- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 27, 2004

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Al Qaeda militants in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, have stolen up to 15 police cars, with likely help from sympathizers within the force, as part of a strategy to set up fake official roadblocks to abduct or kill Westerners, according to an international security company working in the kingdom.

The militants also have painted other vehicles to resemble official ones and made replica uniforms.

The U.S. Embassy has urged American citizens not to run security checkpoints after reports that Paul M. Johnson Jr., the American who was beheaded nine days ago, was taken hostage by men in uniforms driving what appeared to be a police car.

Some expatriates were said to have driven at speed through police checkpoints last week, prompting fears that they could be shot at by real officers. The Saudi authorities have installed extra checkpoints across the country, making it difficult to distinguish between legitimate and rogue roadblocks.

Officials there have denied al Qaeda claims that their security services have been penetrated by the militants. The State Department has said that there is no evidence that members of the Saudi security forces were involved in Mr. Johnson’s murder.

Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi ambassador to Britain, also contested claims of collusion in the Johnson case.

“I can go and buy the best English police uniform from a shop here in England,” he said. Asked about the apparent use of police cars, he added: “You can go into a garage and paint them and put these lights on them.”

Foreign security consultants and Western intelligence services, however, believe that Saudi security forces have been infiltrated widely.

One security report presented to a large foreign company described a purported incident at the King Fahd National Guard Hospital two weeks ago. Saudi men wearing military uniforms entered the building and asked staff where they could find the Westerners’ offices. The guard who first directed them became suspicious and called the police, but the intruders escaped.

Prince Turki said the temporary amnesty for Islamic militants the nation offered last week will not prevent relatives of their victims from taking legal action.

In an interview scheduled to air tonight on Britain’s ITV network, the ambassador said the country’s Islamic Shariah law allows the victims’ families to seek justice through the courts.

“The state will drop its claim on these criminals if they give themselves in, but the private claims of the families of those who were killed or who were assaulted or who were wounded will remain for them to decide,” the Associated Press reports Mr. al-Faisal saying.

• Philip Sherwell in London contributed to this article.

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