Saudis capture Al Qaida suspects, form elite security force

Thusday, May 29, 2003

ABU DHABI Saudi authorities have arrested clerics accused of being part of an Al Qaida cell that sent suicide bombers to attack Western compounds in Riyad on May 12.

One of the suspects captured was identified as Ali Abdul Rahman Al Ghamdi, believed to be the mastermind of the Riyad bombings and regarded as a leading Al Qaida agent. Western diplomatic sources said the Al Qaida cell in Saudi Arabia planned to carry out attacks in Europe and the United States.

Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef Bin Abdul Aziz said 11 fugitives, including three clerics and preachers, were detained in the Saudi city of Medina in connection with insurgency attacks.

Meanwhile, the Saudi kingdom, besieged by threats from Al Qaida, has established an elite security force battalion.

Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz laid the foundation stone for the headquarters of the second special security battalion earlier this month. The headquarters is located in Mecca in the western portion of the kingdom.

Prince Nayef said the detained clerics and preachers include Ali Fahd Al Khudair, Ahmed Hamoud Mufreh Al Khaledi and Nasir Ahmed Al Fuhaid "who claim they are muftis and sheiks. But they are far from it and they don't have any standing."

Nayef said Saudi security agencies have identified six of the nine suicide bombers in the May 12 attacks. The interior minister told a news conference on Wednesday that four of those suicide bombers were members of a 19-member cell announced by authorities on May 6.

Officials said the security battalion contains 1,073 soldiers and 67 officers. They said the battalion has been equipped with helicopters and other platforms and was trained in special operations.

The special security battalion will be part of the National Guard, which is headed by Abdullah. The crown prince said he hoped to develop the National Guard along lines similar to that of the special security battalion.

"The National Guard units, along with other branches of the armed forces, are the bulwark of the country and its hope for the future, and with God's help and our hard work we will realize to what we have aspired," Abdullah said.

"There are very likely others out there planning parallel activities, perhaps not even in direct communication with each other," U.S. ambassador to Riyad, Robert Jordan, said. "So our concern about the threat level goes far beyond the ability of one or two who may have escaped the attack of May 12 to carry out something else."

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