Qaeda threat remains, says Saudi Arabia
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia said on Wednesday it had struck a hefty blow against al Qaeda by killing its leader in the kingdom but the threat of militant violence remained in the world’s largest oil exporter.
Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal vowed the kingdom would do all it could to ensure the safety of the thousands of Westerners who form a crucial part of the workforce and whom al Qaeda has vowed to expel from the birthplace of Islam.
“Getting rid of one cell doesn’t mean this issue is over,” the minister told a news conference in Jeddah. “It is a strong blow but when the danger is over we will announce it”.
Saudi forces killed al Qaeda’s leader in the kingdom Abdulaziz al-Muqrin along with three other prominent militants on Friday, hours after they beheaded U.S. hostage Paul Johnson. Al Qaeda, which has waged a year-long campaign of violence targeting Westerners, government sites and oil workers, has vowed its jihad (holy struggle) will continue. Recent killings of Western expatriates in the capital Riyadh and the oil hubs of Yanbu and Khobar have prompted some foreigners to leave Saudi Arabia. But Prince Saud said he was not aware of any large exodus of expatriates, adding Saudi Arabia was determined to protect them.
“This country will do its utmost to protect the (foreign) residents just like we protect our own people,” he said. Asked if large numbers of foreigners were leaving he said: “I haven’t heard this. It’s more likely that they are fleeing the summer heat rather than the danger of terrorism.”
Anger exploited: The United States and Britain, who have about 65,000 citizens living in Saudi Arabia, have warned their nationals to leave or avoid travelling to the kingdom. Both have warned of the possibility of more attacks.
Britain’s Daily Telegraph, in a report published on Wednesday, said a 25-strong team of special forces had been dispatched to Riyadh to help guard the British embassy. It said the troops would draft a plan to evacuate the 30,000 Britons in Saudi Arabia if necessary.
At least 85 civilians and police have been killed in Saudi Arabia by militant supporters of al Qaeda, which carried out the September 2001 attacks on U.S. cities.
In one of the bloodiest attacks by Osama bin Laden’s group, militants masquerading as security men killed 22 civilians in a May shooting and hostage-taking spree in the oil city of Khobar.
Prince Saud denied there was hostility to Westerners in Saudi Arabia but said militants were exploiting popular anger at U.S. policy in the Middle East and its occupation of neighbouring Iraq to justify their actions.
He also conceded that many in the kingdom, which practices a puritan form of Islam, did not want to see “practices (common) in the international community” in Saudi Arabia, in apparent reference to calls for reform from the West. But he said this should not be confused with hostility. “I think it’s anger and not hatred in this country towards the policy followed by the United States regarding the Middle East and Israel,” he said.
“The anger that Saudis are feeling is not any less than the anger of other people in the world.” Prince Saud also warned the kingdom would not give any ground to the militants.
“The only way to deal with terrorism is to confront it because if they feel they have succeeded, they will carry out more attacks, not only hostage-taking,” he said. reuters