Saudi Arabia hits back at critics of its efforts to defeat al-Qaeda threat




By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent, in London

Financial Times, 23 October 2003

Saudi Arabia’s interior minister launched a rare public defence of the kingdom’s anti-terrorist efforts yesterday and strongly criticised attempts to discredit the tougher measures it has taken against al-Qaeda’s terrorist network.

Prince Nayef said that Saudi Arabia’s counter-terrorism measures “are crystal clear and cannot be denied by anyone except the cynical”.

In remarks clearly aimed at continued criticism of the kingdom in the US, he called for support of these efforts, and added: “This [support] is more useful than throwing accusations against others and in ways that portray Islam and Muslims as the inventors of terrorism.”

The prince’s statement was delivered by Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UK, at a conference on the Arabian kingdom’s efforts to confront terrorism held yesterday at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

Prince Nayef’s son, Prince Muhammad, who is responsible for security affairs in the interior ministry, cancelled an appearance at the conference because of the ongoing security threat in Saudi Arabia.

Prince Nayef’s statement marks a further shift in the kingdom’s attitude to the terrorist threat. Until the bombing of three residential compounds in Riyadh on May 12 that left 35 people dead, many of them foreigners, Prince Nayef had denied that al-Qaeda’s terrorist network was operating in the country.

Now, members of the ruling family are identifying the terrorist threat to Saudi Arabia as stark proof that the kingdom is not a supporter of al-Qaeda.

Prince Turki told the London conference that a total of 600 people had been arrested since the May bombings, far more than had previously been acknowledged by the authorities. He said that of these, 70-90 were to be put on trial, while 190 had been released. The rest were still being interrogated.

As further proof of the threat facing the kingdom, the Saudi authorities said this week that they had seized a large cache of weapons and explosives in Riyadh, Jeddah and four other locations.

State television reported the seizure as including bomb-belts, possibly to be used by suicide bombers, as well as C-4 plastic explosives, 161 Kalashnikov rifles, 116,000 rounds of ammunition and a laboratory for making explosives and manufacturing bombs.



© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.