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Saudi Amnesty for Militants Ends - 2004-07-23


Midnight Thursday marked the end of a month-long amnesty offered to militants in Saudi Arabia to surrender to authorities. Only six suspected militants took advantage of the offer with the last two giving themselves up just hours before the deadline.

Saudi state media reported that Fayez al-Khashman al-Dosari gave himself up in the western Saudi resort city of Taif, hours before the royal amnesty ended. And Saudi TV showed the return to Saudi Arabia of Fozan al-Fozan who, it said, had surrendered to authorities at the Saudi embassy in Syria.

The month long amnesty ended with only a handful of suspected militants responding to the royal call for militants to surrender.

When announcing the amnesty last June 23, Crown Prince Abdullah said all those affiliated with what he described as "this group which has wronged itself and who were not captured" would be exempt from government retribution if they surrendered. But, he said, those surrendering would have to answer to family members who have suffered or died in the militant violence wracking the kingdom for the last 14 months.

The clause that family members could ask for the death penalty to be applied to those who surrendered could be one of the reasons so few suspected militants accepted the offer, says Roger Harrison, a Saudi-based journalist for the Arab News.

"I don't think anyone seriously expected al-Qaida to take too much advantage of it because the only thing they are going to save themselves is prosecution from the state, not retribution by the relatives of those whom they have killed or damaged," he said.

Ambassador Abdullah Al-Ashaal, a former Egyptian diplomat to the Kingdom agrees that uncertainties about what might happen to those who surrendered explained why so few people accepted the amnesty.

"Perhaps they are waiting to see how the surrendering persons are going to be treated by the authorities; they don't know also whether this is going to end the cause, or the Saudi authorities [are] going to be flexible also, concerning their demands," he added.

Al-Qaida and affiliated groups are blamed for the 14 months of violence that has wracked Saudi Arabia, with suicide bombings against foreigners, state institutions and the oil industry. Nearly 90 policemen and civilians, many of them foreigners, have been killed in the violence.

Saudi leaders had been warning the militants ahead of the amnesty's end to accept it, or face an unprecedented military crackdown. Mr. Harrison, the Arab News reporter, says there are no signs of an immediate crackdown, but that he does expect one soon because of what he calls pressures of saving face, and U.S. accusations that Saudi Arabia should be doing more to stem militant groups.

"There are no obvious signs but for sure the Saudi authorities have put themselves out in a position of losing face if they don't follow up on their word," he added. "Couple that with the sense of honor which is very important in this country in terms of personal, and honor for the state, and against the worldwide, bad publicity for Saudi Arabia in its war on terrorism, and I think you have the elements for retribution on a big scale."

Under pressure from the United States, Saudi Arabia has been on a campaign to eradicate militant groups. In clashes Tuesday, security men killed two suspected al-Qaida members at a shootout at a house in the capital, Riyadh. Inside the house they recovered the severed head of American Paul Johnson, who was executed on June 18 by militants linked to al-Qaida.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States were originally from Saudi Arabia. On Thursday the bipartisan commission looking into the September 11 terror attacks on the United States issued its long-awaited report. Among its findings was that while high-level Saudi Arabian officials cooperated with U.S. diplomatic initiatives before the attacks, al-Qaida, the group blamed for those attacks, was able to raise money in Saudi Arabia from individuals and charities.

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