Suicide bombers were wanted by Saudi officials

But neither of 2 nationals was known for militancy

December 02, 2003|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - The two suicide bombers who carried out an attack that killed 18 people at a Riyadh residential compound last month were wanted by Saudi authorities but didn't have an extensive record of militant activities, Saudi officials and U.S. terrorism experts said yesterday.

Saudi authorities said they have learned the identities of those who plotted the Nov. 8 attack but didn't release the names. A hunt is under way for the ringleaders, officials said.

Releasing the first details of their investigation into the bombing, Interior Ministry officials said they used DNA samples to identify the two bombers as Ali bin Hamid Elmabady Alharbi and Nasser bin Abdullah bin Nasser Alsiary.

The men were described as Saudi nationals, but no other personal details were revealed.

The Interior Ministry said the two had been sought for "security issues," but Ben Venzke, the head of a private intelligence-gathering service that monitors international militant networks, including al-Qaida, said neither was a known militant.

Authorities have blamed the Nov. 8 attack and an earlier series of attacks in May on al-Qaida operatives. Saudi authorities have arrested more than 600 suspects in a nationwide crackdown that began after the first attack.

The two suicide bombers had no apparent ties to a 19-member cell that plotted and executed the bombings on May 12 at three residential compounds that killed 35 people, including nine Americans, officials said - though other evidence in the probe suggests links not only between the May and November attacks, but also to a car-bombing plot that Saudi authorities broke up last week.

The Nov. 8 attack, at a gated compound occupied predominantly by foreign workers from other Arab nations, was plotted at a house in a middle-class neighborhood in southern Riyadh, Saudi authorities said yesterday.

Car-painting equipment was found in the house, investigators said. That finding links the Nov. 8 attack - which was carried out in a Toyota jeep painted with the insignia of Saudi security forces - to last week's thwarted attack when police captured a car rigged as a bomb that also had been painted with security markings.

Other material seized in the thwarted attack suggested the would-be bombers planned to use tactics similar to the Nov. 8 attack, when accomplices in an escort vehicle, a white Maxima, preceded the bombers, attacking security guards with hand grenades and gunfire.

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