Saudi Arabia to question ´12,000 citizens´ (GUARDIAN UK) Brian Whitaker 08/15/03)
GUARDIAN UK Articles-Index-Top
Riyadh launches full-scale anti-terrorism sweep as rulers acquiesce
to American demands to interrogate long list of potential suspects
Saudi Arabian authorities have embarked on a vast anti-terrorism
operation in which up to 12,000 citizens will be questioned at the
behest of the US, a Saudi opposition group has told the Guardian.
"The Saudi government is doing a full-scale sweeping activity," said
Saad al-Fagih, of the London-based Movement for Islamic Reform in
"This is causing occasional confrontations with members [of militant
groups] who have taken a decision not to surrender themselves."
Several sources in the kingdom had told him of a "substantial list",
provided by the US, naming Saudi citizens to be questioned or
arrested, he said.
One source put the number of names at 12,000. Others gave lower
figures but all were well into the thousands. "There are strong signs
that the number is 12,000," Mr Fagih said.
The information had been compiled by the US from various countries,
including Pakistan, Bosnia, and Russia.
Some names were included as they had been mentioned by suspects under
interrogation but others were on the list because of money transfers
or travel bookings.
"It doesn´t mean they are all suspects or wanted, but they all have
to be interviewed."
Saudi Arabia is reluctant to admit cooperating with the US for fear
of inflaming domestic opinion, but it also needs to placate American
critics who say it has done too little to combat terrorism.
The result of that, say security analysts, is that Riyadh and
Washington collaborate in private far more extensively than either
side will admit.
There is also no doubt that Saudi Arabia is in the midst of an
unprecedented security trawl. In recent weeks at least 15 anti-
terrorism raids have been reported in the kingdom - though others
have almost certainly gone unreported.
On Wednesday, Britain and the US issued new warnings for travellers
to the kingdom. The state department advised American citizens "to
defer non-essential travel".
It said: "The US government has received indications of terrorist
threats aimed at American and western interests, including the
targeting of transportation and civil aviation. There is credible
information that terrorists have targeted western aviation interests
in Saudi Arabia."
In London, the foreign office, which also advises against non-
essential travel, said: "There is information of a threat to British
aviation interests in Saudi Arabia."
A few hours earlier British Airways suspended all flights to the
kingdom after Saudi authorities uncovered an apparent plot to shoot
down a BA plane near Riyadh.
Crown Prince Abdullah, Saudi Arabia´s de facto ruler, told security
officials yesterday that the kingdom was engaged in a "decisive
battle" against terrorism. "In the struggle between forces of good
and forces of evil, there is no room for being neutral or hesitant,"
he said in a speech reported by the official Saudi news agency.
His remarks reflected the government´s changed attitude towards
internal terrorism which, before the suicide bombings on May 12 that
killed 35 people including nine attackers in Riyadh, usually amounted
to denying there was a serious problem.
The claim that Saudi authorities were working through a US-supplied
list of suspects could not be independently confirmed yesterday,
though the US is known to have supplied a shorter list to Yemen.
The kingdom has publicly turned down requests to let the FBI question
suspects, so accepting an American list of people to be interviewed
by Saudi officials could be a compromise solution.
Last month, police found underground arsenals at farms in the
kingdom, and vehicles ready for use as bombs. They also found fake
passports, spying equipment and donation boxes.
"The extremists had infiltrated and developed sleeper cells in Saudi
Arabia to an extent that neither society nor the authorities were
aware of," Mishari al-Thaidi, a journalist and expert on militants,
told the Associated Press.
"I believe they were still in the process of getting organised and
setting themselves up when they were raided."
∑ A Moroccan student went on trial in Germany yesterday, accused on
more than 3,000 counts of being an accessory to murder for providing
logistical support to the September 11 terrorist attackers in the US,
writes Ben Aris in Berlin.
Abdelghani Mzoudi, 30, an electrical engineering student in Hamburg,
is also charged with being a member of a terrorist group. He denies
the charges. (Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY