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Saudi cities on alert; Mecca hotel fire kills 14

Sunday, May 18, 2003

ABU DHABI Saudi Arabia has bolstered security in major cities.

Saudi officials said military troops have been sent to perform security duties in and around Riyad, Jedda and Mecca and other cities. They said soldiers have established checkpoints along major highways and around key facilities.

Over the weekend, 14 Saudis were killed in a hotel fire in the western city of Mecca, Middle East Newsline reported. The governor of Mecca, Prince Abdul Majid, said the fire was the work of arsonists.

In Washington, Adel Al Jubeir, foreign policy adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, said the kingdom has been on alert for nearly two months amid intercepts of Al Qaida communications that referred to plans for multiple Al Qaida attacks in Saudi Arabia. Al Jubeir said the United States had also confirmed reports of plans for an Al Qaida campaign in the kingdom.

The security effort began last week and was increased further after Al Qaida suicide attacks in the Moroccan city of Casablanca. Officials said authorities are concerned that the Saudi port of Jedda might be the next target of Al Qaida.

The Saudi military and National Guard were heavily deployed in the Al Hamra district of Jedda. The United States has warned of an imminent attack against American citizens in the area.

"We believed those attacks would be targeted against American or Saudi targets," Al Jubeir told a news conference in the Saudi embassy in Washington on Friday. "It turns out they hit both."

Al Jubeir said that over the last eight weeks Saudi Arabia transferred special forces from various military units and recruited them for counterinsurgency operations. He said the kingdom also increased border security and intensified intelligence gathering.

The Saudi adviser said Al Qaida's objectives have been to destroy the U.S.-Saudi relationship and undermine the legitimacy of the Saudi government. He said the organization has targeted Saudi Arabia since the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

"Our main focus is on the security and the well-being of our citizens and our residents," Al Jubeir said. "Is it enough to justify pulling out foreigners out of Saudi Arabia? I think if that happens, then the terrorists will have won."

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