Saudis discover major Al Qaida infrastructure

Friday, May 9, 2003

Al Qaida has revived operations in Saudi Arabia in an effort to overthrow the Saudi monarchy.

Western diplomatic sources said a Saudi investigation has revealed a huge infrastructure by the Islamic insurgency group. The sources said Al Qaida has recruited scores of people to carry out a series of attacks and assassinations against both Western interest and Saudi leaders.

On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia announced the search for a 19-member Al Qaida cell that was planning a series of attacks in the kingdom. A subsequent report that the cell had been captured was later corrected.

Riyad has offered an award of nearly $100,000 for information leading to the capture of the cell, most of the members of which were identified as Saudi nationals.

One of the suspects being sought has been identified as Khaled Mohammed Al Jahani. Al Jahani was said to be an Al Qaida member who is also wanted by the United States.

"We are relieved that the Al Qaida plot was foiled in the nick of time," U.S. embassy spokesman in Riyad, Deborah Croft, told Saudi newspapers on Friday. "It is something unprecedented and very heartening to know that the Saudi security personnel managed to discover the cell before any damage had been done."

The Saudis targeted by Al Qaida included Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz and Interior Minister Prince Nayef, the sources said. Al Qaida was also said to have planned to poison water supplies of key facilities in the kingdom.

The sources said the Al Qaida network is believed to consist of 150 people located both in the Riyad area as well as in northern Saudi Arabia. The vast majority of the cell consists of Saudi nationals.

"All the cell members are known to be Al Qaida operatives," Prince Nayef told the Al Riyad daily on Thursday. "This group has started outside of the kingdom. They received military training in Afghanistan."

On Friday, the Saudi-owned Al Majallah weekly quoted an Al Qaida spokesman as saying that his group has reorganized. Al Qaida spokesman Thabet Bin Qais said the movement is preparing new strikes against U.S. interests.

The kingdom is also expected to release a group of British nationals held for more than two years on charges of staging of series of bombings in the kingdom. One of the British detainees has been released and the other six are expected to follow. Two of the Britons had faced execution upon conviction of being involved in a series of bombings said to be connected to illicit alcohol trade in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia has released Gary O'Nions, 57, who returned to London on Thursday after serving two of an eight-year sentence. O'Nions said he did not know why he was released.

"Gary O'Nions was deported to the UK by the Saudi authorities on May 8," the British Foreign Office said on Thursday. "We remain deeply concerned about the situation of the others. We raise the issue regularly with the Saudi authorities."

Britain and Saudi Arabia had long discussed the release of the British nationals. But the sources said the appointment of former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki Al Faisal as ambassador to London helped accelerate the British efforts. Turki has been named a defendant in a $100 trillion lawsuit by the families of the victims of Al Qaida attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001.

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