August 15, 1996 in Nation/World

Six Reportedly Confess To Bombing U.S. Base Saudis, U.S. Embassy Mum On Arrest Of Muslim Militants

Anwar Faruqi Associated Press
 

Six Muslim militants have confessed to the truck bombing that killed 19 U.S. servicemen in Saudi Arabia, a Saudi opposition figure said Wednesday, but he predicted it would be weeks before authorities announce the details.

The U.S. Embassy and Saudi officials in the kingdom refused to comment Wednesday on the report by a Saudi opposition group and have released no details on the inquiry into the June 25 blast at a U.S. military housing complex in eastern Saudi Arabia near Dhahran.

Saad al-Fagih, head of the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia, said from his exile base in London that the six Muslim militant suspects were imprisoned in Jubail, a port city 50 miles northwest of Dhahran.

He said the men who confessed were among “hundreds” detained for questioning since the bombing seven weeks ago.

Fagih cited unidentified Saudi security and Interior Ministry sources and predicted the Saudi government would announce the arrests “in a few weeks.”

His account could not be independently confirmed.

In Washington, a Clinton administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Tuesday night that an unknown number of people had been detained for questioning. The official said it was not known whether Saudi investigators had made any formal arrests.

Saudi authorities have a long history of eliciting confessions, but government opponents and human rights organizations say suspects are sometimes tortured and their statements are not necessarily reliable.

After a car bombing last November that killed five Americans at a U.S.-run military complex in Riyadh, the capital, four Saudi men were arrested and gave televised confessions, saying they were influenced by militant Muslim groups elsewhere.

U.S. officials were not allowed to question the men before they were beheaded in May. U.S. officials have said they would like greater access to suspects in this case.

U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry met with Saudi King Fahd only days after the June bombing and said it was his understanding that U.S. investigators would be allowed to interrogate anyone arrested.

In the June bombing, witnesses said they saw at least two men flee the scene in a white Chevrolet Caprice Classic. Given the size of the bomb, authorities suspect that others were involved in the attack as well.

Fagih said several of the six suspects received military training in Afghanistan, where Muslim militants fought with Afghan rebels to overthrow a Soviet-allied regime. Many of the “Arab Afghans” have returned to their homelands with ambitions of toppling their own governments.

Osama bin Laden, a billionaire leader of the Arab Afghans, was stripped of his Saudi citizenship in 1994 after being accused of financing subversion. Last month, he told The Independent newspaper of London that he opposes the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia. But he denied any personal responsibility for the Dhahran bombing.

Fagih’s group, the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia, also opposes the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia. The group does not openly advocate the overthrow of the Saudi monarchy. It says it’s a non-violent group that wants “freedom of expression and assembly.


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