U.S. intelligence: Saudi military riddled by Al Qaida infiltrators

Special to World
Wednesday, May 14, 2003

The U.S. intelligence community believes Al Qaida has infiltrated Saudi military and security forces.

U.S. intelligence and diplomatic sources said assessments by both the CIA and the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency have concluded that Al Qaida operatives in Saudi Arabia have contacts throughout the kingdom's armed forces. The sources said Al Qaida has operatives in the elite National Guard, the Navy and the Army.

"The only area where there is no evidence of a significant Al Qaida presence is the Saudi Royal Air Force," a U.S. official familiar with intelligence assessments said. "The police, army, navy, National Guard and all the rest have been infiltrated by Al Qaida."

The sources said the Al Qaida suicide attacks on three Western compounds on early Tuesday pointed to the vast amount of knowledge the organization possessed on the layout of the residences and the security detail. They said nine attackers obtained National Guard uniforms, drove to the gates of the compounds, killed actual National Guard soldiers and immediately entered the Western residency complex.

The FBI said it will send a team to Saudi Arabia to investigate the bombings. Officials said Saudi authorities have approved the FBI request to launch its probe in the kingdom, Middle East Newsline reported.

A senior State Department official said Al Qaida knew virtually all of the security arrangements at the housing complex for the Vinnel Corp., which has been training the National Guard. The official said Al Qaida attackers entered the gate, drove a truck to the Vinnell complex and detonated a bomb that weighed nearly 200 kilograms.

"It took them 30 seconds to a minute," a senior State Department official said. "They had to know where the switches were."

On Tuesday, a leading U.S. senator said Al Qaida has reorganized its forces amid the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Sen. Bob Graham, a former chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, said the Islamic network has bolstered its capability nearly to the level of that in September 2001, when Al Qaida conducted suicide strikes in New York and Washington.

"We essentially ended the war on terror about a year ago, and since that time, Al Qaida has been allowed to regenerate," Graham said. "We have allowed the basic structure of Al Qaida to continue. Yes, we've been engaged in a manhunt to find their past leadership. But what we're also finding is that Al Qaida has a deep farm team and they're able to replace those who are killed or detained."

In London, a leading Western strategic institute agreed. The International Institute for Strategic Studies said in a news conference on Tuesday that Al Qaida has not been intimidated by U.S. military successes in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"It is possible that the audacity and success of the Iraq intervention has intimidated anti-American terrorists as well as rogue regimes," institute director John Chipman said. "The attacks by suicide bombers at three housing compounds in Riyad earlier today show that this would be an unwise conclusion. A strong counter-terrorism campaign remains a critical necessity for years to come."

For its part, Al Qaida appeared to have claimed responsibility for the suicide attacks. In a message sent to the London-based Al Majallah weekly, a Saudi-owned publication, Al Qaida operative Abu Mohammed Al Ablaj, who identified himself as the group's training coordinator, said the organization has been planning major operations in the Gulf region.

"The execution of this plan was not hampered by the recent announcement by the Saudi authorities of the seizure of large quantities of arms and explosives in the kingdom and the hunt for 19 people," Al Ablaj said in an e-mail to the newspaper. "Among the priorities of Al Qaida's new strategy, besides strikes at the heart of the United States, are operations in the Gulf countries and countries allied to America, particularly Egypt and Jordan. These operations will target air bases, warships, military camps every on the Arabian peninsula and in the Gulf."

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