Opposition: Saudi security knew Johnson's location

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Saudi opposition sources said Saudi security commanders knew of the location of Al Qaida chief Abul Aziz Al Muqrin at least three days before he executed a U.S. hostage.

The Washington-based Saudi Institute said Saudi authorities knew of the whereabouts of the Al Qaida cell that abducted and threatened to kill Lockheed Martin engineer Paul Johnson. But the institute said the Saudi government decided not to move until Johnson, captured on June 12, was executed.

"The Saudi government knew the location of a number of the terrorists but waited until they killed American hostage Paul Johnson before moving against them," the Saudi Institute said in a statement on Tuesday.

The institute has been regarded as a liberal opposition group that relayed accurate information on Saudi Arabia and its security system, Middle East Newsline reported. The institute was said to have sources in Saudi security agencies and government.

About 15,000 Saudi troops and police searched neighborhoods in Riyad for two days before Johnson was beheaded by Al Qaida insurgents last weekend. On June 18, hours after Al Qaida's announcement that Johnson was executed, Al Muqrin and three of his leading aides were surrounded by Saudi forces and helicopters and killed in a shootout in Riyad.

The institute cited both open-source and exclusive information for its conclusion that Saudi security forces were ordered to wait until Johnson was executed. The opposition group cited the wife of slain Saudi police officer, Mohamed Ali Al Qahtani, as saying her husband knew of what she termed an "important operation" to kill Al Muqrin and his aides two days before the attack. Al Qahtani was killed in the shootout with Al Qaida.

"A Saudi security source has also told the Saudi Institute that the government knew about the whereabouts of many of the terrorists days before they were eventually killed," the institute said. "A statement by Crown Prince Abdullah three days before the shootout similarly suggested that he knew they would be killed, and was just a matter of when."

On June 14, Abdullah told a Saudi delegation, "You will see good news very soon," the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

A U.S. official said he could not confirm the report by the Saudi opposition group. But the official said U.S. intelligence has concluded that most of the Saudi security forces, including the National Guard, has been infiltrated by Al Qaida. He said members of the FBI and State Department team sent to Riyad to help in the search for Johnson expressed concern that Saudi security forces were avoiding suspected Al Qaida hideouts in Riyad.

The institute said it was told by a Saudi security source both before and after the Al Qaida shootout that the government knew the "whereabouts of Al Muqrin and his associates, but chose not to arrest or shoot them."

"They would rather have the terrorists free to justify the widening security clampdown," the security source said.

On May 30, Saudi security forces were ordered to allow an Al Qaida cell to escape the Oasis compound outside Khobar after Islamic insurgents had executed 22 foreigners in the two-day hostage ordeal. Saudi officials later said the government agreed to an Al Qaida demand to allow its members to escape rather than blow up the foreign housing compound.

Western governments with a significant presence in Saudi Arabia have been discussing the deployment of special forces to protect their embassies and consulates. On Wednesday, the London-based Telegraph reported that Britain has sent the SAS special force to Saudi Arabia to guard official British facilities and help in any emergency evacuation of the 20,000 Britons who work in the kingdom.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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