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Saudis Hand Over 3 Americans with Suspected Terror Links - 2003-10-14

Saudi Arabia says it has handed over to the United States at least three American nationals wanted for possible links with terrorists. The Saudi government also is cracking down on suspected Muslim militants and tightening border security.

Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef said the men were all Americans suspected of having links to terrorist groups. He would not elaborate beyond saying they were, in his words, wanted in cases related to the United States.

The Saudi government also said it has arrested scores of Muslim militants. Mr. Nayef, in an issued statement, said all those who were arrested are suspected of belonging to al-Qaida, the terror organization the United States blames for the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York and near Washington.

U.S. officials have complained the Saudi government is still not doing enough to eradicate al-Qaida and other terrorist cells. But Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Saud Al Faisal, dismissed such complaints as "ridiculous."

He is quoted by the Associated Press as saying, "the truth is that we are perhaps the most active country now fighting terrorism on the international scene."

Saudi authorities say about 200 people have been detained in the crackdowns on suspected Muslim militants, and at least 10 have been killed in clashes with security forces. They say they have increased border security, and coordinated efforts with neighboring countries to prevent wanted militants from escaping.

International Law Professor Abdullah Al Ashaal served for eight years as a diplomat in Saudi Arabia. He says the Saudi campaign against the militants is an effort to counter Western criticism, as well as one to protect itself.

"Saudi Arabia is confined with some criteria, and some conditions to absorb the pressures of the West, and especially the United States, and as we know now Saudi Arabia is targeted by many circles in the United States," he said. "In addition to that, Saudi Arabia's government is in line with a new idea: that the terrorists are also hitting Saudi Arabia itself, and extremists are a danger for everybody, so they are facing the extremists in Saudi Arabia."

Mr. Al Ashaal sees a direct link between Saudi Arabia's crackdown on militants and the government's announcement Monday that it plans limited local elections sometime in an unspecified future. Elections of any kind, says Mr. Al Ashaal, the author of five books on the Arab Gulf, is a way to expand freedom of expression now lacking in the Kingdom, which critics say has made Saudi Arabia fertile ground for extremism.