US adds to warnings on travel to Saudi Arabia




By Mark Huband in London

Financial Times, 29 October 2003

The US has warned its citizens to avoid travelling to Saudi Arabia, two days after the UK and Australia issued similar warnings based on the same intelligence information, security officials said yesterday.

The US travel advisory specified transport and civil aviation as potential targets. A UK advisory issued at the weekend stated that a terrorist attack in the kingdom was in the “final phase of planning”, though did not specify the nature of the expected target.

Both the US and British warnings have been criticised by the Saudi authorities, who have arrested about 600 people since multiple car bombings in Riyadh on May 12 left 35 people dead.

A Saudi official yesterday played down the US warning, saying that it was an “exaggerated precaution”. Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi ambassador to London, had earlier responded to the UK warning by stating that there should have been co-ordination with the Saudi authorities before the travel advisories were issued.

Both warnings revealed concerns that Islamic extremists may be planning big attacks for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began in Saudi Arabia on Monday.

A series of suicide attacks in Iraq, which left 35 dead on Monday and at least a further four dead yesterday, are regarded by some analysts and intelligence officials as timed to mark the beginning of the holy month.

Saudi officials have been determined to show that the action they have taken against terrorist cells has had an impact.

The Saudi authorities have seized thousands of rounds of ammunition, as well as hundreds of assault rifles, explosives and missile launchers in the past five months.

Despite these seizures, however, it remains unclear whether terrorists linked to al-Qaeda are focusing on Saudi Arabia or Iraq.

In the aftermath of the May 12 bombings in Riyadh, some intelligence officials said that Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader, had agreed to target Saudi Arabia. However, he is said by some sources to have only done so reluctantly, due to concerns that such attacks would alienate al-Qaeda from its supporters in the kingdom.

Signs of a new al-Qaeda strategy emerged on October 18, when a statement by Mr bin Laden described Iraq as the new “jihad”.



© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.