Thu, May 15, 2003 - Page 1 News List

FBI joins hunt for Saudi bombing suspects

REUTERS , RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA

American FBI agents headed to Saudi Arabia yesterday to join Saudi troops hunting for suspects who Riyadh has vowed will be sorry for masterminding triple suicide bombings that killed 34 people in the kingdom earlier this week.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal promised on US morning television to find those behind the suicide bombings in Riyadh which killed at least seven Americans and the US has been blamed on al-Qaeda.

The Monday night blasts gutted housing complexes for foreigners in what was the first major attack on US targets since the US waged war on Iraq to stamp out terror and oust former president Saddam Hussein.

"Whatever success they [al-Qaeda] think they have achieved they will be sorry for, because this country is now united against them in every way," Prince Saud said in an interview on NBC's Today show.

US President George W. Bush said the bombing meant the war on terror launched after Sept. 11 was far from over.

"We've destroyed about one half of al-Qaeda, the top operators of al-Qaeda, and that's good. But we've got more work to do," Bush said.

An FBI spokesman in Washington said a team of agents had already left for Saudi Arabia. Saudi officials said the prime suspects in the blasts were a group of 19 al-Qaeda suspects, who disappeared in Riyadh last week after a shootout with police.

A high-level Saudi security official said the army was erecting checkpoints all over the vast desert kingdom.

"We believe this group is behind the terrorist attack and suspect that they have links to al-Qaeda," he said.

Officials and terror experts said the attacks bore all the hallmarks of Saudi-born Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

The British Foreign Office said after the blasts there was a "high threat" of further attacks against Western interests in Saudi Arabia, possibly involving chemical or biological weapons. It said two of its citizens were missing and 15 were injured.

The US ambassador to the kingdom, Robert Jordan, criticized the Saudi authorities for not responding quickly to recent US requests for more security at the attacked compounds.

He also said the kingdom had a "long way to go" to ending terror attacks against foreigners.

"I do believe the crown prince ... is sincere," he told NBC's Today show. "Executing their plan to provide additional security is another matter."

A US diplomat in Riyadh said the embassy would lay on evacuation flights for any of the 40,000 or so Americans living in the king-dom. The State Department also told dependants and non-essential staff at US missions in the kingdom to leave.

But many Western firms said they had no plans to walk away from the lucrative business to be had in the world's biggest oil exporter.

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