Bin Laden may have directed attacks in Saudi capital




By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent, in Kuwait

Financial Times, 14 May 2003

Saudi officials and Islamist opponents of the regime say Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader, may have personally directed the terrorist attack in the Saudi capital.

Islamist opponents of the royal family, who are familiar with the activities of al-Qaeda’s supporters in the kingdom, said yesterday the attacks were the result of a decision by Mr bin Laden himself to target foreigners and members of the royal family in his homeland, where his support is strong.

“There is credible discussion in jihadi circles that this is the beginning of a new campaign, and that Osama bin Laden has given the go-ahead for a campaign in Saudi Arabia,” said Saad al-Fagui, a UK-based critic of the Saudi government who is also critical of al-Qaeda though has contacts with it.

Saudi officials also say that Mr bin Laden is directing attacks in the country.

No claim of responsibility has been issued for Monday’s bombings, though the practice of simultaneous attacks is similar to al-Qaeda’s. However, its near-silence during the US-led invasion of Iraq, and the arrest of key leaders, has led security officials to conclude that the network has been severely damaged, increasing its dependence on its core support in Saudi Arabia.

“There had been signs of a build-up in activity by al-Qaeda, and that foreign targets in Saudi Arabia were particularly vulnerable,” said a western intelligence official yesterday.

Monday’s attack, in which three car bombs were detonated simultaneously at three compounds housing foreign workers, is said by security sources to have been planned at least one month in advance.

Concerns about a terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia had led the US State Department to issue a warning to US nationals on May 1 not to travel to the country.

However, the direct involvement of the al-Qaeda leadership in the attacks is doubted by other Saudi Islamists linked to radical groups.

“All these people need is a bit of money, perhaps from bin Laden, but perhaps from somebody else,” Mohammed al-Massari, an outspoken critic of the Saudi royal family, said. “If you had 15 or 20 men who trained in Afghanistan, doing this kind of thing is easy.

“Al-Qaeda has a lot of influence in Saudi Arabia, and the events on Monday are a sign of the supportive environment in the country.”

Security sources say that the organisational weakness that the war of terror has caused in al-Qaeda’s international network would not hamper it in Saudi Arabia. Its support and operational capacity in the kingdom remain strong.

The attacks coincided with growing tension in the kingdom. This follows the publication of a communiqué by three Muslim scholars who called on Saudis not to assist the government in the hunt for 19 alleged al-Qaeda militants who have been sought since May 6 after the discovery of a large cache of weapons and explosives.



© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.