Gaddafi accused of plot to attack Saudi ruler's motorcade with rocket grenades

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was accused yesterday of being directly involved in a plot to assassinate the Saudi ruler, causing huge embarrassment to Tony Blair, who was the first Western leader to welcome the maverick Libyan leader back into the international fold.

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was accused yesterday of being directly involved in a plot to assassinate the Saudi ruler, causing huge embarrassment to Tony Blair, who was the first Western leader to welcome the maverick Libyan leader back into the international fold.

According to the startling allegations, Saudi dissidents paid by Libyan intelligence plotted to attack the motorcade of Crown Prince Abdullah with shoulder-launched missiles or rocket-propelled grenades. They were also reported to have had plans to fire weapons into the Saudi leader's apartment in the holy city of Mecca.

The plot was reportedly hatched last year at the time when the Libyan leader was renouncing terrorism and negotiating with Britain and the United States to abandon his weapons of mass destruction.

The disclosure in yesterday's New York Times is particularly embarrassing for Mr Blair, who took the risky decision of going to Tripoli to meet Colonel Gaddafi in March. They shook hands in an act of acceptance that the Libyans had permanently rejected terrorism.

The plot allegations came from someone senior enough in the Libyan intelligence service to warrant a serious investigation, British and American security sources confirmed last night. They said that an order to assassinate a foreign leader would have been given at the highest level, but pointed out that as yet there was no hard evidence to link the murder plot to Colonel Gaddafi.

Colonel Mohamed Ismael, one of two men who made the claims, is known to have been an officer in the Libyan security apparatus, and had also been observed meeting Saudi dissidents while on a visit to London. He is now in Saudi custody.

The other person behind the allegations, Andurahman Alamoudi, a US Islamist leader, was arrested at Heathrow airport last year with US$340,000 (£185,000) in cash. He told Scotland Yard's Special Branch and the Security Service that he had accepted the money from the World Islamic Call Society, a Libyan-backed charity. But he later claimed that he had received the cash from a Libyan intelligence officer.

The Libyan government swiftly denied the allegations, and the US and British governments announced no immediate plans to change policy towards Libya while the investigation continues.

US President George Bush has been briefed on the matter, which could have wide-ranging consequences if the accusations are confirmed. The recent lifting by the United Nations of sanctions against Libya would almost certainly have to be reversed and the US could consider criminal charges against the Libyan leader.

But Mr Blair's official spokesman made it clear yesterday that there would be no going back on the deal with the Libyan leader.

"I can say clearly in all our talks with the Libyans, including the Prime Minister's conversations with Mr Gaddafi, we made it absolutely clear that terrorism of all types must stop. That message was well understood in Libya. That is the basis on which we went to Libya and that is the basis on which we went forward in eliminating Libyan weapons of mass destruction,'' he said.

A Foreign Office spokesman also said that the allegations would not knock the government off course. "The holy grail is Libya free of WMD and with no links to terrorism. We're not there yet, but the first step has been taken," he said.

The Libyan Foreign Minister, Abdel Rahman Shalgham, dismissed the plot allegations yesterday. "We were surprised by this [report] and we deny it completely and categorically," Mr Shalqam said in Tripoli. He said the reports were lies intended to poison his country's relations with the international community. Col Gaddafi's son, Seif al-Islam el-Gaddafi, called the claims "nonsense".

It was reported that as the plot progressed last summer and autumn - just as Col Gaddafi was seeking to rid his country of its pariah status and was courting Mr Blair - Mr Alamoudi and Mr Ismael travelled to London to recruit Saudi dissidents to help in the assassination and to give them cash.

The conspiracy was first outlined by Mr Ismael, who was arrested in Egypt after making a similar recruitment run in Saudi Arabia in November. He was returned to Saudi custody. He said he had been hired to co-head the assassination scheme with Mr Alamoudi by two Libyan intelligence chiefs, Abdullah Senoussi and Musa Kussa, who are both believed to answer directly to Col Gaddafi.

Mr Alamoudi, who was arrested and charged with violating an embargo on doing business with Libya, went further by asserting that he met twice with Col Gaddafi in Libya to go over details of the conspiracy, first in June last year and then in August. He said that the Libyan leader told him flatly: "I want the Crown Prince killed either through assassination or through a coup."

Mr Alamoudi, who founded the American Muslim Council, apparently volunteered the information about the plot as part of an ongoing plea deal with prosecutors to try to reduce any sentence he may face for breaking the Libyan embargo.

American investigators, who have already travelled to Saudi Arabia twice, are trying to find associates of Mr Alamoudi to back up his story. They are also seeking to interview four Saudi citizens, now in Saudi custody, who were allegedly paid $1m by Mr Ismael to carry out the plot.

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