Bomb victim's father links bin Laden to Saudi attacks

War against terrorism: Saudi Arabia
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The Independent Online

The father of a Briton killed by a car bomb in Saudi Arabia wants Osama bin Laden to be questioned about it if the al-Qa'ida leader is captured alive. Jerry Rodway, whose son Christopher, 47, a hospital engineer, died last November, believes Mr bin Laden's terrorists may be behind attacks on Westerners that led to four Britons, a Belgian and a Canadian "confessing" on Saudi television.

"George Bush has said he's after bin Laden – well, I'm after him too," said Mr Rodway, 70. "I think he might know who killed my son. He might at least be able to say whether his people are in Saudi Arabia with orders to attack Westerners."

Mr Rodway has expressed concern over the veracity of the televised confessions, and the Saudi claim that three other bombings in Riyadh and Al Khobar were committed by Westerners in a turf war over alcohol bootlegging. Christopher's wife, Jane, survived the explosion that killed her husband in Riyadh, and has told The Independent there was no such turf war.

Alexander "Sandy" Mitchell, a Briton, William Sampson, a Canadian, and Raaf Schifter, a Belgian, were shown on television in February saying they had caused two explosions in Riyadh in November. Clearly reading from a script, they said they had been acting on "orders" from an unspecified source.

In August, three more Britons – James Cottle, James Lee and Leslie Walker – appeared on television, again apparently being prompted, and confessed to three more bombings in Riyadh and Al Khobar between December and March, in an attempt to convince the Saudi police that the first three detainees were innocent.

But the attacks have continued. On Saturday, in Al Khobar, an American was killed and a Briton wounded in a bombing at a shopping centre. And yesterday, in Riyadh, two Germans narrowly escaped when a petrol bomb was thrown at their car by a man wearing Arab dress.

"When Christopher was killed, at first everyone told me the likely suspect was bin Laden's network," said Mr Rodway. "Then the Saudis came up with this twisted version of a squabble over alcohol. I know my son was involved in alcohol in a small way – everyone brewed their own over there – but there was no reason why anyone should want to kill him.

"I believe it is more likely that one of bin Laden's people committed the attack thinking Christopher was American. I think it was probably a case of mistaken identity.

"Perhaps Christopher was in the wrong place at the wrong time but it would not suit the Saudi regime for the West to think it had opponents who were killing Westerners. If bin Laden were captured, at least he could be questioned over whether his people were in the country with orders to kill 'infidel foreigners'."

The latest attacks have caused deep concern among westerners in Saudi Arabia but some feel it may have galvanised the Saudis into ensuring those accused of the bombing campaign are convicted. Exhaustive inquiries by The Independent have established that all those held by the Saudis were involved in selling or making alcohol, but the closest friends and colleagues of all the six detainees said none had any idea how to make bombs or any desire to use them.

"There was, quite simply, no alcohol turf war," said Peter Goldsmith, a close friend of Mr Mitchell, Mr Sampson and Mr Schifter, who worked for nine years in the kingdom as an electrical engineer. "All the expats I have spoken to have no doubt who they think is behind the bombings: Islamic militants who see foreigners as infidels."

Contrary to some reports, none of the six has been charged with any offence, their lawyer, Salah Hejailan, said. He added that they were likely to make a court appearance in the next two weeks, at which they could say whether they wished to retract their confessions.

In Saudi Arabia, tension among Americans and Europeans is at unprecedented levels. The Foreign Office is not advising Britons to leave, but it is telling them to keep a low profile. Those who live there have been told: "We are not aware of any specific threat to British nationals. Following the terrorist attacks in the US there may be heightened tension and disruption.

"British nationals are advised to keep a low profile, maintain a high level of vigilance, avoid situations where there might be tension and stay in touch with fast-moving events until the situation clarifies. Demonstrations and public events should be avoided."

Western companies in the country, among them AT&T and BAE Systems, are understood to have given special advice to their employees and advised them to take extra care during the bombing campaign in Afghanistan.

A spokesman for BAE, which has about 2,500 workers in the kingdom, said: "We never comment on security issues but you can take it as read that we are taking this situation very seriously and giving out the relevant advice to ensure the safety of our people."