Rob L. Wagner روب لستر واقنر

Saudi Gazette

Fair Trials of Saudi Detainees in Doubt

By Sabria S. Jawhar and Rob L. Wagner

The Saudi Gazette (2005)

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia – The detention and pending criminal trials of at least 30 Saudis in Iraq has raised the prickly issue of whether Iraq’s fledgling judicial system can legally try suspected insurgents without an adopted constitution or clearly defined judicial rules on adult and minor defendants.

At least 30 Saudis are waiting for Iraqi defense and interior ministry authorities to put the finishing touches on prosecution documents that will put them on trial that ultimately will send them to prison or deportation, Al-Watan, the Arabic language daily newspaper, reported in its Wednesday edition.

What s unclear is whether the detainees have legal representation and have a fair trial while a final draft of a constitution remains undecided.

Iraqi officials, however, say the detainees are dealt with according to the evidences available at the Prosecution Commission. If it s proved that any person is not involved in any crime he is released immediately.

Iraqi authorities asserted that trials are subject to several procedures beginning with investigating the accused person, collecting evidence, and having him tried in a proper court.

But Saudi lawyer Khalid Abu Rashed, deputy chief of the International Organization of Justice in Paris, questioned the credibility of the Saudi detainees trial in Iraq. He said Saudi Arabia does not have any diplomatic representation in Iraq to make sure that they have all of their rights according to the international standard during the trial.

We don t know even whether they had the chance to defend themselves or not, he said. It is all mysterious.

Abu Rashed said the Iraqi constitution has not been finalized and no one knows exactly according to which law the detainees have been judged.

He said that according to many Arabic and international laws the legal age for responsibility is 21. According to that law, detainees like 20-year-old Saudi national Khudhair Abdullah Mahmood are underage. The Iraq court sentenced Khudhair Abdullah Mahmood to life imprisonment after he was convicted of illegally entering the country and helping terrorists carrying out attacks.

Abu Rashed said the international organizations of human rights are responsible for checking whether youths have a fair trial.

Dr. Waheed Hashim, a Saudi political analyst and a columnist, agreed that it s the human rights organizations duty to investigate the credibility of criminal trial procedures. However, he believes that being 20 years old is not underage and that a man at this age is responsible for his behavior.

However, he said if it has been truly proved that youths were involved in any violent activity in Iraq, they should not be excluded from the consequences of the law because they are Saudis.

He said despite the violence, Iraq still has its own civil law that deals with such cases and that has nothing to do with the country s unapproved constitution. Yet an absence of transparency in the legal system of all Arabic countries that makes such trials suspect.

In the Arabic world, the judicial system is not transparent and no one can know why this person was arrested, how was he investigated or how did the trial go on, he said, The Judicial system is blind everywhere even in the US.

Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki, spokesman of the Ministry of Interior, blamed the absence of official communication channels between the Saudi Ministry of Interior and the Iraqi government for the lack of accurate information about the Saudi detainees. Saudi Arabia has no diplomatic relations with Iraq due to security issues.

The lack of official channels makes it difficult for us to get accurate information about the Saudi detainees and their cases, he said. We don t know even the circumstances under which they have been detained.

The Ministry of Interior recently released a number of Saudis returning from Iraq. These returnees went to Iraq and returned or were detained in neighboring countries before entering Iraq.

The releases were made after questioning each individual, said a source to Okaz, the sister publication of Saudi Gazette.

The source said that most of the returnees expressed regret for what they had done.

Saudi Tourists Describe Panic at Sharm El-Sheikh

By Rob L. Wagner and Rawan Radwan

The Saudi Gazette

24 July 2005

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia – Saudi vacationers at Sharm El-Sheikh, the Red Sea resort in Egypt that was rocked by explosions early Saturday that left at least 88 people dead and scores inured, said panic and chaos reigned in the moments after the bombing, but resort personnel and emergency crews responded well.

“We heard an explosion as we were walking back to our hotel at about 1 in the morning,” Saudi Nezar Zawawi told the Saudi Gazette. “And as soon as we heard it, we started running with a large group of people.

“It was crazy, everyone was just running to their hotels but at the same time we saw people running out of the hotels fearing that it would explode,” added Zawawi, who was at Sharm El-Sheikh with his wife, Rana.

Initial news reports said Saudis were among the casualties, along with Russians, Dutch, Kuwaitis, Qataris, Spanish, Egyptians and British citizens.

An Italian tourist was among the dead, the foreign ministry confirmed in Rome. Eight Britons were among the wounded, the Foreign Office said, adding that an emergency team had been sent to Sharm.

The attacks on the popular resort town at the peak of the tourist season were the deadliest in Egypt, topping the 62 people, most of them tourists, killed in Luxor eight years ago.

At least three bomb blasts ripped through a luxury hotel, a nearby car park and a busy market minutes apart shortly after 1 a.m., sending panicked holidaymakers rushing out of bars and clubs on the glitzy Nuama Bay strip.

In the most devastating of the strikes, a suicide bomber rammed his car through the security barrier and into the lobby of the luxury Ghazala Garden hotel, sending chunks of debris fling and killing at least 30, mostly Egyptian staff.

Another bomb hit the famous “Souk Sharm Al-Kadeem” and the third exploded near a road filled with tourists from Europe and Arab countries.

“The manager of the hotel explained to us that everything that can be done to make sure of their safety is being done,” said Rana, Zawawi’s wife. “We’re not going anywhere out of the hotel fearing anything that might happen.”

She added that, “security is tight and police officers are searching all the rooms in the hotel and everyone is packing their belongings and going to the airport. Luggage handlers are searching the bags separately as an airport safety regulation. It’s pretty scary here.”

A Saudi Gazette reporter at the Cairo Airport said Saturday that security at the airport had been severely tightened with multiple checks of identification and increased personnel inside the terminals. Passengers boarding Saudi Arabian Airlines were subjected to lengthy inspections, she said.

Abdul Rahman Hashim, an Egyptian lawyer in Cairo, said that these types of attacks recall the Taba bombing in October.

“Whoever did this is a hopeless person thinking he or she might win something,” Hashim said. “What they don’t know is they’re losing their life for nothing. You only have one life, live it right.”

He said Egyptians condemn the terrorist attacks and he said that the government would seek whoever did this “in order to impart justice.”

“What happened last night is confusing and crazy,” said Mostafa Farghali Hashim, a retired government worker. “Why would they do such a thing? The group claiming the attacks chose this time of year when tourist from all over the world come to spend some vacation time.”

Large number of people head to Sharm El-Sheikh every year in both the summer and winter vacation periods for the area’s reefs, luxury hotels and swimming in the Red Sea.

Young Militants Not Battle-Hardened

By Rob L. Wagner, Maha Sami Aboulola and Shroog Talal Radain

The Saudi Gazette

30 June 2005

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia – Counter-terrorism experts say the 36 suspected militants identified on Saudi Arabia’s new Most Wanted list are “second-tier” Al-Qaeda fighters, but their activities demonstrate the cell’s continued resiliency.

One senior European terrorist expert told Reuters the new list points to the “striking ability of these groups to renew themselves … There is still a large (militant) potential in Saudi Arabia and neighboring states. They story is not yet over.”

The Kingdom’s original Most Wanted list of 26 suspected militants was released in December 2003. Less than two years later all but three have been confirmed as killed or captured. Talib Al-Talib is the only remaining militant from the original list that Saudi officials are sure is still alive and on the run. Abdullah Al-Rashoud was reportedly killed near the Iraqi-Syrian border while battling US forces, although his death remains unconfirmed. And Saleh Al-Awfi, the leader of Al-Qaeda’s Saudi Arabian cell, remains unaccounted for although a terrorist website reported him dead.

While counter-terrorism experts and some Saudi officials marvel at the ability of Al-Qaeda to renew itself after several crushing defeats in battles over the last two years, the second group of alleged terrorist lacks the quality of the first. The new list indicates that Al-Qaeda is struggling to recruit battle-hardened and experienced men.

In addition, the 36 men are relatively young with a median age of 26 years old. Twenty-five of the militants are in their 20s and five as young as 21.

Sheikh Asem Al-Hakeem, from Jafar Al-Tayyar mosque, said, “This group will be wiped out soon just like the previous one. Everything is exposed to the society now and nothing can be hidden.”

“We are very sure that our security forces will finish them and we have faith that they will be excluded from our society sooner than we thought,” Sheikh Ahmed Jielan, a lecturer at Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah, said. “It’s obvious that this network is concerned with the young ages (of these men) because they are easy to affect and fool around with their minds. Old people always think with their minds, but young ones are always dragged with their emotions so it’s easy to play with them.”

Jielan noted that the different nationalities of the suspected militants – from Chad, Morocco, Kuwait and Mauritania – indicate that Saudi Arabia is being targeted from different countries.

“They want to shake the security we have and (they make) Islam (look) bad,” Jielan said. “But they are very ignorant about what Islam is truly about.”

Dr. Fuad Baradah, a political science professor at KAAU, said, “having young ages in this network shows that this age is wanted because they are easy to influence and play with. As for their nationalities, it shows that this slanted thinking comes from other countries as well; they just need fertile minds to plant their ideas and do their actions.”

Saudi security consultant Nawaf Obaid told Reuters that most of the Saudis – who make up 29 of the 36 names on the new list – are “second-tier” militants who had worked under more senior operatives, and most of whom have been killed or captured.

The non-Saudis are wanted by Riyadh, but “also represent a threat in their native countries” because they had gained access to money, logistics and training while in Saudi Arabia, he said.

Saudi analyst Faris Bin Houszam said those militants listed as operating outside Saudi Arabia are most likely to be fighting in Iraq.

“The issue for the government is when those fighters in Iraq return to Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Kuwaiti Moshe Al-Fadli, 24, a man US authorities consider a leader in the Al-Qaeda network in the Gulf region, tops the list as perhaps the most talented, active and experienced of the new list of militants. He is believed to be active in Saudi Arabia and involved in attacks.

In February, the US Treasury Department move to freeze Fadli’s finances, accusing him of providing financial and material support to networks run by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian who is leading the insurgent attacks against Iraqi and Us forces in Iraq.

Al-Fadli is one of 21 people on the list that the Interior Ministry said fled the Kingdom after participating in the attacks.

Houszam said it is likely that many of the 21 have slipped into Iraq to fight alongside those battling Iraqi and US forces.

“In the past, Afghanistan was a refuge,” he said. “Now that has been replaced with Iraq. They have no other place to go.”

Saudis have made up a significant part of the foreign mujahidin in the Iraqi campaign, including some believed to have carried out attacks.

But Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki said the suspects’ current whereabouts could not be ascertained.

“It is very hard to speculate on whether they went to Iraq,” Al-Turki said. “We can’t assume that. Our records show they left the Kingdom, but could be anywhere.”

He said those who are outside the country were involved in terror acts and left before the authorities became aware of their involvement.

The ministry offered rewards of $267,000 for information leading to the arrest of any of the suspects. The reward would be raised to $1.3 million if more than one suspect is arrested and to $1.8 million if a terror act is foiled as a result of the information.

“The new report shows that this network as been here for more than a year and a half,” Al-Turki said. “We haven’t arrested any of them yet, but we will do our best to get them all wiped out just like the previous one.”

Younis Mohammed Al-Hayari, a Moroccan and the only non-Saudi of the 15 thought to be inside the Kingdom, is believed to have been closely associated with Abdul Karim Al-Majati, another Moroccan once wanted by the FBI. Al-Majati was killed in clashes at Al-Rass in April that left 14 other alleged terrorists dead.

“Our assessment is that (Al-Hayari) is now the leader of Al-Qaeda terrorist group in Saudi Arabia,” a security source told Asharq Al-Awsat, an Arabic language daily newspaper in London. “He is highly trained in military combat and was trained in Bosnia.”

The source also added that Al-Hayari “entered the Kingdom with a Bosnian passport, that he is married to a Bosnian woman, and that they have a child together and are both with him.”

Also remaining in Saudi Arabia is Fahd Faraaj Al-Juwair, a 35-year-old who lost two brothers in clashes with Saudi forces last year.

He comes from a family known for its opposition to the Saudi government.

Another significant figure – listed as being abroad – is Saleh Saeed Al-Betaih Al-Ghamdi, a former member of the Saudi military said to have spent time in Afghanistan in the 1990s. Ghamdi is believed to be a mid-level leader of the network, communicating between the top bosses and operatives.

Saudi Arabia has suffered a series of heavy attacks since May 2003 when bombers attacked three housing estates for foreigners in Riyadh.

The following is a list of the most dangerous and high-profile suspected militants:

Mohsen Ayed Fadel Al-Fadli, 25, Kuwaiti: He is being tried in absentia in Kuwait along with 37 suspected militants. The suspected extremists formed a cell called “The Lions of the Peninsula.” The group is accused of killing security men and undermining the Kuwait’s national interests. He was allegedly involved in an attempt to kill individuals belonging to the allied forces. He is believed to be one of the advocates of Jihad thought.

Saleh Saeed Al-Betaih Al-Ghamdi, 40, Saudi: He is believed to be outside the Kingdom. He was born in Al-Baraka village, near Buljurashi. He hasn’t visited his village for more than 20 years. He used to visit his family who settled in Gholail District in Jeddah during the summer vacation. A source close to him said he is aloof and hostile.

Naif Farhan Al-Shemeri, 24, Saudi: Security officials say he is inside Saudi Arabia. A close relative said Al-Shemeri disappeared several years ago. His family reported him to the Saudi security authorities. He was arrested near the Saudi-Iraqi border near Rafha when he was heading to Iraq. He was jailed and released after four months. He then disappeared. He was recruited in the Eastern Province. His family claims they don’t know his whereabouts.

Khaled Muhammed Abass Al-Harbi, 29, Saudi: He is believed to be outside the Kingdom. His family said they had received uncertain news about his death two months ago in Iraq. His family members are living in eastern Riyadh, and said Khaled had left for Iraq a year ago. They also said he was wounded in combat. He had recovered and once again fought against allied forced in Fallujah where he was killed. The family said he had received a letter from an unknown person notifying them of his death.

Fahad Saleh Rezkallah Al-Mehyani, 24, Saudi: He is outside the Kingdom. He is the fourth youngest brother, coming from a poor family living in Al-Ghasala neighborhood of Makkah. His brother, Ibrahim, was on the most wanted list and was captured. His other brother, Meteb, blew himself up in Al-Bejeri area. Fahad received his intermediate education at Bin Katheer Intermediate School in Makah. Afterwards, he joined Al-Qaeda. Before joining the cell, he was an alleged drug addict ad embraced extremist philosophy after his brother was killed. Saleh Al-Mehyani, Fahad’s father, said his son has been missing since October 2004 after he was forced out of the house for bad behavior. “After a while I notified the police because I was worried about him.” Saleh Al-Mehyani said, “They interviewed me and asked me to contact them if I knew anything about his whereabouts.”

Zaid Saad Zaid Al-Amari, 31, Saudi: Security officials say he is inside the Kingdom. His father said his son disappeared three years ago when he was working with the mujahideen. His marriage lasted six months. He has no children. His father is appealing to him to surrender.

Younis Muhammed Ibrahim Al-Hayari, 36, Moroccan: A Saudi security spokesman said that Al-Hayari is the “real leader” of the terrorist organization and the most dangerous. He is important to the Saudi security forces because of his professional role and for his close relationship with Al-Qaeda leaders. Saudi security authorizes say he participated in all the terrorist operations in the Kingdom. It was said he escaped from the terrorists’ den raided by security forces at King Fahd District in Riyadh on June 20, 2004, where confederates Isa Al-Aushan and Mejib Abu Rass Al-Daweseri were killed. Security forces found in the den the head of the kidnapped American Paul Marshall Johnson, Jr. 49, of New Jersey. The importance of Al-Hayari’s role stems from the fact he is one of the one Saudi Al-Qaeda leaders in the Kingdom.

Abdul Rahman Saleh Al-Meteb, 26, Saudi: He occupies the fourth position in the most wanted list. He is counted among the most dangerous suspected militants by security forces after stormed a tent erected by the militants in Nefouz Al-Thewirat in the southern part of Al-Zulfi. His accomplice, Khaled Al-Faraj, was caught hiding in a rest house in Al-Zulfi. Since then, Meteb led a terrorist group and ambushed a security patrol in Jalajel checkpoint. He has a criminal record.

Noor Muhammed Mousa, 21, Chadian: He is believed to be outside the Kingdom. He is known for his talent to recruit teenagers to fight in Iraq. He apparently fled the fight in Iraq recently.

Fayiz Ibrahim Omar Ayoub, 30, Saudi: Security officials believe he is outside the Kingdom. He is No. 5 on the list of the most wanted. His 15-year-old sister urged him to surrender, noting that he disappeared one year ago. Since then the family has not heard from him. He is a bachelor. His father is dead and his mother is ill. Unemployed, he traveled frequently in and outside the Kingdom.

Abdullah Mohammed Saleh Al-Remayan, 27, Saudi: He is suspected of being abroad. He is the 17th on the list of the most wanted. He was assigned the task of surveying Al-Qassim-Hail Expressway during the failed attempt to smuggle militant Yusuf Al-Ayeri into the country. He conveyed information to terrorists through his mobile phone. When police foiled the attempt, a shootout ensued and Remayan fled across the Iraq border.

Mohammed Saleh Sulaiman Al-Rashoudi, 31, Saudi: Listed as No. 18, he is accused of helping another suspected militant who was being sought by police and later arrested. Rashoudi has since disappeared.

Abdullah Abdul Aziz Al-Twaijri, 23, Saudi: He is No. 19 on the list and recruited by Al-Khudhaira cell, which has most of its members coming from outside the region. The suspected terrorist used his identification to buy a Jeep Cherokee, which was traced to an Al-Khudhaira operation that occurred on May  21, 2004. Al-Twaijri is an orphan. He was recruited by Al-Qaeda.

Waleed Mutlaq Salim Al-Raddadi, 21, Saudi: Al-Raddadi’s family lives in Madinah in the Al-Mustarah District. A friend said Al-Raddadi has been missing for more than two years. The alleged militant developed a relationship with some extremist friends from outside the district. He was idle, unmarried and living with his family in a four-story building. His family was wealthy.

Sultan Saleh Hosan Al-Hasseri, 26, Saudi: He is 6th on the list. He is reportedly inside Saudi Arabia. His family said they have not heard from him since he left home in March 2003. His father denounced his son’s terrorist connections. His brother, Abdul Aziz, said  his brother was influenced by his companions. “What proved the immaturity and misjudgment of Sultan is that he only completed intermediate education,” Abdul Aziz said. “Such low standard education will never enable him to distinguish between bad and good. However, this explains to us why he fell as an easy prey to this deviant group.”

Adel Abdul Lateef Al-Sanee’, 27, Saudi: He was reportedly unemployed when he left his family one month ago.

Wanted: SR7M Bounty Hunt

By Rob L. Wagner

The Saudi Gazette

29 June 2005

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabia stepped up its efforts to crush terrorism in the Kingdom Tuesday by releasing a new Most Wanted list of 36 suspected militants and placing a SR7 million bounty on their heads.

The new list issued by the Ministry of Interior follows the death of Al-Qaeda’s Abdullah Al-Rashoud, who was reported killed in Iraq by US forces last week. Rashoud was a member of the original list of 26 most wanted extremists. His death leaves one militant unaccounted for from the original list – Talib Al-Talib.

The additional 36 most wanted militants include mostly Saudis, but some are identified as from Chad, Morocco, Yemen and Mauritanian. Fifteen are being sought by Saudi authorities inside Saudi Arabia while 21 are believed to be outside the Kingdom, according to Ministry of Interior officials.

“Security authorities managed to uncover pans by the deviant group who used themselves as a tool to distort Islam and harm the security f the country,” an Interior Ministry statement said in reference to militants linked to Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network.

The Saudi government is offering a bounty of up to SR7 million ($1.87 million) for anyone who helps capture a militant or foil an attack.

Suspected militants added to the new list are:

Younis Muhammad Ibrahim Al-Hayari, 36, Moroccan; Fahad Faraj Muhammed Al-Jewair, 35, Saudi; Zaid Saad Zaid Al-Samari, 31, Saudi; Abdul-Rahman Saleh Abdul-Rahman Al-Meteb, 26, Saudi; Saleh Mansour Mohsen Al-Freadi Al-Harbi, 22, Saudi; Sultan Saleh Hosan Al-Hasseri, 26, Saudi; Muhammed Abdul-Rahman Muhammed Al-Swelami, 33, Saudi; Muhammed Saleh Muhammed Al-Ghaith, 23, Saudi; Abdullah Abdul Aziz Ibrahim Al-Tewajeri, 21, Saudi; Muhammed Saeed Aal Seaim Al-Umeri, 25, of Madinah; Ibrahim Abdullah Al-Metteri, 21, Saudi; Waleed Mutlaq Salem Al-Radadi, 21, Saudi; Naif Farhan Jalal Al-Jehaishi Al-Shemeri, 24, Saudi; Majed Hamid Abdullah Al-Hasseri, 24, Saudi; Abdullah Mohia Shalah, 24, Saudi; Noor Muhammed Musa, 21, Chadian; Manor Muhammed Yousif, 24, Chadian; Othman Muhammed Hassan Kourani, 23, Chadian; Mohasen Ayed Fadel Al-Fadli, 24, Kuwait; Abdullah Wald Muhammed Sayyed, 30, Mauritanian; Zaid Hassan Muhammed Humaid, 34, Yemini; Fahad Saleh Rezkallah Al-Mehyani, 24, Saudi; Adnan Abdullah Faris Al-Ameri Al-Sharif, 28, Saudi; Marzouk Faisal Marzouk Al-Ottaibi, 32, Saudi; and Adel Abdul Lateef Ibrahim Al-Sanea, 27, Saudi.

Also on the list are: Muhammed Abdul Rahman Muhammed Al-Daid, 21, Saudi; Sultan Senaitan Muhammed Al-Daid 24, Saudi; Saleh Saeed Al-Betaih Al-Ghamdi, 40, Saudi; Fayes Ibrahim Omer Ayoub, 30, Saudi, Khaled Muhammed Abass Al-Harbi, 29, Saudi; Muhammed Saleh Al-Remayyan, 27, Saudi, Saaed Muhammed Mubark Al-Jebari, 23, Saudi; Ali Matter Ibrahim Al-Essemi, 23, Saudi, and Faris Abdullah Salem Al-Dhaheri Al-Harbi, 22, Saudi.

Saudi Arabia has been battling militants loyal to Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network, which has staged several bloody attacks on foreign residents, government sites and energy-industry installations in the last two years.

Officials say at least 90 civilians and more than 40 members of the security forces have been killed in the last two years. Militant attacks have caused at least SR 1 billion ($270 million) worth of damage to property. Police have killed more than 100 militants in the same period.

Ministry of Interior officials warned the public about cooperating with suspected extremists. Whoever is found dealing with militants will be held accountable, a spokesman said.

The Ministry is also urging citizens and expatriates, who may have information about the remaining terrorists or those newly listed, to contact 990 or the nearest police station.

A reward worth SR 1 billion will be given to whoever has information that may lead to the arrest of any of the wanted extremists. The reward will be increased to SR 5 million in the event that more than one of the wanted terrorists is taken into custody. The reward will be raised to SR7 billion in case of foiling any terrorist operation.

The Battle of Al-Ras: The Last Stand of the Who’s Who of Al-Qaeda

Editor’s Note: This article was based on interviews with Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki, Ministry of Interior sources, eyewitnesses in Al-Ras and reports from the Saudi Press Agency.

By Sabria S. Jawhar and Rob L. Wagner

The Saudi Gazette

12 April 2005

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — The day promised to reach 35 centigrade, but it could have been worse. If the battle of Al-Ras had occurred a month or two later, security men, civilians trapped in the crossfire, and extremists could have very well been battling dehydration as well as bullets.

But on this day – Sunday, April 3 – for the players in the most protracted battle between militants and security forces since Al-Qaeda declared war on the Saudi government, dehydration was from their minds.

Abdul Rahman Al-Yazji, a 27-year-old dissolute man from the Jizan region, was rattling around the neighborhoods of Riyadh with his Yemeni driver looking for an opportunity to keep security men from concentrating on a villa in Al-Ras, about 355 kilometers from the capital.

Yazji, the brother of suspected terrorist Abdul Kareem Al-Yazji, one of the suicide bombers who targeted three Western housing compounds in the capital on May 12, 2003, had good reason to worry about his confederates in Al-Ras.

Day One

Security men received a tip that militants were hiding out in a villa in Al-Jawasat District. By 8 a.m., as district shops were opening and children were already arriving at school for the day’s lessons and mothers doing some early shopping before the day got too hot, security men assembled a safe distance from the villa.

Al-Jawazat is a quiet and relatively new district in the northwest area of Al-Ras. Unlike many neighboring  districts, Al-Jawazat has wide roads and new buildings with unusual but traditional Arabic architecture. Roads to Makkah, Madinah, Riyadh and Qassim meet in Al-Jawazat. Strategically, it was  perfect location for the militants’ new headquarters.

The militants also took advantage of the constant construction in the district, which resulted in many people moving in and out of homes.

The villa had been rented using a fake military identification card of a security man assigned to Kharij. During Haj, men using the identification card signed a contract to rent the villa but only began staying there just two weeks before the battle.

Residents of the district did not know their new neighbors, but remarked later that they observed Saud Bin Hommoud Al-Quatii (also identified by his middle name of Al-Otaibi) – a weapons smuggler, explosives expert and Afghanistan veteran – performing prayers in the neighborhood mosque with the 16-year-old son of Kareem Al-Tihami Idriss Al-Mejjati, the notorious Moroccan terrorist and Casablanca bomber.

The teenager, Saleh (Adam) Al-Mejjati, was a well-trained soldier who handled weapons easily. He also was the militants’ designated delivery boy, shopping at the local supermarket, but keeping quiet and not talking to his new neighbors.

Outwardly, the new tenants of the villa appeared to be just another family moving their belongings into a new home. Many guests came in and out of the residence, including many women. It was only later that neighbors and lawmen thought this unusually large number of women were actually men in disguise.

Seemingly innocent were the rather huge and heavy boxes being carried into the villa by the new residents. Unknown to their neighbors, the villa’s occupants were stockpiling weapons and explosives.

Security men knew they had something big on their hands and cordoned off the area. Then, with sudden precision, they laid siege to the villa. But the answer was unexpected. Extremists inside the villa responded with automatic gunfire, RPGs and hand grenades. These Afghanistan-tested men knew how to fight.

But two years of fighting Saudi Arabia’s Al-Qaeda cell had taught the military plenty on how to deal with terrorists. They saw 39 of their own men cut down in the line of fire. Ninety civilians also died over a two-year period. But lawmen also killed 92 suspected extremists. They were just as battle-hardened as the militants.

Security men, hiding on rooftops, behind vehicles and armored carries, exchanged gunfire almost immediately, and three militants died.

The rest, numbering about a dozen, blasted holes in a common wall shared with another villa and fled to new quarters.  At the height of siege, the extremists knocked holes in common walls of two additional unoccupied villas to escape gunfire and better position themselves.

Security men soon realized they were in for a protracted battle and were faced with two serious logistical issues. They were deep in a residential district. And just 15 meters from the battlefield was the 25th Girls’ School.

Amid light arms fire and RPGs blasting the air, 94 girls and 13 teachers scrambled from classrooms to the far end of the school, huddled and terrified. School deputy principal Nora Saleh Al-Ghofaili – through Mohammad Saleh Al-Ghofaili, Qassim’s general director in the Ministry of Education, and Nora’s brother, – contacted security officers in the neighborhood. She received orders to move from the classrooms to the rear of the ground floor for safety.

To calm the girls, Ghofaili and her teachers had them loudly recite the Qur’an to drown out the gunfire. The younger girls were told the gunfire was a military training session. The older students didn’t believe a word of it.

Outside the militants’ hideout and the school, security men were at a standstill. They also were not talking. Mobile phones were shut off and inquiries from the press to favored security sources were blocked.

But the ultimate goal was to evacuate the students and teachers as quickly as possible. They also wanted as many militants as possible taken alive.

Yet the Girls’ School wasn’t the only obstacle. They had no idea how many extremists were holed up in the villa and they were unaware of how much firepower they possessed. They were obviously heavily armed, but just what was their arsenal?

The gunfire continued and Special Forces were called in from Madinah as added cover for existing security fighters on the ground. By 7 p. m., military men on the perimeter and vice principal Ghofaili had formulated a plan. A hole was punched into the back of the wall of the school.

Security snipers took up positions near the wall and faced the militants’ den. A group of security men stood shoulder to shoulder forming a barricade to protect the girls from possible attack. They also used an armored vehicle as a screen to obstruct the line of sight of the militants. Teachers pushed the students through the hole in increments of 10 – to avoid crowding and panic – into the waiting arms of security men. They were taken to parked school buses, which moved everyone 500 meters from the scene. The school was empty within minutes.

Now that the threat to civilians had been minimized, security officers turned their attention to flushing out their opponents. They demanded surrender but were answered with gunfire. The shooting became more aggressive, if not desperate.

They knew that three extremists were dead, two were wounded and one was captured.

The captured militant turned out to be Hamad Bin Abdullah Bin Ibrahim Al-Humaidi, a Saudi considered the ideologue of the Al-Qaeda cell. He had been detained by security forces in 2002, but released after recanting. He also helped spearhead a propaganda campaign on the Internet.

Day Two

Following relative calm after the evacuation of the children, militants began an offensive early in the morning of Monday, April 4. Scattered throughout the compound of the villas, they hurled hand grenades and laid down heavy gunfire. They successfully attacked and disabled two armored vehicles, causing several security casualties.

Security officers sealed the neighborhood tight. They prevented residents in six nearby homes from returning to their villas. Lawmen also shut down three additional schools and sent the children and teachers home.

Residents of Al-Jawazat threw open their doors for security men, offering them water and juice to fight off the heat and help the injured until proper medical help arrived.

The militants’ resistance was tempered by the fact that security forces learned that two leading figures of Al-Qaeda had been killed.

Mejjati and Quatii, who were ranked as No. 4 and No. 7 respectively on Saudi Arabia’s list of 26 most-wanted terrorist suspects, had perished in the fighting.

Mejjati is alleged by the Saudi government to have masterminded the bombings in Casablanca, Morocco, in May 2003, Quatii is said to be one of two Saudi militants running Al-Qaeda’s branch in Saudi Arabia. Last year, he purportedly posted an Internet statement rejecting amnesty offered by King Fahd, who promised militants their lives would be spared if they surrendered.

Residents reported seeing up to five people arrested on Sunday night after a brief clash with security forces as they tried to drive through a checkpoint into Al-Ras possibly to reinforce the surrounded gunmen. The ministry of Interior denied the report.

At one point during the fighting, extremists opened fire on an electric transformer station to cut power to the district and break the government’s momentum in the siege. It didn’t work.

During the fighting, Gen. Ali Al-Kehaili, leader of Special Forces, sustained minor wounds to his chin and stomach. Also sustaining minor and moderate injuries were Special Forces members Aiad Hussain Al-Mutairi and Khalid Hussain Al-Dehani, Qassim police officer Said Qablan Al-Harbi and security men Qazi Muhammad Al-Harbi, Zaid Nahav Al-Otaibi, Nasser Hamdan Al-Otaibi, Nazil Mushsin Al-Otaibi and Muhammad Eid Al-Dsausari.

By the end of the second day, the Ministry of Interior announced the number of killed gunmen had reached eight. Saudi authorities didn’t announced casualties among their security men but a source said as many as 35 security personnel had been wounded on the first day and that several security vehicles were damaged.

A local hospital official said 58 security personnel had been treated by the second day. A ministry statement said another insurgent was critically wounded and several security men were injured, although most had been released from the hospital. The official statement announced Saturday said 14 security personnel were wounded in the confrontation, two of them seriously.

Day Three

Although apparently exhausted and weakened by two solid days of fighting, the militants remained resilient. And security men knew it.

At about 5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 5, troops stormed the villa in a display of force not seen previously in the Kingdom’s two-year fight against Al-Qaeda.

In a nerve-wracking room-to-room search, commandos methodically hunted down each militant. In all, security personnel killed 14 extremists during the three-day operation.

Eyewitnesses to the siege said two helicopters hovered continuously over the battlefield that was punctuated with gunfire and explosions. Roads leaving to Al-Jawazat District were sealed off, leaving the neighborhood a virtual ghost town. As officers collected evidence and scooped up the dead, the fighting men withdrew, surrendering their authority to government investigators. The investigators combed the area, collecting documents, searching for weapons and making sure the insurgents left no booby-traps.

The list of militant dead and wounded reads like a Who’s Who of Al-Qaeda.

In addition to Quatii and Mejjati the dead are:

Hani Bin Abdullah Al-Joaithen, a suspect in the Al-Muayya residential compound bombing in November 2003; Faisal Bin Muhammad Al-Baidhani, explosives expert responsible for the December 2004 bombing of the Ministry of Interior building and emergency forces headquarters; Majed Bin Muhammad Al-Masoud, propaganda expert; Fawaz Mufdi Al-Anazi, Al-Qaeda recruiter of young men; Abdul Rahman Bin Abdullah Al-Jarboue, logistics and transportation coordinator; Nawaf Bin Naif Al-Hafi, Afghanistan veteran and weapons and explosives expert; and Abdussalam Bin Suleiman Al-Khudairy, a car bomb expert.

Mejjati’s teenage son, Saleh, also known as Adam, was killed with his father.

Three of the six wounded are:

Adil Bin Saad Al-Dhubaiti, attacker at Al-Muhayya residential compound in Riyadh and the Abdulaziz Oasis Compound in Al-Khobar; Saleh Bin Abdul Rahman Al-Shamsan, logistics, transportation and family cover coordinator; and Hamad Bin Abdullah Al-Humaidi.

Shamsan, 21, was once a start pupil in school, becoming the No. 1 ranked student in his high school in Qassim. At Imam Mohammad Bin Saud Islamic University, Shamsan studied English, but after one year he dropped out because he didn’t want to study the “language of infidels.”

Three months after getting married, he disappeared, joining Al-Qaeda. He was gone for one year before surrendering at Al-Ras.

The tree remaining survivors have not been identified.

Meanwhile, witnesses reported that Al-Qaeda operative and former used car salesman Saleh Al-Oufi was killed in the battle as well. The Saudi Interior Ministry refused to confirm the report, saying it would later issue a detailed statement “that includes all confusion that surrounded Al-Ras clashes.”

Oufi was previously reported killed in clashes last year in Riyadh, but an extremist website later said he was still alive.

Security forces had seized a large cache of weapons, equipment and explosives, documents and more than SR250,000 in cash from terrorists in the Al-Ras operation.

The day after the siege, security men tracked down on a narrow road, Abi Saif Street, and shot to death Abdul Rahman Al-Yazji, No. 3 on the Saudi most wanted list, and arrested his Yemeni driver. The raid took place in Al-Khalidyyah District next to the industrial city in southern Riyadh, at Yazji’s ground floor apartment. The entire operation took less than a half hour.

Yazji’s motives for being in Riyadh are unknown, although security forces suspect he may have had plans to attack the Diplomatic Quarter or serve as a decoy to draw security manpower away from the fighting in Al-Ras.

What it Means

What made the battle unusual was the number of militants holed up in such a small place and the large arsenal of weapons that they were hiding. Previously, the highest number of militants killed in a single battle with Saudi forces was six in July 2003, when police raided a farm in the Qassim Region.

Experts believe the raid is one of the biggest and most significant operation Saudi forces have ever carried out.

The killing of Mejjati and Otaibi will provide a further boost for the Saudi security forces, which appear to have successes in curtailing the militants’ ability to strike in recent months.

Yet Saudi officials said the killing of those militants shouldn’t be considered an end to terrorism in the Kingdom.

Saudi-Born Woman to Contest Polls Again

By Rob L. Wagner

The Saudi Gazette

19 February 2005

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia – Ferial Al-Masry, the Saudi-born woman who single-handedly garnered 41 percent of the vote as a write-in candidate for the California Assembly, is on the move again to re-enter the election fray in 2006.

Masry, a Jeddah Economic Forum panelist who will discuss democracy and civic responsible on the last day of the three-day conference, earned kudos from the Arab community for her courage in the United States as a write-in Democratic candidate for the heavily-Republican 37th Assembly District in Southern California.

She only campaigned three months but is ready to hit the campaign trail for the 2006 election.

“I received a lot of attention for having guts”, Masry said. “This time I have (1988 Democratic Presidential candidate) Gov. Michael Dukakis to do the first fund-raising campaign.”

Masry’s lessons at the Jeddah Economic Forum about Saudis participating in the democratic process promise to draw a large audience. Fellow panelists for the session include Nadia H. Bakhurji, president of Riwaq of the Kingdom, Co., Ltd., Saudi Arabia; Nayla Al-Moawad, of Lebanon; Elliot Schrage, a delegate from the Council of Foreign Relations, USA; and Sameer Shihata, assistant professor of Georgetown University, USA.

Masry is a rare Saudi with first-hand knowledge of how the democratic system works from an insider s point of view. She has won endorsements from several Southern California newspapers and suffered none of the rancor from American voters in the post-Sept. 11, 2001, world.

“People identify with me,” she said. “I am the mother of a soldier. I am a success story of an immigrant. And I am a woman people can identify with.”

Masry, 56, a schoolteacher, could be the first Saudi female and just one of a handful of Arab-Americans elected to office in the United States.

In Southern California, she wants to protect the public education system, which she said would be neglected through the hot-button California issue of school vouchers. Vouchers allow parents to choose private education over public.

Born in Makkah, she moved to Egypt at the age of 10. She said she now proudly educates her high school students on the merits of the US Constitution, democracy and freedom of religion.

Masry is the mother of three children. Her oldest child, now 25, is a veteran of the Iraq war as a US soldier. She supports her son in the US military.

She has been watching the recent municipal elections in Riyadh and sees it as a “positive step.”

“It’s a great step for Saudi Arabia,” Masry said. “It’s a small step but still a great step.”

She sees a role for Saudi women.

“Saudi society can’t do it without have Saudi women having a role,” she said, speak of the elections. “To have a democracy you must have women (involved).”

Bombers Strike Ministry of Interior

By Sabria S. Jawhar and Rob L. Wagner

The Saudi Gazette

December 30, 2004

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Two suicide bombers timing their attacks about an hour apart struck the capital Wednesday evening targeting the Ministry of Interior and a troop training center.

At least four police officers were reported wounded and one bystander was killed in the Ministry of Interior attack. Up to five civilians living near the training center sustained injuries, according to a security source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Later, security forces raided a house in northern Riyadh and killed seven suspected militants believed to have been involved in the bombings. The raid followed a running gun battle shortly after the blasts. The alleged extremists used small arms and hand grenades during the chase. Ministry of Interior Brig. Gen. Monsour Al-Turki could not say if any security men were reported killed or injured.

The blasts appear to be part of stepped-up attacks on targets in Riyadh and Jeddah. Two weeks ago Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden issued a message urging extremist cell leaders in Saudi Arabia to focus their activities on the Kingdom.

Bin Laden’s tape was his first message directed specifically at Saudis in years, and it was issued 10 days after the Dec. 6 militant attack at the US consulate in Jeddah that left nine people dead, including five non-US employees of the consulate.

The explosions also followed a series of clashes between suspected terrorists and security men late Tuesday and Wednesday in Riyadh and Jeddah that left two suspected militants dead, two arrested and one wounded.

The Wednesday evening blast at the Ministry of Interior in Al-Maazar District at Dabbaba Street occurred at about 8:35 p.m. when a vehicle attempted to crash the outer northeastern gate at the Ministry bridge near the offices of Mohammed Bin Naif, assistant to the Ministry of Interior.

Ministry spokesman Turki told Al-Ekhbaria television that the explosion appeared to have occurred on the main street between the Ministry building and the former Public Safety Department. Associated Press reported the car bomb at the Ministry was detonated by a suicide bomber. Saudi officials say both vehicles were exploded by suicide bombers.

“Both cars were rigged and both were attempted suicide bombings which failed,” one Saudi security officer said. “They tried to penetrate the security cordon of the Ministry of Interior and were deterred … The car exploded in the middle of the road and they never made it inside the compound.”

The blast blew out the windows of the Ministry and nearby businesses. It also damaged the wall of the Ministry. The vehicle did not breach the Ministry compound because it was sealed by concrete blocks and guards. Ministry offices were evacuated.

The blast was felt in neighborhoods as far away as Olaya, Hai Al-Wazarat and Batha.

“I thought something was wrong when I heard the huge sound, which shook the glass panes of my shop,” said a Saudi storekeeper in Hai Al-Wazarat District.

Security men closed off roads leading to the Ministry and the Intercontinental Hotel.

Dozens of ambulances, military, fire brigade and police vehicles rushed to the Ministry. Four ambulances were seen leaving the Ministry area while helicopters hovered overhead.

The multi-storied, glass-enclosed Ministry building had been heavily fortified since the May 12, 2003, bombings of the residential compounds in Riyadh There has been some relaxation of security in past months when authorities removed checkpoints in four directions of the building. But about a month ago the checkpoints were re-established and roadblocks were further fortified.

Details were sketchy at the recruitment center, but the security source said perhaps “four to five non-Saudis living near the center – about 10 kilometers away from the Ministry building – were injured in the explosion in the Al-Seli District. They were transported to local hospitals where it is believed their injuries were not life threatening. That blast occurred about 9:30 p.m.

The bombings followed a series of security operations that left one suspected terrorist shot dead earlier Wednesday, bringing the number of extremists slain to two over the past two days.

In the 48-hour police operation before the Riyadh bombings, two militants also were captured and one wounded in three separate shootouts with security forces in Riyadh and Jeddah.

On Tuesday two alleged terrorists in Riyadh opened fire from their car when security forces approached them near a gas station. Police returned fire, killing one and wounding another. A bystander also was killed in the shooting.

As Riyadh security men were combing the area Wednesday, a gunman opened fire and hurled a hand grenade from his car. The attacker was cornered and shot dead. Four security men were injured in the gun battle.

In a separate incident early Wednesday, security forces in Jeddah also arrested a suspected militant. The alleged extremist was injured while attempting to escape.

Bitter High School Dropout Who Became a Flamboyant Killer

By Rob L. Wagner

The Saudi Gazette

June 20, 2004

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia – The moment that Saudi Arabia’s Al-Qaeda cell chief Khaled Ali Bin Ali Haj was shot dead by security forces in March, the terror group took on a new image that even its staunchest supporters thought not possible. It was more bloody, flamboyant and bombastic than ever before.The face of Al-Qaeda that emerged almost immediately after Ali Haj’s death was that of Abdul Aziz Al-Muqrin, a sullen, bitter high-school dropout who grew up in the tough Al-Suwaidi District of Riyadh.

Al-Muqrin, 35, unleashed a reign of terror in the Kingdom that threatened even to rival the Qaeda operative in Iraq, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. It began with the grisly Yanbu attack on May 1 that left six Westerners dead and ended with the beheading of helicopter engineer Paul Marshall Johnson, Jr. Friday night. Al-Muqrin’s own death followed moments later in a hail of gunfire at a gas station not far from the neighborhood where he grew up as a boy.

His group, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was ultimately responsible for the 33 deaths of mostly foreigners, but also Saudi citizens, and included the bloody attack at Al-Khobar and the killing of a BBC newsman and the wounding of another. It’s believed that Al-Muqrin also played a key role in the 2003 Riyadh residential compound bombings on May 12 and Nov. 8 that killed 43 people.

“I have taken it upon myself and I have sworn to purge the Arabian Peninsula of the polytheists,” Al-Muqrin told an Arabic website last year. “We will fight the crusaders and Jews in this country …. They will not have any security until we evict them from the Land of the Two Holy Places (Saudi Arabia) and until we evict them from the land of Palestine and the land of the Muslims, which they pillage and usurp from the east to the west.”

Al-Muqrin was a master of self-promotion, knew the value of publicity, and was skillful in using technology.  He often used the Internet to post fiery condemnations that displayed his talent as a propagandist. As a strategist, he apparently abandoned car bombings for the far more effective street shootings by three or four gunmen engaging what he called “urban guerilla warfare.”

Bombings are the signature attack of Al-Qaeda, but calculated shootings of Westerners going about routine business in their own neighborhoods was both ruthless and particularly frightening to expatriates.

The shooting spree of lone Westerners began May 22 when extremists gunned down German airlines worker Hermann Dingel in front of a bank. The killings resumed after the Al-Khobar attack, in which all but one of the terrorists escaped, on June 6 with the killing of BBC cameraman Simon Cumbers and the wounding of veteran journalist Frank Gardner. Two days later American Robert Jacobs of Vinnell Arabia Corp. was gunned down in front of his villa. And on June 12, a colleague of Johnson’s, Kenneth Scroggs, was slain in front of his home.

And Al-Muqrin refined his tactics. Apparently responding to criticism that he was killing Muslims along with Christians, he became more selective during the Al-Khobar rampage, asking potential victims their religion.

But his lack of education made him unpredictable.

In a June 5 interview with Reuters, Moshen Al-Awaji, an expert on militants, said Al-Muqrin was out of control.

“He is shallow, very simple-minded,” Al-Awaji said. “He has no political brain. He’s got the weapon and no and to control the weapon.”

Al-Muqrin, also known as Abu Hajar, was the son of middle-class parents. The London-based Arabic daily newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported that Al-Muqrin was a high school dropout who married when he was only 19 years old. He soon fathered a daughter and eventually left his wife and child to travel to Afghanistan in the late 1980s to help fight the Soviets.

He fought in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and later in the 1990s he ran guns from Spain to Algeria. He would later brag that he was a member of a hit squad that tried to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 1995.

All the while Afghanistan beckoned him. He returned to the country that gave him his fist taste of blood by periodically undergoing military training at extremist camps.

It was in Ethiopia that started his path toward waging war on the Kingdom. He was arrested there and extradited to Saudi Arabia, where he was incarcerated for two years in a Jeddah prison. He reportedly was released after memorizing the Qur’an.

“He behaved well while in prison and leaned the Noble Quar’an by heart,” according to one source. “His sentence was halved and he was released two yeas ago.”

Al-Aqaji said that Al-Muqrin was released from prison a changed man.

“After his release he acted as an avenger … He was a killer.”

U.S. Envoy Sees ‘No Lack of Will’ of Saudis to Combat Terrorism

By Sabria S. Jawhar and Rob L. Wagner

The Saudi Gazette (2004)

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia – US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised Saudi Arabia s efforts in fighting terrorism and reiterated the strong relationship between the United States and the Kingdom.

Rice held a press conference with Prince Saud Al-Faisal following meetings held Saturday and Sunday on the US-Saudi Strategic Dialogue conceived by President George Bush and King Abdullah during the Crawford, Texas, summit in April.

The objective of the Strategic Dialogue is to strengthen and institutionalize the relationship between the two countries and to focus on counter-terrorism, military ties, energy, economics and expanding cooperation on consular issues.

Rice s remarks on Sunday were in sharp contrast to last week s US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in which several senators demanded a harder line be taken against Saudi Arabia in what they see as the Saudi government turning a blind eye to terrorism funding and a lack of complete cooperation in rooting out terrorists.

The question of financing of terrorism has been a concern not just to us but to the Saudi government, Rice said. Yes, we have had to intensify our efforts on terrorism financing and we believe we have made progress but there is always more progress that can be made.

I am certain that the Saudi government can do better. I m certain that all of us can do better, Rice said. But there is, I believe, no lack of will.

She added: The reason that countries or leaders are fighting terrorism is not to please us, not to please the United States. It s because their own people are dying, because their own region is suffering a sense of instability.
But Rice also cautioned Saudi Arabia to focus on minimizing anti-Israel sentiment.

We also have made clear that the Saudi government could do more on issues of incitement, of anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment.

Prince Saud blamed the media for reports that the Kingdom is not doing enough to combat terrorism.

We are fighting as hard as we can, he said. I would dare anybody to say that there is any other country that is fighting terror as hard as Saudi Arabia.

Although Rice said Saudi Arabia like the US needs to be more vigilant, her support of Saudi Arabia s efforts to stem the flow of terror financing through charity organizations appears to buttress the Kingdom s harshest critics who claim that Saudi-based charities and non-governmental organizations need to be monitored more closely.

The secretary of state s visit also was considerably more congenial than her tense visit earlier this year. On the eve of her last visit while in Cairo she criticized the Kingdom for jailing reform activists.

There was none of that Sunday as she emphasized the two countries bond to each other. And she took the time to praise Arab nations that took part in the Bahrain meeting to raise funds for the Foundation for the Future to support democratic groups and the Fund for the Future, which is established to aid small businesses.

While the foundations are designed to bring democracy and stability to the Middle East, the Iraq war and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continue to make efforts to democratize the region a shaky process.

Arabs said as much at the Bahrain meeting when they told Rice that peace must come before reform.

Rice acknowledged that efforts at democracy must be indigenous and pointed to Iraq s struggle to adopt a constitution and stage elections as progress. Yet she avoided discussion of when US troops will withdraw.

Our strategy is one for success, she said. We don t talk in terms of an exit strategy but a success strategy.

She added that US troops are in Iraq to face down terrorists but believes the United States will not keep forces the size we have there because Iraqis will step up and are stepping up to the responsibility.

Rice and Saud agreed on the urgency to bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an end. Saud noted that the conflict gives terrorists justification to commit acts of violence.

The continuation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict helps in allowing the terrorists to justify their actions, Saud said. In that fact alone it behooves us to do everything we can to remove that.

Rice also criticized Syria failing to cooperate in the United Nations investigation of the murder of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Al-Hariri.

What I have seen so far (from Syria) is a lot of criticism of the process, criticism of the investigation, she said. That s just not going to cut it.

One way or another, I hope that Syria is going to cooperate, she added.

Syria has said it will cooperate with the UN probe by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, which has already implicated several high-ranking Sryian officials in both Damascus and Beirut.

However, President Bashar Al-Assad said Thursday that his country was the target of a witch hunt.

Whatever we do or say to cooperate, the response is just going to be in a month that Syria is not cooperating. We have to be realistic, Syria is being targeted, Assad told Agence France Presse.

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