Bin Laden's family wins bid to run Saudi airports now on alert

Thursday, October 30, 2003

ABU DHABI Saudi Arabia has awarded five companies a project to privatize airports which would be secured by the government.

Two of the companies awarded a contract to operate a Saudi airport belong to the family of Al Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden.

Western intelligence agencies said Al Qaida has been planning to strike Western aircraft that seek to land or take off from Saudi airports.

Western security agencies have issued a warning for Americans and Europeans who intend to fly to and from the Saudi kingdom. Britain and the United States have warned that Saudi airports could be attacked by Al Qaida insurgents, Middle East Newsline reported.

"There is credible information that terrorists have targeted Western aviation interests in Saudi Arabia," the U.S. embassy in Riyad said on Tuesday. "The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to defer non-essential travel to Saudi Arabia."

Saudi officials dismissed the Western alert and said the kingdom's airlines would maintain its routine schedule. They said authorities have increased security in and around major Saudi airports.

The Saudi awards were granted to at least two companies linked to the family of the Al Qaida leader. They were the Bin Laden Group and the Muhammed Bin Laden Co., named after the father of the Al Qaida chief.

"The Civil Aviation Authority will seek to achieve broad private sector participation in running local and international airports by privatizing them, except for security operations," Saudi civil aviation chief Abdullah Rahimi said.

Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz has completed contracts with five Saudi companies to operate regional and local airports over the next three years. The contracts were said to have been worth $170 million.

"The contracts covered the supply of technical manpower specialized in operation and maintenance of airports, and the supply of equipment and spare parts," the official Saudi Press Agency said.

The Bin Laden Group is one of the biggest non-government firms and the largest construction company in the kingdom. It has launched numerous projects in telecommunications, real estate and oil production.

Saudi officials maintain that the Al Qaida leader has severed ties to his family's business interests. They said he has not been active in the company since the early 1980s.

Other government awards for airport operations were granted to the Saudi Services Co., Saudi Maintenance and Services Co., Rajab and Silsilah and Partners, Al Zamil Co. for Maintenance and Operation, and Al Qusay International for Contracting.

Saudi Arabia has 27 airports and plans to build a new regional facility near Medina. The Saudi airports include three international facilities King Khaled in Riyad, King Abdul Aziz in Jedda, and King Fahd in Dammam.

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