Al-Qa'ida may be poised to attack, US warns

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The Independent US

Concern about aterror attack occurring in Saudi Arabia, possibly imminently, was growing yesterday as the United States issued a warning that it could happen as early as today.

Concern about aterror attack occurring in Saudi Arabia, possibly imminently, was growing yesterday as the United States issued a warning that it could happen as early as today.

"The embassy continues to receive information that terrorist groups within the kingdom are still active and planning operations," the US embassy in Riyadh said. "It is [our] assessment that terrorist groups may place special operational significance on Ramadan, and American citizens are therefore urged to be particularly vigilant."

The US warning follows similar announcements by Britain and Australia that attacks against Western targets in Saudi Arabia are imminent. Ramadan, which involves a month of fasting, is due to begin today.

Britain's warning on Friday, that "terrorists may be in the final phases of planning attacks", echoed one issued by the UK authorities in May, just days before suicide bombers attacked Western compounds in Riyadh, killing 26 people.

"It doesn't mean we knew then something was going to happen," said one British diplomat in Saudi Arabia. "It meant the planning was in the last stages. The [advice] reflects the assessment that the threat from terror is serious."

While Britain has not advised its citizens to leave Saudi Arabia, it has warned against all non-essential travel to the country. The British defence giant BAe Systems, which employs 5,500 people throughout Saudi Arabia, said it had no plans to evacuate staff, however, and the Saudi ambassador in London, Prince Turki al-Faisal, complained that Britain should have consulted the kingdom before issuing its warning.

In the US, intelligence officials said there had been a recent steady stream of information suggesting plans for fresh attacks against Western targets, but no specific intelligence. Any British knowledge of an imminent or specific attack would be shared with the US and Australian authorities.

Since the attacks in May, the Saudi authorities claim to have been involved in a crackdown against Islamic militants, partly to counter criticism that the country had not done enough in the "war on terror".

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers behind the attacks in the US in September 2001 were Saudi citizens. Riyadh has been urged by many in the US to do more to counter terrorists.

A Saudi official said yesterday: "Saudi security forces are working hard to foil any terrorist organisation and have uncovered several cells in past weeks and thwarted all their plans to destabilise security."

Prince Turki said last week that two-thirds of the 600 people arrested on suspicion of having links to al-Qa'ida were still in custody.

US intelligence claims Osama bin Laden's son, Sa'ad, said to be in Iran, was involved in planning the attacks on Riyadh's Western compounds.

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