Top Saudi cleric wants bombers `burned in hell'

Radical group claims responsibility for blast that killed 5 in Riyadh

April 23, 2004|By Megan K. Stack | Megan K. Stack,LOS ANGELES TIMES

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - The leading cleric in this ultraconservative Muslim kingdom rained contempt and threats of hellfire yesterday upon the shadowy bands of radicals who are waging a war against the government in the name of Islam.

One day after a car bomb at a police headquarters in the heart of this capital killed at least five people and injured 148, Sheik Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah al Sheik said the bombers would "rot in hell." The brazenness of the attack - an attempt to blow up a government office full of Saudis - has stunned people here.

"God revealed the criminality of this wayward group, which harms Islam and the nation," the kingdom's senior religious leader said in a statement to the state-run Saudi Press Agency. "Whoever kills an [Islamic] believer on purpose will be punished by being burned in hell, punished by God's anger and will be cursed and suffer great pain."

Al Haramain Brigades

A group that calls itself Al Haramain Brigades claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement issued to Islamist Web sites. The organization, whose name refers to the most sacred sites in the Saudi holy cities of Mecca and Medina, said it had "succeeded in bombing the command headquarters of emergency and anti-terrorism forces of the Interior Ministry of the apostate Saudi government."

Some hard-line Saudi Islamists, including native son Osama bin Laden, have long chafed at their government's close relationship with the United States and have railed against the presence of American troops and non-Muslim foreigners on Saudi soil. Tensions within the kingdom have heightened since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Saudi officials said they seized five cars rigged with heavy explosives in the 10 days before the suicide blast. During the same period, six police officers were killed in gun battles with militants.

More bombs threatened

Yesterday's statement by Al Haramain threatened more bombs, promising to keep the jihad, or holy war, alive against the Saudi royal family while "the heroic and noble holy warriors of al-Qaida who follow imam Sheik Bin Laden, God make him victorious ... are preoccupied with the war against the Crusaders," a reference to Westerners.

"We, by God, are dedicating ourselves to fighting you and we will show you the punishment for heresy, apostasy and crime," the statement said.

Saudi officials continued to blame al-Qaida for the attacks against the kingdom.

In the year since militants began a series of suicide bombings and gun skirmishes designed to destabilize the Saudi regime, religious authorities and public opinion have been turning against the insurgency. Although many Saudis are squeamish about their government's cooperation with the United States, they are also revolted by the killing of civilians - especially Muslims and, most of all, fellow Saudis.

"These cowards ... they're trying to scare the police and undermine the security of this country," said Faisal Dawi, a Saudi man who lives near the site of Wednesday's blast. "I am very worried about my children. Now I must lock them up at home or send them away from their own homeland."

Prayers were held at a Riyadh mosque before the victims were buried yesterday. Hundreds of Saudi mourners chanted anti-terrorism slogans as they joined the cortege making its way to the cemetery.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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