- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 30, 2004

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Plotters of a double car bombing in the Saudi capital were spooked by a gunbattle with police earlier in the week and launched their attack hastily, failing to penetrate the security installations they targeted, a Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman said yesterday.

The car bombings Wednesday night targeted the Interior Ministry and a recruiting center for the kingdom’s anti-terrorism squad. No serious damage was reported, and, while the spokesman said at least 10 terrorists were killed, only one other person — a limousine driver — was believed dead.

A ministry statement early yesterday blamed the assaults on a “deviant group” — a term the government has used in the past to describe al Qaeda. The bombings followed a call by Saudi-born al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden for more attacks on his homeland. Bin Laden accuses the West, particularly the United States, of seeking to destroy Islam and criticizes the Saudi royal family for its alliance with Washington.

The Interior Ministry spokesman, Brig. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, said more would have died had the planning not been disrupted by a shootout with police in the capital Tuesday, in which one suspect was killed and another captured. Another suspect was killed early Wednesday as police investigated Tuesday’s clash.

Gen. al-Turki said preliminary investigations indicate that the arrested militant provided information leading to a house where seven terrorists were killed Wednesday shortly after the bombings. Gen. al-Turki said the seven were linked to the car bombings, but denied earlier police reports that two of them had set off the Interior Ministry blast.

He said that besides the seven killed at the house, three terrorists were killed at the bomb sites.

The bombings came late in the evening, when few people would have been in the government buildings. But Wednesday night was the beginning of the weekend in the kingdom, so streets were crowded with cars and civilians.

“It is for sure that the terrorist operation was executed hastily,” Gen. al-Turki said. “It seemed to be programmed to be executed at a different time and in a different fashion.”

Previous attacks seemed designed to maximize casualties, often Arab and Muslim. Saudi officials pressed that point, scoffing at extremists’ claims that “infidels” are their targets.

“This is a heinous and disturbing crime,” Prince Ahmed bin Abdel Aziz, the deputy interior minister, told Saudi TV. “They are not attacking ‘infidels.’ This is fighting Muslims and citizens.”

While Saudi government officials were quick to claim victory, saying the low number of casualties shows terrorists are under pressure, others drew a different lesson.

Turki al Sudairi, editor in chief of the Saudi daily Al Riyadh, said Wednesday’s attacks, like one earlier this month that killed nine persons at the U.S. Consulate in Jidda, show that militants can get close to and even penetrate heavily guarded installations.

“It also is a message … that they are still operating and will not stop despite the government’s continuous crackdown,” Mr. al Sudairi said. “People may have thought that they were over, finished. They want to prove that they are not.”

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