Al-Qaeda aide surrenders to Saudis during amnesty

AP , RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA

Thu, Jul 15, 2004 - Page 7

A confidant of Osama bin Laden, seen on a videotape with the al-Qaeda chief as he talked about the Sept. 11 terror attacks, surrendered to Saudi diplomats in Iran and was flown to the kingdom.

Khaled bin Ouda bin Mohammed al-Harby, a potentially valuable asset in the war on terror because of his close relationship to bin Laden, was shown on Saudi TV Tuesday being pushed in a wheelchair through the Riyadh airport.

Al-Harby is the most important figure to surface under a Saudi amnesty promising to spare the lives of militants who turn themselves in.

"Thank God, thank God ... I called the embassy and we were very well-received," al-Harby told Saudi TV in the airport terminal. "I have come obeying God, and obeying the [kingdom's] rulers."

Al-Harby -- also known as Abu Suleiman al-Makky -- is considered a sounding board for the al-Qaeda chief, rather than an operational planner for his terror network, a US counterterrorism official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Another US official said al-Harby was not a senior member of al-Qaeda. The official, who declined to be identified, called him "an aging mujahideen."

The Interior Ministry did not say what al-Harby is wanted for, but a Saudi security official said he is an al-Qaeda member.

Mansour al-Nogaidan, a Riyadh journalist and former militant, said al-Harby appeared on a videotape released in November 2001 in which bin Laden described the planning of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Al-Nogaidan said al-Harby was disabled in both legs while fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. He used to preach in a mosque in Mecca, but left Saudi Arabia for Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.

In a statement, the Interior Ministry said al-Harby contacted the Saudi Embassy in Tehran from the Iranian-Afghan border, where he was stranded. It was not disclosed what al-Harby was wanted for, and his name does not appear on the kingdom's list of 26 most-wanted militants.

Some al-Qaeda operatives close to bin Laden -- notably Khalid Shaikh Mohammed -- have provided vital intelligence to US officials seeking top terror suspects and clues to attack plots.