Senior Saudi official assassinated

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

ABU DHABI A senior Saudi official has been assassinated.

Hamad Bin Abdul Rahman Al Wardi, the deputy governor of the Jouf province, was shot dead in an ambush as he was being driven to his office on Monday. Jouf is a northern province near the Iraqi and Jordanian borders and has long been plagued by unrest.

Jouf is also regarded as a major venue from arms and drug smuggling and Saudi opposition sources said the province was the target of a crackdown last year by security forces. Many of the drugs and weapons from Lebanon and Syria are said to arrive in Jouf via Jordan, Middle East Newsline reported.

The latest killing took place as Saudi authorities have been waging a quiet battle against Al Qaida. Authorities said they have arrested up to 250 suspected insurgents in operations that have resulted in gun battles around Riyad.

It was the second time in five months that a senior Saudi official was assassinated. In September, a Saudi judge, Abdul Rahman Al Saheebani, was shot dead as he left a mosque. A suspect was later captured and was charged with committing a terrorist act.

U.S. officials have expressed concern over the rising level of unrest in Saudi Arabia. Last week, Defense Intelligence Agency director Lowell Jacoby warned that increasing unrest in the kingdom as well as Egypt and Jordan would affect their military relations with Washington.

"The leadership in all three countries is subject to increased pressure, but each probably has the capacity to contain serious unrest," Jacoby told the Senate Select Intelligence Committee on Feb. 11. "However, in a worst-case scenario of mass protests, their support for U.S. basing, overflights and the war on terrorism would likely be withdrawn." Al Wardi, 52, was appointed deputy governor in 1999. Saudi officials did not report a motive for the killing, but the London-based Al Hayat daily reported on Tuesday that his death could be related to the assassination of Al Saheebani in September.

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