05/15 - FBI team arrives in Saudi Arabia - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

05/15 - FBI team arrives in Saudi Arabia

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Posted: Thursday, May 15, 2003 10:02 am | Updated: 2:03 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - An FBI team arrived in Saudi Arabia on Thursday to help the Saudis investigate the suicide attacks that killed 34 people this week, including eight Americans.

The six-member team will aid, not run the investigation, a U.S. diplomat said.

"Saudi Arabia is a sovereign country and this is their investigation," the embassy official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Whatever investigation is conducted by the FBI, I'm sure the Saudis will be involved in it."

Saudi and U.S. officials have clashed in the past over terror investigations. Some U.S. experts worry the Saudis will limit American access to suspects and evidence, as they did after the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers military dormitory that killed 19 U.S. service members.

The FBI team in the latest al-Qaida terror case was kept small to avoid the perception that U.S. law enforcement officials were taking over, according to FBI officials in Washington.

Intelligence officials had feared an attack was coming, and U.S. Ambassador Robert Jordan said he had tried and failed before Monday to get the Saudis to tighten security around Riyadh compounds where Americans live.

The Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, acknowledged the request in several U.S. television interviews. But he suggested the ambassador had sought security for only one compound - and that Saudi security successfully protected foreigners there.

Traveling with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Europe, a senior U.S. official said Thursday it was up to the Saudi government and the security companies involved to act on such requests.

Saudi officials have been stung by criticism that they did too little to combat militancy ahead of the Sept. 11 attacks, which also were blamed on al-Qaida. The Saudis have taken pains to show unusual openness and determination in the wake of Monday's attacks.

"We are determined to fight them because they are against, not just Americans; they're against Saudis, Arabs, Muslims," Bandar told CNN on Wednesday night. "We are going to go after them until we put an end to this evil cancer."

Foreign Minister Prince Saud revealed Wednesday that 15 Saudis - and not just the nine attacked reported killed - had taken part in the strike and he acknowledged there had been security lapses.

After Sept. 11, it took months for the Saudis to acknowledge that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi.

Reporters in Riyadh have been able to watch the forensic experts at work around the clock, under floodlights at night, poring over the sites and collecting shreds of paper, molten metal items and other debris that could help them piece together what happened and who was responsible.

The official television station carried footage of the targeted sites. Newspaper headlines have used the word "terror" to describe the blasts. And Saudi officials have been quick to volunteer details.

"It's a very significant change in the way they're managing this," said Edward S. Walker, a former U.S. ambassador to Egypt and Israel who also served in Saudi Arabia.

"Saudi Arabia must deal with the fact it has terrorists inside its own country," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "Their presence is as much a threat to Saudi Arabia as it is to Americans."

Crown Prince Abdullah went on national television, vowing to "put an end" to those behind the attacks and to their supporters.

The Saudi interior minister, Prince Nayef, issued a stern warning to extremist clerics.

"We will not remain idle and watch certain religious figures who instigate violence by issuing edicts branding certain people as infidels," he said in an interview Wednesday in the Arab daily Asharq al Awsat. "We will hold them responsible for their words and deeds."

Nayef also said "foreign hands supported the attacks," an apparent reference to theories the attackers were trained in Afghanistan by al-Qaida.

Saudi newspapers, which are privately owned and government guided, carried editorials using unusually harsh language to lash out at extremists who use religion to rally youths to carry out suicide attacks and who impose strict social rules.

Some in the U.S. administration have blamed this strict version of Islam for breeding the likes of Saudi-born Osama bin Laden, head of al-Qaida.

Saudi Arabia's top cleric, Sheik Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Al al-Sheik, was quoted in the Saudi daily Okaz on Wednesday as saying that while the perpetrators might claim to be acting in the name of Islam, Islam has nothing to do with "them and their disgraceful and destructive deeds."

In his news conference, Saud stressed that Saudi Arabia is safer now than before the car bombings. He said the attacks were designed to drive away non-Saudis.

Besides the eight Americans, those killed Monday included seven Saudis, three Filipinos, two Jordanians, and one each from Australia, Britain, Ireland, Lebanon and Switzerland, according to the Interior Ministry. The death toll of 34 includes nine the Saudis have identified as attackers.

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