LONDON Ñ Scores of Al Qaida detainees were believed to have been
killed in a fire that spread through a Saudi maximum-security prison outside
Saudi opposition sources said more than 140 people were killed in the
Al Hayer prison on Monday south of the Saudi capital. The sources said the
fire was believed set by a group that protested conditions in the modern
facility, monitored by electronic sensors and cameras.
Saudi opposition sources, who first reported the blaze, said Al Hayer
contained many of the nearly 300 Al Qaida suspects arrested by Saudi
authorities during the crackdown that followed the May 12 suicide attacks in
Riyad. They said the prison wing contained 200 inmates, many of them Saudi
suspected insurgents, Middle East Newsline reported.
Riyad has not identified the casualties. The official Saudi Press Agency
reported that 67 inmates were killed and another 20 were wounded in the
blaze, which began at about noon. The wing of the prison was said to have
contained 120 inmates and the fire lasted into late Monday. Saudi
authorities attributed the fire to a short circuit.
"It is too early to tell whether the fire is an act of sabotage, but an
investigation is going on," a Saudi security source was quoted as saying.
The inmates at Al Hayer included such leading Al Qaida-related
dissidents as Sheik Salman Al Awdeh, Sheik Said Al Zair, Mohammed Al Masari
and Hani Al Sayigh. In 1998, Al Sayigh was extradited by the United States
in connection with the 1996 truck bombing of the U.S. military barracks at
Khobar in which 19 Americans were killed.
"Many of the inmates were combatants who were arrested upon their return
from Afghanistan in 2001 or after the Riyad suicide attacks," a Saudi
opposition source said.
The London-based Saudi opposition group, the Movement for Islamic
Reform, said 144 inmates and 40 security men died in the blaze. The group
said nobody in the prison wing escaped.
Saudi opposition sources said that for weeks Al Hayer had been simmering
with unrest. Last month, four inmates died after they set their cell on
fire. The sources said several inmates also died during torture sessions in
The prison, built by a Canadian company in the early 1990s, also had
held seven British and Canadian nationals imprisoned for more than two years
on charges of being responsible for a bombing campaign in Riyad. The Britons
were released in August.
In another development, Saudi Arabia has agreed to a U.S. request to
close down an Islamic fund to build mosques. Saudi sources said the fund was
said to have been taken over by Al Qaida, which used official money to buy
weapons and explosives for attacks inside the kingdom.