Terror alert closes western missions




By Mark Huband in Kuwait

Financial Times, 21 May 2003

The US yesterday raised its terror alert to the second-highest level as officials said they had received “credible information” that more terrorist attacks were being planned against targets in Saudi Arabia and beyond.

The US, UK and German embassies and trade missions in the kingdom will be closed temporarily from today in response to intelligence reports suggesting that attacks against unspecified targets may be “imminent”.

The US decision to return to an orange alert will again trigger heightened security measures at US airports, government facilities and other possible targets.

Washington had previously raised the alert level before the war in Iraq, but dropped it back to yellow last month.

Saudi officials investigating the multiple suicide bombings that killed 34 – mainly foreign nationals – in Riyadh on May 12, said yesterday they had arrested three al-Qaeda suspects in the Red Sea port of Jeddah. A Saudi source said that one of the three was co-operating with the security forces.

Up to 50 Muslim extremists linked to the al-Qaeda network are still thought to be operating in the country and planning further attacks.

Referring to signs of increased terrorist activity, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi ambassador to the US, warned on Monday there was “a high level of chatter regionally and in other international spots” about possible new attacks on Saudi Arabia – or even the US.

The FBI warned that the bombings in Saudi Arabia indicated that al-Qaeda could launch new attacks in the US. Officials said the US embassy in Riyadh and consulates in Jeddah and Dhahran would close until Sunday.

The British embassy in Riyadh, the consulate in Jeddah and the trade office in al-Khobar will be closed to the public from today. A plan to re-open on Saturday was being kept under review. Germany will close its embassy in Riyadh and another mission in Jeddah at least until Friday.

According to the White House, the al-Qaeda network has been diminished by the war on terror ism, but not destroyed. Up to 60 FBI agents are assisting the Saudi authorities in their investigation.

The Riyadh attacks give the US an additional lever on the Saudi authorities, analysts say, as they encourage them to take even more decisive action against al-Qaeda supporters in the kingdom.

Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, insisted his country was increasing security measures. “We are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best,” he said.

Prince Saud added that resolving the Palestinian issue would remove “a great part of the reasons for terrorism in our region”.


© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.