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Saudi Arabia Says Amnesty Won't Be Extended - 2004-07-13

Saudi Arabia's Interior Minister Prince Nayef says the 30-day amnesty for militants who turn themselves in will not be extended. Observers in the country say they expect the government to come down hard on suspected militants once the deadline expires.

Prince Nayef told journalists that hundreds of suspected militants are being held in Saudi custody. He says some of those who are being held participated in violent crimes and will be prosecuted. He says the Saudi government prefers to release as many suspects as possible, if investigations do not justify their continued detention.

The official Saudi Press Agency, SPA, says Prince Nayef made the remarks after a Monday evening meeting of the country's shura, or consultative council, which focused on violence in the Kingdom. According to the agency, Prince Nayef also said the 30-day amnesty will not be extended.

Saudi King Fahd on June 23 offered an amnesty to militants who turn themselves in within one month and renounce violence. So far, only two have done so.

Crown Prince Abdullah has warned the country's militants to take advantage of the amnesty or face harsh retribution.

Saudi Arabia has been fighting a wave of extremist Muslim violence aimed mostly at oil installations, government offices and foreign workers. Dozens of policemen and civilians have been killed since the violence erupted in May 2003.

From his Jeddah-based office, reporter Roger Harrison has been following the violence and the response to the amnesty. He says the Saudi Kingdom is likely to strike hard at suspected militants once the deadline has passed.

"I think that the Saudi authorities will most certainly enforce what they have said," he said. "They will not extend it, it will be the end of the amnesty and I have every belief that they will then take quite drastic actions on the remaining terrorists because I'm pretty sure their information is good and their sources at ground level are sufficiently widespread and in depth that they know a lot more of what's going on than most people suspect."

Mr. Harrison, a senior reporter for the English language Saudi daily, Arab News, says even if the militants escape justice they still have to face the wrath of the families of their victims.

"The state has stepped aside in the amnesty and has said 'well, if you give yourselves up, you'll get no trouble from us, in terms of the death penalty, but you will still have to face the relatives on the sharia law and, if they choose to inflict the death penalty, it will be carried out,'" he said.

Prince Nayef said in a written statement he hopes many more suspected militants will surrender as the amnesty deadline nears.

An al-Qaida newsletter published two weeks ago predicted what it called "utter failure of this attempt to stop the holy war."