igloo Posted May 15 Report Share Posted May 15 Riyadh bombersâ€™ cell evaded arrest Saudis raided hideout, battled al Qaeda members last week Khaled Jehani, shown here in a "martrydom" videotape recovered from the rubble of an Afghan compound, is one of the chief suspects in the deadly Riyadh bombings.By Alan Sipress and Peter FinnTHE WASHINGTON POST CAIRO, Egypt, May 13 â€” The Islamic militants behind the devastating car bombings in three residential compounds Monday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, were part of an al Qaeda cell whose members fought a gun battle last week with Saudi authorities before escaping arrest, Saudi officials said today. AT THE TIME, police raided a suspected hideout, uncovering a weapons cache that included 55 hand grenades, 829 pounds of explosives and 2,545 bullets of different calibers. The May 6 raid took place at a safe house â€œseveral hundred yards from one of the buildings hitâ€ by the triple bombing, a senior U.S. official said today. The cell was formed in the kingdom after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, officials said. It is led by Khaled Jehani, who left Saudi Arabia when he was 18, later fought in Bosnia and Chechnya and was based at al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, the officials added. Jehani, 29, assumed a leadership position in the cell after the capture last November of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, suspected of being instrumental in planning the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000, the officials said. Al-Nashiri, al Qaedaâ€™s former director of operations in the Gulf, is in U.S. custody. The cell has at least 50 to 60 members, they added. Jehani, who remains at large, came back to Saudi Arabia after the U.S. assault on al Qaeda in the Tora Bora mountains in Afghanistan in December 2001, the officials said. Jehani, who is part of the Harbi tribe in a western province of Saudi Arabia, began to recruit new members and assemble arms, mostly smuggled through Yemen, they added.MANY PLANNED TARGETS The Saudi cell, first under al-Nashiriâ€™s and then Jehaniâ€™s control, had planned numerous attacks in the kingdom in the last year, which were foiled because the group found security too tight at certain installations or a captured member of the cell revealed their plans, officials said. Among the targets the cell had selected and then rejected, officials said, was an expatriate residential community in the commercial city of Jiddah. Prince Nayef, the Saudi interior minister, said last week that some of the members of the cell involved in the gunfight were al Qaeda suspects who had received military training in Afghanistan and had been released by authorities because â€œtheir role was very limited.â€ Jehani has been on the FBIâ€™s list of al Qaeda suspects since January 2002. He was one of five al Qaeda operatives, including Sept. 11 figure Ramzi Binalshibh, who recorded â€œmartrydomâ€ videotapes recovered from the rubble of an Afghan compound. In one portion of a tape released by the FBI, Jehani is shown caressing and kissing a Kalashnikov rifle before he grins and chuckles at the camera. Western and Saudi security officials were aware of the imminent threat posed by the cell, leading the State Department on May 1 to warn that the United States had received intelligence reports indicating that militants â€œmay be in the final phases of planning attacksâ€ on American interests in Saudi Arabia. The warning was based on multiple sources, U.S. officials said, including intercepted communications and Saudi informants. But the officials said the intelligence lacked a specific time, place or location. A senior U.S. law enforcement official said there had been a high level of intelligence â€œnoiseâ€ for several weeks indicating an attack was planned in Saudi Arabia or in Africa. â€œThatâ€™s where the indicators were,â€ he said. Five days after the State Department warning, Saudi officers hunting for suspects in a March bombing case discovered the safe house in the Ashbiliya district of Riyadh. Several militants escaped after hijacking cars at gunpoint. After they fled from the house, security officials found not only weapons but cash and documents, including Jehaniâ€™s identity papers. The Interior Ministry announced afterward that it was searching for 17 Saudis, a Yemeni and a Kuwaiti-Canadian of Iraqi origin. The government published the names and photographs of 19 members of the cell. Nayef also posted a reward of $80,000 for anyone who led authorities to the cell and more than $10,000 for any information about the militants.SAUDIS TRY TO THWART THREAT That represented an unusually frank admission for a government that has consistently maintained that it has curtailed al Qaeda activity inside the country. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were Saudis. After those attacks, the Interior Ministry began to increase security measures and address the spread of religious radicalism, Saudi sources said, including banning some militant clerics from preaching at mosques. But Saudis said many of those clerics were able to win a reprieve and make their way back to the pulpit. When Saudi authorities adopted measures to choke off the financing of militant groups, some U.S. officials complained that the steps were too slow in coming and did not fully address the use of foundations claiming to be Islamic charities for funding al Qaedaâ€™s activities. Saudi authorities stepped up security measures further this winter as the U.S.-led military campaign against Iraq grew imminent, concerned that the war could prompt new attacks. In late February, Nayef said, security services were holding 253 people suspected of ties to al Qaeda, including 90 with proven links. While Mondayâ€™s car-bombings were an assault on Western, particularly American, residents of Saudi Arabia, they also appeared to be a direct threat to the countryâ€™s royal family, which rules an increasingly restive population. â€œThis was an attack on the royal family,â€ said one Saudi official. â€œThat is the harsh reality.â€AL QAEDA STILL ACTIVE Despite the Saudi actions, there have been a number of attempted attacks believed to be the work of Qaeda. Operatives have planned bombings at the Tabouk air base, the Ras Tanurah oil facility and the ministries of Interior and Defense, officials said. Arrested militants linked to al Qaeda also explored the possibility of using silencer-equipped weapons to kill Americans at close range in public places, Saudi officials said. â€˜With all its experience of guerrilla warfare gained in Afghanistan and Chechnya, al Qaeda will move the battle to the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula, and air bases, warships and military bases will be targeted.â€™ â€” ALLEGED AL QAEDA COMMANDER-- speaking to al-Majalla magazine Arab officials said they believed that al Qaeda directed its loyalists to conceive and execute acts of terror independent of the groupâ€™s leadership after the collapse of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Intelligence officials said that hundreds of al Qaeda fighters were told to flee Afghanistan to their home countries and then target American, Jewish and other Western interests independently. Mondayâ€™s bombings appear to be another assault stemming from that order. The attack Monday called into question recent suggestions that the terrorist group was all but defeated. Nayef earlier this month dismissed the al Qaeda network in his country as â€œweak and almost nonexistent.â€ The explosions were similar to other bombings in Tunisia, Pakistan and Indonesia, as well as deadly shootings in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Jordan and the Philippines, all of which have been linked to al Qaeda or local allies. In an e-mail this week to the London-based Arab magazine al-Majalla, which is Saudi-owned, an alleged al Qaeda commander said large amounts of weapons and explosives are at the disposal of the group in the Gulf. â€œWith all its experience of guerrilla warfare gained in Afghanistan and Chechnya, al Qaeda will move the battle to the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula, and air bases, warships and military bases will be targeted,â€ the magazine quoted the man as saying. Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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