Prince Nayef bin Abdel Aziz confirmed that “a number of people were arrested some days ago and today in Medina” as officials intensified their hunt for extremists, the official Saudi Press Agency quoted the minister as saying.
Nayef did not elaborate on the arrests nor did he mention the capture of any members of the al-Qaida terrorist network, saying Saudi officials want to “wait a little bit before giving details so that [the information] is comprehensive,” according to the Saudi Press report.
Saudi and U.S. officials have accused al-Qaida, led by Saudi-born exile Osama bin Laden, of planning the suicide attacks on three residential compounds which house mostly foreigners in Riyadh. The attacks killed 25 residents and guards, along with the nine suicide bombers, and wounded some 200 others.
Several news agencies offered varying reports of Wednesday’s announced arrests.
The New York Times, Reuters, the BBC, and the Saudi daily Al-Watan newspaper — each citing unnamed Saudi officials and witnesses — said that at least three alleged al-Qaida members were arrested in an Internet cafe in the holy city of Medina.
Those arrested included Ali Abd al-Rahman al-Faqasi al-Ghamdi, a suspected al-Qaida member and the alleged architect of the Riyadh bombings, the news agencies reported. Saudi police surrounded the area and detained the three men without a fight, Al-Watan quoted witnesses as saying. U.S. officials have accused al-Ghamdi of being one of al-Qaida’s top officials operating in Saudi Arabia.
Al-Ghamdi was listed among 19 men wanted in connection with a huge weapons stash discovered May 6 near the site of the Riyadh bombings. The 19 men allegedly received direct orders from Osama bin Laden and were planning to use the arms to attack Saudi royal family members and U.S. and British interests, the Associated Press reported. The latest arrests come ten days after Saudi authorities detained four others allegedly linked to the bombings.
Since the May 12 attacks, Saudi authorities have detained nearly 100 people as part of a massive crackdown on suspected extremists, the AP reported.
Despite news of the arrests, U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Robert Jordan told reporters in Riyadh on Wednesday that concerns about the threat of future attacks on Western and American interests in the oil-rich nation remain high.
Jordan also warned that al-Qaida remained “a very real and persistent threat here in the kingdom.”
“There are very likely others out there planning parallel activities, perhaps not even in direct communication with each other. And so our concern about the threat level goes far beyond the ability of one or two who may have escaped the attack of May 12 to carry out something else,” Jordan said.
Jordan praised the Saudi investigators’ cooperation with the U.S. as “superb,” adding Washington did not plan to interfere with the ongoing Saudi investigation.
“We have great confidence the Saudis will bring to justice in a forceful way those who are guilty of the crimes that have been committed here,” Jordan said.
Jordan also said the U.S. was not involved in Saudi plans to seek the extradition of Saudi nationals suspected to be al-Qaida members connected to the Riyadh bombings who are allegedly hiding out in Iran. Iran has denied charges it is harboring al-Qaida members.