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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 February, 2005, 12:46 GMT
Saudis to name attack suspects
By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs correspondent, BBC News website

Saudi Arabia has authorised British diplomats to release the names of the chief suspects to the British victims of al-Qaeda linked attacks in the country.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud: "evolutionary change."

A senior British official said that all such attacks going back at least 18 months had been linked to a group which, as he put it, had the "al-Qaeda franchise" in Saudi Arabia.

Within a few weeks, the official is expected to brief the BBC correspondent Frank Gardner who was shot and wounded by gunmen, Louise Bevan, widow of BBC cameraman Simon Cumbers, shot dead in the same incident and Penelope Hamilton, widow of businessman Michael Hamilton, who was killed last May.

The move is part of a wider effort by Saudi Arabia to present itself as a reliable ally in the war on terrorism.

Confidence

It also appears to be the result of a growing confidence among Saudi authorities that they have made inroads into the al-Qaeda network.

Their operations resulted in a raid in December in which seven important suspects were killed. It is not known at the moment whether the suspects in the attacks on the Britons were among them.

The move is part of a wider effort by Saudi Arabia to present itself as a reliable ally in the war on terrorism.

The British diplomat said that the militants numbered possibly a few hundred.

But they had been countered effectively by a new anti-terrorist unit led by Prince Mohammed bin Naif, the son of the interior minister.

The Saudi activists had initially resisted demands from their al-Qaeda superiors outside the country for stepped up attacks, the official said. The Saudi militants felt the moment was not right.

However al-Qaeda leaders had insisted on action and the fears of the internal fighters had been realized because they had become isolated and vulnerable.

Co-operation

The Saudis are much more ready these days to share and seek information from other countries.

Scotland Yard anti-terrorist detectives are now stationed in the British Embassy in Riyadh, the official said. "There is excellent cooperation now," he said.

This contrasts with the situation when the FBI had great trouble in finding out who the Saudis thought was behind the bombing of the Khobar Towers residential complex in 1996. At that time, the Saudis were secretive and defensive.

The attacks of 11 September 2001 changed all that. Many of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia and since then the Saudi royal family has taken steps to try to outflank the extremists.

Saudi reforms

To help explain that effort, the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal bin Abdel Aziz was in London for an event at the Foreign Office on Wednesday with the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

Prince Saud explained the reforms now being undertaken in Saudi Arabia - including recent elections to municipal authorities, a vote for women in the next elections in four years and an expanded national shura or council.

He said that extremist preachers had been removed from mosques and that imans in Mecca and Medina "always preach tolerance now".

Asked whether the pace of change was too slow, given that Iraqis and Palestinians had held elections, he said that reforms "must be evolutionary and must meet the needs of our people and maintain the social fabric".

Prince Saud criticised the West for expecting too much too soon and pointed out that the vote for women in many western countries had taken centuries to achieve.

He also attacked the "obstinacy of Israel" and the "long chain of broken promises" to Palestinians by western countries for fomenting unrest and extremism in the region.

'Humility'

Mr Straw accepted that European countries had to show "humility" in asking for change.

But in carefully written phrases, Mr Straw also made it clear that change was needed in Saudi Arabia.

"The challenge to Saudi Arabia and others is to adapt while preserving all that is good," he said.


SEE ALSO:
Obituary: Simon Cumbers
07 Jun 04 |  UK
Profile: Frank Gardner
07 Jun 04 |  UK


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