Fri, Dec 17, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Al-Qaeda inmates claim delighted with detention


Al-Qaeda supporters detained in Saudi Arabia have appeared in a TV documentary about al-Haer jail, 40km south of the Saudi capital, Riyadh, and delivered rave reviews of life inside.

"I swear to God, they [the jailers] are nicer than our parents," said Othman al-Amri, once No.21 on the kingdom's list of most-wanted terror suspects.

The program, broadcast on Saudi TV late on Monday, included brief footage from inside the jail, showing clean facilities and beds lined next to one another.

It signaled a new effort by the authorities to encourage militants to give themselves up and to allay suspicions that they would be ill-treated if they did so. But persuading them to opt for al-Haer may prove difficult.

In September at least 67 prisoners died and 20 others were injured, along with three guards, when fire swept through part of the jail.

Five British expatriates were detained in al-Haer after being wrongly accused of causing explosions in 2000. The men gave televised confessions, which they later said were extracted after days of sleep deprivation and beatings.

Amnesty International, which has been denied access to Saudi Arabia for years, said it could not be certain about conditions in al-Haer, but "this does on the face of it look like a public relations exercise."

"Reports of torture in Saudi prisons and police stations are common," a spokesman said.

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