Vol. 4 Num 161 Wed. November 05, 2003  
Front Page

Saudis 'foil terror attack' on pilgrims

Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef said yesterday his country had foiled a terror attack on pilgrims in the holy city of Makkah.

"These people are targeting the (holy Muslim) month of Ramadan. This is an evil aim. They wanted to make the entire country a place for terror without any exception and even in the holiest place on earth where Saudis and non-Saudis come to pray to God," he told the leading newspaper Saudi al-Riyadh.

The minister was speaking about a shootout in Makkah on Monday in which Saudi Arabia said previously it foiled an imminent terrorist attack and killed two Muslim militants.

The clash came just over a week after US and British authorities warned of a threat of attacks on Western targets in the kingdom during Ramadan, which started last Monday, and urged their nationals to avoid traveling to the country.

The interior minister said the kingdom was taking such warnings seriously and welcomed any information from US and British authorities that could help their crackdown.

Nayef told the paper that during Monday's clash, Saudi police had arrested six militants believed to be linked to Saudi-born al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Police arrested four of the militants and two others handed themselves over, he said. One of the four was wounded.

Asked if the attacks had been aimed at buildings, crowded areas and Makkah pilgrims, he said: "This is exactly what I mean. In Makkah there are only Muslims from inside and outside the kingdom. There no other people except Muslims."

"Certainly (they wanted to target) buildings, installations and people. All the seized weapons indicate such a plan."

Ramadan is the holiest month of the Islamic calendar, when Muslims abstain from food and drink from dawn to dusk. Analysts say the heightened religious fervor of the period appears to encourage extremism.

Asked if those arrested were al-Qaeda members, Nayef said: "Without a doubt they all belong to the same group and are using the same methods."

Saudi Arabia has mounted a crackdown on militants loyal to bin Laden, held responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on US cities in which 15 of the 19 suicide plane hijackers were Saudi nationals.

The kingdom arrested 600 suspects after suicide bombings in Riyadh in May which killed 35 people, including nine Americans.

During Monday's clash police seized automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, pistols, explosives, ammunition and passports from the suspects' car and the house where they were hiding, a Saudi statement said.

Al-Riyadh said four of the detained militants were Saudis, one was Egyptian and one from Chad.

Nayef said questioning of militants in custody had helped the authorities foil plots and arrest more militants, and said that militants who surrender would receive guarantees of lenient punishment.

There have been several bloody clashes between security forces and militants in the absolute monarchy, Islam's birthplace, which is under intense US pressure to destroy al-Qaeda cells.

Last month, Al Jazeera television broadcast tapes it said were from bin Laden in which he pledged more suicide attacks inside and outside the United States.