Riyadh blast a declaration of war, says dissident

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The Independent Online

Diplomatic Editor

A leading Saudi Arabian dissident who has sought refuge in Britain was yesterday quoted as saying the bomb blast in Riyadh on Monday was a "war declaration" against the Saudi royal family.

He predicted more acts of violence and attributed the car bomb attack on an American training centre to disgruntled young Saudis trained in Afghanistan. Six people, five of them Americans, died in the explosion and 60 were injured, including an Indian worker who died yesterday.

Professor Mohammed Masari's comments in an interview with the Associated Press are likely to lead to renewed demands from the Saudi government for Britain to curb the activities of dissidents in London.

"The question is to whom the war declaration is directed - and that's to the Saudi regime," Mr Masari said, adding that the bombers "chose a target that would be acceptable to everyone." He expected that "there will be more violent action but not necessarily this form."

The professor heads a group known as the Committee for Defence of Legitimate Rights (CDLR), which attacks the royal family's alleged corruption and seeks firmer adherence to the Sharia, or Islamic law.

Although the group insists it advocates peaceful reform, its agitation for change has infuriated the Saudi royal family. The subject was raised last week at talks in Jeddah between the Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, and King Fahd. It also came up at Mr Rifkind's meeting with the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal. British businessmen in the kingdom said last week they feared the issue could damage Britain's commercial interests.

Mr Rifkind said the government did not like the presence of people such as Mr Masari but could take no action against them unless they broke the law. "We take a very hard line but we act against terrorism, not opinions," Mr Rifkind said.

The Home Office is reviewing an appeal by Mr Masari against deportation to Yemen and he has also lodged an application for political asylum.

The security services are believed to be keeping a close eye on Mr Masari and the CDLR. There is little doubt that if officials can find a reason to get Mr Masari out of the country they will do so.

Two little-known groups, the Islamic Change Movement and the Tigers of the Gulf, claimed responsibility for Monday's bombing. Such titles are often no more than a nom de guerre, giving no clues to the identity of the perpetrators.

But both Mr Masari and Western officials agreed on the likelihood that the bombing could be the work of so-called "Afghanis," devout young men trained by the CIA and Pakistan's military intelligence to use arms and explosives against Soviet troops in Afghanistan.

Many have since returned to the Middle East to discover a new outlet for their skills, joining a pool of discontented youth who regard existing governments as corrupt and see Islam as the solution. Some have made their way to Bosnia to fight as mujahedin alongside forces of the Muslim-led government in Sarajevo.