- The Washington Times - Monday, June 21, 2004

Saudi security forces yesterday surrounded Islamic militants in a Riyadh neighborhood, while an Islamist Web site claimed that the terrorists who beheaded American Paul M. Johnson Jr. received secret support from Saudi Arabia’s security forces.

Also, Al Jazeera satellite television played a videotape early today in which an Iraqi terrorist group threatened to behead a South Korean hostage if Seoul does not end its cooperation with the U.S.-led coalition.

“We ask you to withdraw your forces from our land,” said one of a group of armed, masked men being videotaped standing around the Korean. “If not, we’ll send you this Korean’s head.”

The Riyadh gunfight came during another extensive round of raids on suspected terrorist hideouts in the same al-Malaz neighborhood where Mr. Johnson’s killers were gunned down Friday.

Mr. Johnson’s body still has not been found.

“The perpetrators of these attacks aimed at shaking stability and crippling security,” King Fahd said in a rare speech yesterday to the advisory Shura Council. “We will not allow this destructive bunch, led by deviant thought, to harm the security of this nation or affect its stability.”

According to the al Qaeda account of the kidnapping, Mr. Johnson was anesthetized and taken hostage June 12 at a bogus checkpoint set up in Riyadh by al Qaeda members disguised in police uniforms and cars provided by sympathizers in Saudi Arabia’s security forces, according to the Web site posting.

“A number of the cooperators who are sincere to their religion in the security apparatus donated those clothes and the police cars. We ask God to reward them and that they use their energy to serve Islam and the mujahedeen,” the posting read.

The posting on Sawt al-Jihad, or Voice of the Holy War, a semimonthly Internet periodical, was first reported yesterday by the Associated Press, which said the claims highlighted fears expressed by some diplomats and Westerners that militants have infiltrated Saudi security forces, a possibility the kingdom’s officials have denied.

Responding to the al Qaeda posting, Adel al-Jubeir, foreign-affairs adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, said that since its founding, Saudi Arabia has had a policy that “we have never negotiated with terrorists.”

“We don’t intend to do so,” he said. “I believe what the al Qaeda people were trying to do is trying to justify a murder that is unjustifiable under any faith or under any principle of humanity.”

Further, he stressed that Saudi Arabia will “go after every one” of the terrorists, and “with the help of God, we will catch every one of them. We have no doubt. This is a struggle that we intend to continue until the bitter end.”

No arrests were reported from the Riyadh operation, which involved armored vehicles and had helicopters buzzing over parts of the city into the evening.

In the al-Malaz section of Riyadh, barricaded to outsiders last night, security forces also were questioning residents. In that neighborhood Friday, Saudi forces killed Abdulaziz al-Moqrin, the al Qaeda cell leader who is thought to have appeared Tuesday in an Internet video with a hood over his head demanding the release of al Qaeda prisoners in exchange for Mr. Johnson’s life. Three al-Moqrin associates also died in Friday’s assault.

Sunday’s raids may have been linked to other terror suspects being held by the Saudi forces. Mr. al-Jubeir told CNN that 12 suspects had been captured alive and were being questioned yesterday, although he declined to elaborate.

“It would not be appropriate for us to talk about what it is they’re telling us or not telling us at this time,” he said.

Nawaf Obaid, a consultant who advises the Saudi government on national security, said the notion that “a fake security checkpoint would be set up to lure an innocent American citizen is completely and utterly absurd.”

“From a Saudi security perspective, there have been numerous counterintelligence investigations to see if they had been penetrated over the last year and a half,” he said in a telephone interview from London yesterday. “None of them came up with a positive identification.”

Mr. Obaid added that the militants could have gotten security uniforms “wherever they want.” He said the uniforms are “sold openly, pretty much like is the case [with military uniforms] in the United States.”

Meanwhile, a top Bush administration official commended Saudi Arabia yesterday for its efforts to block the flow of money between Muslim charitable organizations and al Qaeda.

“Over the course of the last year, Saudi Arabia has taken a number of very important steps” to close passage of funds from charities to terrorists, said Treasury Secretary John W. Snow.

Early this month, the kingdom announced it was adding five organizations around the world to a list of financiers of terrorism, and dissolving a large Riyadh-based Islamic foundation along with other Saudi charities that had operated outside the country.

“I am convinced they are deeply committed and sincere about this effort,” Mr. Snow told CNN’s “Late Edition.” “I’d say they are very serious and committed to trying to wipe out the flow of terrorist moneys and moneys going to al Qaeda.”

His remarks ran somewhat counter to ones made by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who said the Saudis could do more to stop the terrorist cash flow.

Mr. Frist said, “Even greater pressure can be put on Saudi officials to go after the financing mechanisms, the support of charities both there and around the world that may be funding some terrorist activity.”

But the Tennessee Republican, who appeared on “Fox News Sunday,” praised Saudi Arabia for showing “new aggressiveness” in its crackdown on the terror cell that was behind the beheading of Mr. Johnson, the second American to be kidnapped and beheaded in the Middle East in slightly more than a month.

The al Qaeda Web site posting said the militants decided to behead Mr. Johnson when Mr. al-Jubeir said the kingdom would not negotiate with the kidnappers.

Mr. al-Jubeir added yesterday that the United States is working closely with the Saudis, working in joint task forces and providing “a lot of technical assistance” in the counterterrorism effort.

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