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Saudi Officials Admit Country Has Been Too Lax on Extremists - 2003-05-18

A top Saudi official acknowledges his country has been too lax on extremists, and says it is now taking a stronger stand. The comments come as authorities in the Saudi capital announced the arrest of four suspects in connection with last week's bombings in Riyadh.

The Saudi government is defending its record on fighting terrorism, trying to counter criticism in the United States.

On the Sunday after the Riyadh bombings, the crown prince's foreign policy advisor appeared on several U.S. television interview programs. Adel Al-Jubeir stressed Saudi Arabia is committed to the war on terrorism.

But during an appearance on Fox News Sunday, he also acknowledged the kingdom has been lax in dealing with extremists. He said the government is changing course, and quoted Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah as saying so.

"We will go after the terrorists, those who support them, those who condone them. He issued a warning to anyone who uses religion to justify such acts, and he described anyone who does so as a partner to the terrorists who will suffer their fate," Mr. Al-Jubier said.

He spoke shortly before Saudi Arabia announced the arrests of four suspects in the bombings. More than 60 investigators from the United States are now in Riyadh to work on the case. Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef has indicated they will have a limited role.

But on CNN's Late Edition, Mr. Al-Jubeir offered a contradictory view, saying the Americans will be far more than observers.

"This is a partnership," he said. "We both are targets of al-Qaida, and we both have an interest in arriving at the truth, finding the perpetrators who did this, bringing them to justice and punishing them severely."

Nonetheless, some members of the U.S. Congress remain skeptical. California Congresswoman Jane Harmon, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told NBC's Meet the Press that the Saudis ignored U.S warnings. She argued the Riyadh bombings could have been prevented.

"We know that there was a massive security failure. And despite repeated warnings by U.S. intelligence, the Saudis did not take adequate measures," he said.

On ABC's This Week, Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss said he believes Saudi officials are serious when they say they want to take a stronger stand against extremists. But the Florida Republican said they may not be up to the tough task ahead.

"I do believe the cooperation has taken on new meaning, and we see a commitment to do a better job in Saudi Arabia," he said. "But I think, something more important is at stake, and that is, I am not sure they have the competence yet to deal with the kind of problems they have in the kingdom."

Mr. Goss was also asked about possible links between the Saudi bombings and recent acts of terrorism in Morocco and Chechnya. He said it is too early to draw any linkage, except to say they were all acts of what he called "man-made mayhem driven by hatred."