July 10, 2005

Saudi Arabia says ready to beat militants from Iraq

By Dominic Evans

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi militants returning from Iraq will
be even tougher than the veterans of Afghanistan but the
kingdom, which is battling a two-year wave of al Qaeda
violence, is ready to defeat them, a senior minister said.

"We expect the worst from those who went to Iraq," Interior
Minister Prince Nayef said in remarks published on Sunday.
"They will be worse, and we will be ready for them."

Many of the Saudi militants who have carried out suicide
bombings and attacks in the world's biggest oil exporter since
May 2003 either fought Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan
in the 1980s or were trained in camps a decade later.

But a new generation of young Saudis drawn to the
insurgency in neighboring Iraq could return home armed with
even deadlier combat skills. U.S. officials warned last month
that Iraq is producing better trained militants than

Analysts say thousands of Saudis may have gone to Iraq to
fight U.S. forces and the Iraqi government they helped create.
Saudi officials dispute the numbers, but acknowledge the

Former intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal has said
only 100 to 150 Saudis had gone to Iraq, and that another 30
had been sent back to Saudi Arabia by Syria -- a main transit
point for foreign fighters heading for Iraq.

"The Saudis cannot stop these people going to Iraq," said
Gulf-based security analyst Mustafa Alani, who estimates the
number of Saudis who have gone to Iraq is in the thousands.
"And when you export potential terrorists, they will come back
as mature terrorist to your society."

"But Saudi Arabia now is different to two or three years
ago -- they believe if these people come back, they are


Two weeks ago Saudi authorities issued a new list of 36
most wanted militants it said were involved in recent attacks.
Unlike previous lists, more than half those named were believed
to be outside the country.

Alani said the latest list is a "counter-attack" to prevent
a new wave of militants establishing itself after the killing
and detention of senior al Qaeda operatives in the kingdom.

"There is no comparison between the old lists and the new.
The people on the old lists were so dangerous. The new ones are
just not known," said Mohsen Awajy, an Islamist lawyer who has
tried to mediate between the government and militants.

Al Qaeda had been "functionally eliminated" in Saudi Arabia
over the last year but anger over Muslim casualties in Iraq,
Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories would provoke more
attacks at home and around the world, Awajy said.

Younis al-Hayyari, a Moroccan at the top of last month's
wanted list, was killed in a fierce gun battle in Riyadh one
week ago. Another Saudi suspect flew back to Riyadh and
surrendered to authorities three days after the list was

Saudi Arabia said on Saturday it had been told by Yemen
that a third suspected militant, a Yemeni national, has been in
detention in Yemen for some time under a different name.

Security sources say another two or three Saudis named on
the list were killed in Iraq several months ago and another may
be being held by Kurds in northern Iraq.

Militant attacks in Saudi Arabia have killed 91 foreigner
nationals and Saudi civilians in the last two years and wounded
510 others, Prince Turki said last month.

Forty one security force members have been killed and 218
wounded, while 112 militants have been killed and 25 wounded.