Meanwhile, lawmakers on Capitol Hill expressed doubt that any security efforts could have thwarted attackers prepared to die for their cause.

The ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. John D. Rockefeller of West Virginia, said past attacks have shown that al Qaeda “would have a guy with a gun in a truck trying to break through a barrier and do it all himself. Here, they did it differently: They had people with guns go in [and] shoot the security” then detonate the bombs.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, said such an attack is almost impossible to prevent.

“If you look at the car bombs, they were extremely powerful, and you would have to have very, very tough security at levels that probably you would not foresee,” he said.

Mr. Roberts said the attacks could be a wake-up call for the Saudis.

“They have to understand that this was an attack on them and us, and they have to understand that we need unfettered access, which has not been given before. And so this is a real test for them,” he said.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said there were no plans to further reduce U.S. military ties with the kingdom, reduced in April after the Iraq war. The move followed Riyadh’s refusal to allow air strikes on Iraq by Saudi-based U.S. aircraft.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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