Tue, Jun 15, 2004 - Page 7 News List

New kidnapping fuels US fears over Saudi security

`MORE TO DO' The US secretary of state said he was satisfied with the kingdom's responsiveness but hopes for more cooperation as senators voiced graver doubts

AFP , RIYADH

Paul Johnson and his wife Noon are pictured in this undated family photo released by his son at a press conference in Port St. Johns, Florida, on Sunday. Johnson, apparently was abducted by al-Qaida-linked militants in Saudi Arabia.

PHOTO: AP

Saudi authorities yesterday sought elusive Al-Qaeda killers who kidnapped a US national after Washington said that the kingdom was facing a grave threat.

The kingdom has appeared powerless to halt a wave of attacks which have seen three Westerners killed in a week and a US national kidnapped in the capital.

Security forces are tracking the militants, but since three of four men who left a trail of bodies behind at the end of May escaped with official blessing, they have repeatedly been outwitted.

The security failures were picked up in Washington, where strong comments were aired suggesting the Saudi regime's survival was in danger.

"The Saudis know that this is an enemy that is coming after them. The killing of foreigners, whether they're Americans or Brits or what are they, is a direct attack against the Saudi regime," Secretary of State Colin Powell said.

"The Saudis now know that they have a very serious problem within the kingdom, and they know that it's going to require all their resources, not only their military and police resources," he said. "I am satisfied with what they have done so far," he said, then added, "I think there is more that they can do."

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice also spoke out about the determination of al-Qaeda to strike at Saudi Arabia.

But comments from senators were the most cutting.

"I think it's a very dangerous situation for Saudi Arabia. I'm not sure they're equipped to handle it," said Senator John Rockefeller of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee.

"I don't think psychologically over their 70-year history they've been equipped to handle this kind of attack. So I worry a lot about their future."

Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, the committee's Republican chairman, said: "If they were doing everything they should be doing, they wouldn't have the problem. The terrorists understand that if they attack the oil infrastructure, that really presents a problem for the United States."

Six prominent religious figures on Monday strongly condemned the attacks against non-Muslims.

On June 4, Saudi Arabia's highest Muslim authority issued a religious edict calling on both citizens and expatriates to inform on suspected Islamist extremists.

The United States has urged Americans to leave the country and has allowed nonessential diplomatic staff and their families to go elsewhere.

Statements posted on Islamist websites in the name of Saudi-born Osama bin Laden's terror network took responsibility for Saturday's murder of a US national and first reported a case of kidnapping of "an American, a Christian, Paul M. Johnson Jr., born in 1955 and working as an aeronautics engineer."

Okaz newspaper reported yesterday that a syringe had been found at the kidnapping site, suggesting that Johnson had been drugged.

On Tuesday, another American who worked for Vinnell Corp, which helps train the Saudi National Guard, was killed at his home in Riyadh.

One Islamist website posted grisly video footage, attributed to an Al-Qaeda cell, claiming responsibility and describing the victim as "American Jew Robert Jacobs, who worked for the spy group Vinnell."

It shows the body of a Western-dressed man hitting the ground as some 10 gunshots ring out and one of two assailants appears to slit the victim's throat.

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