Saudi bombers were veterans of Tora Bora

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Saudi Arabia has encountered a new Al Qaida splinter group said to have directed a series of bombing attacks against Western targets in the kingdom.

The Islamic group is called Al Muwahidoun and is led by Saudi insurgents who fought with Al Qaida against the United States in the war in Afghanistan in 2001. Islamic sources said the group recruited Saudi nationals who had fled Afghanistan and returned to the kingdom over the last 18 months.

The three Al Muwahidoun leaders said in a communique that the Al Qaida splinter group of 19 Saudi fugitives participated in the battle at Tora Tora in Afghanistan in December 2001. U.S. Special Operations Forces attacked Al Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden and his forces in a network of caves in the Afghan mountains.

Al Muwahidoun is led by three Saudi nationals intent on establishing a group that would focus on Saudi Arabia, Middle East Newsline reported.

The Saudis were identified as Ali Bin Khadir Al Khadir, Nasser Bin Hamad Al Fahd and Ahmed Bin Hamoud Al Khaldi. On Tuesday, the three placed their names on a communique issued by a new Islamic faction called Al Mujahidoun Al Jazeera, or the "Holy Warriors of the [Arab] Peninsula."

Islamic sources said the Al Qaida attackers targeted U.S. defense personnel in the suicide attacks in Riyad. They said the explosives used reflected the expertise obtained in Al Qaida camps in eastern Afghanistan.

Saudi intelligence chief Prince Nawaf Bin Abdul Aziz said the attacks in Riyad were planned and sponsored outside of Saudi Arabia. Nawaf told the Al Riyad daily that the CIA had warned the kingdom of an imminent Al Qaida attack. He said Saudi authorities quickly bolstered security measures.

Saudi officials have acknowledged Al Muwahidoun and said this was one of a series of Al Qaida splinter groups that emerged over the last year. The officials said Al Muwahidoun is believed connected to the Al Qaida cell of 19 insurgents being sought by Saudi authorities and believed responsible for the suicide bombing attacks on Western residential complexes on early Tuesday. Officials said 15 insurgents were involved in the attacks.

"The fact that the terrorism happened is an indication of shortcomings, and we have to learn from our mistakes and seek to improve our performance," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal told a news conference on Wednesday.

In neighboring Kuwait, authorities also increased security measures, particularly along border checkpoints and around major facilities. Thousands of U.S. soldiers remain in the sheikdom although the military presence is expected to dwindle over the coming months.

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