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More Terrorist Attacks Imminent

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) -- U.S. diplomats said Tuesday more attacks in Saudi Arabia were "imminent" and closed their embassy and consulates for a few days in response. A Saudi official said investigators believed about 50 hard-core Muslim militants were ready to volunteer for suicide strikes like the ones that targeted Westerners in the capital last week.

"The Embassy continues to receive credible information that further terrorist attacks are being planned against unspecified targets in Saudi Arabia," Americans were warned in a statement posted on U.S. Embassy and consulate Web sites. "In response to information that some strikes may be imminent, the embassy in Riyadh and the consulates in Jiddah and Dhahran will be closed Wednesday." The statement said diplomatic offices would reopen Sunday after the Saudi Thursday-Friday weekend and a previously schedule holiday for Memorial Day.

Earlier, the Saudi official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the 50 militants were believed to belong to three cells, including the one that carried out the suicide car bombings in Riyadh last week. Another cell has fled Saudi Arabia and the third is at large in the kingdom, the official said. The official did not say whether the militants were linked to al-Qaida, the group U.S. and other Saudi officials have linked to the Riyadh bombings.

On Monday, Saudi and U.S. officials said they had new intelligence pointing to Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida group possibly launching fresh attacks in the United States or against American interests overseas. The Saudi official said Tuesday the militants prepared to attack had hard-core sympathizers numbering "in the low hundreds."

Near-simultaneous suicide attacks on three residential compounds on the outskirts of Riyadh on May 12 killed 34 people, including nine attackers, and wounded almost 200.

Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, told reporters in Riyadh that "there is chatter, a high level of chatter regionally and in other international spots" about possible new attacks in Saudi Arabia or America.

The FBI is warning that al-Qaida could mount new attacks in the United States as well as target American and Western interests overseas. "The U.S. intelligence community assesses that attacks against U.S. and Western targets overseas are likely; attacks in the United States cannot be ruled out," said an FBI bulletin dispatched to state and local law enforcement agencies around the country. The bulletin was described Monday to The Associated Press by federal law enforcement officials on condition of anonymity.

Observers say determining the size of al-Qaida activists in the kingdom is worse than putting together a jigsaw puzzle. The problem is defining who is an al-Qaida activist, who's an extremist, who's a free-lancer, who's liable to be brought into the network and who's an al-Qaida sympathizer. The last group has shown it represents a substantial threat to foreigners, even though they may not be al-Qaida activists.

Western diplomats blame them for several small bombings that have killed kill two Britons and a German and wounded eight other foreigners in the kingdom since November 2000. The Riyadh attacks have been seen as not only an attack on U.S. and other Western interests, but also a strike on the Saudi government for its close ties with America and its decision following the 1991 Gulf War to allow American troops to be stationed in Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden said the U.S. presence defiles the country, which is custodian of Islam's two holiest shrines.

The United States announced last month that its air operations base would move from Saudi Arabia to Qatar.

Also Tuesday, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said his country was increasing security measures with the aim of preventing further attacks. "Measures that the government has taken are seen  everywhere you go in the city. We are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best," Prince Saud al-Faisal said. "Nobody can guarantee that nothing will happen in the meantime. But we are secure in the knowledge that at least we are doing everything that we can to prevent.''

Speaking at a press conference after meeting with Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller, Saud stressed that removing the cause or "breeding ground" of terrorism was an international responsibility and suggested that resolving the Palestinian issue would remove "a great part of the reasons for terrorism in our region."

More than 60 FBI and other U.S. investigators are assisting Saudi authorities with the probe into Monday's attacks. Interior Minister Prince Nayef has said four suspects in custody for the Riyadh car bombings are apparently linked to al-Qaida. Nayef said investigators had identified three of the badly mangled bodies of nine Saudi men thought to have carried out the Riyadh attacks. The three were among 19 suspects sought in connection with a weapons cache found May 6 linked to al-Qaida.

The government had said the 19 were believed to be receiving orders directly from the Saudi-born bin Laden and had been planning to use the seized weapons to attack the Saudi royal family and American and British interests.

Al-Qaida has been blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks and the October 2000 USS Cole bombing in Yemen that killed 17 American sailors. Al-Qaida espouses a militant form of Islam and opposes what it sees as Western attempts to control the Arab world. It has criticized the Saudi royal family for its close ties to America.


Posted 5/20/2003   11:57 AM    LAH

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