RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Saudi security forces have arrested four men they say are affiliated with the al-Qaida terror network in connection with last week's deadly bomb attacks here, officials said yesterday.
The attacks, launched simultaneously May 12 on three residential compounds, killed at least 34 people, including eight Americans and nine attackers. The arrests were announced at a news conference in Riyadh by Prince Nayif ibn Abdulaziz, the Saudi interior minister.
Prince Nayif said the four men did not take part in carrying out the attacks but knew about the plot and were sympathizers of the assailants. He would not give details on the backgrounds of those arrested but said "all indications" are that they belong to al-Qaida.
"We will tell you more in time," said Nayif, surrounded by dozens of guards carrying pistols, swords and daggers.
Word of the arrests came as a senior Saudi official in Washington fended off criticism that his government had not been aggressive enough in fighting terrorism.
Adel al-Jubeir, a senior foreign policy adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah, the country's leader, made the rounds of the Sunday television talk shows to assure Americans that the Saudi government is a committed U.S. ally in the war on terror.
But key members of Congress remained skeptical of Saudi promises to crack down on religious extremism, and Nayif said in his news conference that the religious basis of Saudi society was not going to change.
He responded testily when asked why so many terrorists seem to come from Saudi Arabia - including 15 of the 19 hijackers who staged the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"I don't know why they always focus on the numbers of Saudis," Nayif said. "We will find them, whoever they are. The problem here is the same as in other countries."
He called for an international effort to wipe out terrorism and vowed to hunt down the plotters, whom he promised to "punish severely."
"Saudi Arabia always captures the culprits," he said.
The Saudi government has been seeking 19 suspects in connection with a raid May 6 on a house near one of the targeted compounds. Officials found a large cache of weapons and explosives. The four whose arrests were announced yesterday were in this group, as were three of the suicide bombers, Nayif said.
So far, he said, there is no evidence to link the Riyadh bombings to Friday's suicide bombings in Casablanca, Morocco, that killed more than 40 people. He said Saudi and Moroccan authorities are exchanging information.
Moroccan investigators said several of the 14 suicide bombers who killed 29 people were Moroccan Islamists who lived in northern slums and were probably tied to global terrorist networks.
The bombers and many people arrested in connection with the Moroccan attacks apparently belonged either to a local radical Islamic organization implicated in past violence or to one of its splinter groups, Moroccan and European officials said.
The Casablanca attacks alarmed officials in Europe and in Washington who fear that the al-Qaida network is widening its war on the West.
As King Mohammed VI visited the five sites of Friday night's carnage, stepping gingerly through broken glass and blood-spattered ruins, officials released new details of their investigation. The synchronized bombings were the deadliest terror attacks in Morocco in many years and shattered a sense of calm that persisted despite a string of warnings that Islamic radicalism was growing in the North African kingdom.
The 14 suicide bombers broke into five teams to hit Spanish, Moroccan and Jewish targets Friday night. Twenty-nine people were killed, including one man who died yesterday of his wounds; most of them were Moroccans. Thirteen of the bombers were killed; the 14th was wounded and seized by police officers and passing taxi drivers. He is being interrogated.
"He gave the information on his criminal accomplices and helped identify those who were involved in this operation," Moroccan Justice Minister Mohamed Bouzoubaa told state television Channel RTM.
Some of the bombers "came from a foreign country recently" but are Moroccan citizens, he said.
Communications Minister Mohammed Ashari said in an interview that six of the bombers have been identified as Moroccans and that investigators are continuing to try to identify the others.
"This was a criminal act connected to international terrorism, even if it was carried out by local hands," Ashari said.
Ashari and other Moroccan officials have singled out two loosely knit radical Islamic groups that may have been responsible.
Many of the detained belonged to As-Sirat al Mostakeem, a home-grown group based almost totally in Casablanca's slums, according to Moroccan Islamic experts.
Officials also point the finger at Salafiya Jihadia, an informal alliance of radical militants in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and North African immigrant communities in Britain, France and Belgium who are frequently accused of having ties to al-Qaida.
David Kelly, Tracy Wilkinson and Sebastian Rotella write for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.