- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2005

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — A leading Saudi security official said yesterday that the pool of terrorists plaguing the desert kingdom, and often targeting foreigners, has been seriously depleted.

“We are reducing the level of terrorists,” Brig. Gen. Mansour al-Turki told The Washington Times.

“We can see it by the fact that the terrorists are moving their lairs out of the cities and further and further into the deserts as we hunt for them.

“We can also see it in the people they are sending on their killing missions. A number of them are top leaders. And they don’t seem to have enough homegrown Saudis to refill their losses,” he said in an office inside the heavily guarded, thick-walled Public Security Building.

He spoke as the U.S. Embassy and its two main consulates reopened after a two-day closure that was prompted by an unspecified terrorist threat.

In the early days of a terrorist offensive that began here in May 2003, police seemed outgunned and outsmarted.

The leaders of the extremists had almost all been trained or recruited while in Afghanistan, Gen. al-Turki said.

“These returnees from the Afghan war had a long-term strategy. They were bringing weapons in, mainly from our very lightly guarded and unprotected Yemeni border, for years before they launched any attacks. We had no idea it was coming,” he said.

“Now that the former fighters in Afghanistan are dying, we are finding some youngsters taking over, but they are far less skilled at the art of terrorism. And we are far better at keeping ahead of the game.”

A little-noticed State Department travel advisory this spring appeared to support Saudi assertions of a reduction in terrorist infrastructure and capabilities.

It said that “counter-terrorism efforts have succeeded in diminishing terrorist capabilities in Saudi Arabia.”

However, it was preceded by an “although” and followed by a statement that terrorist groups “continue to target housing compounds and other establishments where Westerners are located.”

An embassy spokesman said the missions had reopened based on “further assessment of available threat information.” The spokesman declined to elaborate.

Gen. al-Turki pointed to instances in which the fathers of wanted terrorists had volunteered to talk their sons into surrendering.

In one instance, he said, terrorists had opened fire on a police contingent and killed the father of one of their own.

The majority of terror suspects, he said, are caught not during attacks or even in hide-outs, but when they are traveling on the kingdom’s extensive highways.

Terrorists have to transport their weaponry and bombs into the big cities to target either foreigners or the security services or major political targets.

“To do so, they often have to stop at checkpoints. Often these days, they are so nervous they give themselves away.”

He cited an instance in which alert policemen asked a driver last year on a road south of the capital to come out the car and have his papers examined. As the driver stood with the police, a “woman” dressed head-to-toe in a Muslim religious outfit, jumped into the driver’s seat, and the car sped away.

It was caught and destroyed by police in a chase, and the two “women” in the car turned out to be men, one of them a terrorist leader.

“Our police at first didn’t know who or what to look for. But now, after hundreds of interceptions, they can see or sense a pattern. They look for telltale signs — like sand on the wheels.”

That, he said, could indicate the use of the car in a desert, where the terrorists hide out these days.

“We have cut out most of the cancer, and the rest of the body of Saudi Arabia is healthy,” Gen. al-Turki said.

c Distributed by WTN/World News and Features

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