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Senior al-Qaida Operative Captured in Saudi Arabia - 2003-06-27

Officials in Saudi Arabia say a suspected mastermind of the suicide bombings in May that killed 35 people in Riyadh, nine of them U.S. nationals, is now in custody.

Saudi officials say they have detained the alleged mastermind of the May 12 car bombs, which ripped apart buildings and homes inhabited by Americans in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia's capital. The suicide bombings left 35 people dead, including U.S. and Saudi nationals.

U.S. officials have identified the suspect, Ali Abd al-Rahman al-Faqasi al-Ghamdi, also known as Abu Bakr, as one of the most senior Saudi-based operatives in Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network.

They say Mr. Ghamdi was arrested Thursday in Saudi Arabia and that he had been plotting more attacks on U.S. targets in the kingdom. The U.S. officials say the capture of Mr. Ghamdi will greatly hamper al-Qaida's operations in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi newspaper Okaz quoted Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef as saying Friday that Mr. Ghamdi had surrendered to Saudi authorities in the country's Red Sea port city of Jedda.

In the newspaper, the minister called on all wanted suspects to give themselves up, because he said that is the only way for them.

Dr. Halla Mustapha is an expert on Muslim militancy and a consultant for Al Ahram's Center for Political and Strategic Studies. Despite some continued popular support for Muslim militants in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, Dr. Mustapha says, governments in those countries are cracking down on the militants to save themselves.

"It is part of the fear of the governments to be attacked by these armed groups, it is not just done because of the U.S. and [its] policy against terrorism, but this is part of their domestic affairs and fears," she said.

Since the Riyadh attacks last month, Saudi authorities have stepped up a campaign to rein in suspected militants.

Interior Minister Prince Nayef said in the Saudi newspaper report that police have arrested nearly 50 suspects with links to both the May 12 attacks and another terrorist plot in the holy Muslim City of Mecca that was foiled by authorities in a June 14 raid.