- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2003

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, said yesterday that new intelligence suggests that more terror attacks are in store for Saudi Arabia or the United States.

He also said the kingdom received warning before the May 12 bombings that killed 25 persons, in addition to nine suicide attackers, at three housing compounds outside Riyadh, the Saudi capital.

“Yes, we had warning. Yes, we had heightened alert, but we never had a specific time and place designated,” Prince Bandar told reporters in Riyadh.

“There is chatter, a high level of chatter regionally and in other international spots” about attacks in Saudi Arabia or the United States, Prince Bandar said.

The influential Saudi’s warnings both to the United States and to his own people came just a day after he canceled an appearance on U.S. television and was reportedly dispatched to an undisclosed destination on a mission related to the war on terrorism.

Meanwhile, a man standing with a gun outside the U.S. Consulate in Dhahran, 300 miles east of Riyadh, was arrested and being questioned by Saudi police, a U.S. Embassy official said.

U.S. diplomats said no one was injured or threatened in the incident but that the consulate was closed until further notice. In 1996, a truck bombing killed 19 Americans at the Khobar Towers barracks near Dhahran.

Also yesterday, a senior member of the Saudi royal family said his country must tackle the problem of extremism head-on, even if it means confronting some religious leaders.

Prince Al-Walid bin Talal, a nephew of King Fahd, said last week’s suicide bombings of foreign residential compounds in Riyadh were as much an assault on the monarchy and government as on Western interests.

“It’s time to face reality head-on. There’s no need to procrastinate, no room for error. We have to acknowledge this problem; we have to acknowledge we have a disease called terrorism. There’s no doubt about that anymore,” he told Reuters news agency.

The Saudi interior minister, Prince Nayef, said Saudi authorities have arrested four suspects in the car bombings. Asked whether the four men in custody belonged to the al Qaeda terrorist network, Prince Nayef said, “All indications point to that.”

His comments to reporters Sunday were the strongest sign yet that Osama bin Laden’s group, which carried out deadly strikes from Nairobi, Kenya, to New York, may have played a part in the bombings in the Saudi capital.

A U.S. official said yesterday that al Qaeda has a presence in the kingdom.

“We don’t believe there are tens of thousands of al Qaeda members in Saudi Arabia, but we believe the al Qaeda presence is more than a single cell or two,” the official said on the condition of anonymity.

Prince Nayef called for an international crackdown on terrorism. But he described a limited role for U.S. investigators in the kingdom, saying they had come to examine “the sites, and we welcomed them based on that, for examining only.”

His comments may have been an attempt to defuse domestic criticism that his government is ceding control to the Americans.

Both sides say they expect better coordination than with the investigation into the Khobar Towers bombings, when U.S. officials complained that they were denied access to evidence, witnesses and suspects, a U.S. official said.

More than 60 FBI and other U.S. investigators are assisting Saudi authorities with the probe into the May 12 attacks.

The FBI team was “in close touch with the Saudis. They have had full access to the sites,” the official said.

“We’ve had an effective and pleasant reception. They’re not being hostile, diffident or standing with arms folded,” he said, adding that the Saudis were being “real partners in this.”

Prince Nayef told reporters that investigators had identified three of the badly mangled bodies of nine Saudi men thought to have carried out the Riyadh attacks. The three were among 19 suspects sought in connection with a weapons cache found May 6 that was linked to al Qaeda.

The government had said the 19 were believed to be receiving orders directly from the Saudi-born bin Laden and had been planning to use the seized weapons to attack the Saudi royal family and U.S. and British interests.

Al Qaeda is responsible for the September 11 attacks and the October 2000 USS Cole bombing in Yemen that killed 17 American sailors. The terrorist network espouses a militant form of Islam and opposes what it sees as Western attempts to control the Arab world. It has criticized the Saudi royal family for its close ties to the United States.

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