Sources: Associated Press, Agence France Presse, Reuters, New York Times
Saudi security forces have reportedly arrested at least eight men in connection with the suicide attacks on three residential compounds housing foreign workers earlier this month.
The Saudi interior minister, Prince Nayef, announced Tuesday that "a number of people were arrested some days ago and today in Medina." Nayef declined to provide details on the latest arrests or their numbers, saying that the authorities preferred to wait until investigations had been completed. However, Saudi newspaper reports said that at least eight men had been arrested, and that one of those arrested was a senior al-Qaida member, who was believed to have masterminded the attacks.
The daily Okaz, quoting informed sources, said that the alleged mastermind was Ali Abd al-Rahman al-Faqasi al-Ghamdi. The paper reported that al-Ghamdi was arrested in Medina on Tuesday when police stopped a jeep with five men inside. However,Al-Watan daily reported that al-Ghamdi was arrested along with two other men in an Internet cafe in Medina.
The paper quoted witnesses at the Internet cafe as saying that al-Ghamdi and two other men observed the noon prayers with workers at the cafe, and were arrested as they left the building. Al-Watan said that as many as five others were apprehended at a house used by the men.
Ali Abd al-Rahman al-Faqasi al-Ghamdi is known to be one of al-Qaida's top men in Saudi Arabia. He was among a group of 19 men wanted in connection with a weapons cache found on 6 May, only a few kilometers from the one of the compounds targeted in the May 12 attacks.
Al-Ghamdi, also known as Abu Bakr, was reportedly among a group of al-Qaida members who fled from Afghanistan to Iran after the battle of Tora Bora in December 2001. There he was active in planning attacks under the direction of al-Qaida's new operations chief, Seif al-Adel, an Egyptian who was involved in the bombings of the American embassies in East Africa in 1998.
The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported that the Iranians deported al-Ghamdi to Saudi Arabia. However, according to U.S. officials quoted by the paper, the Saudi government apparently released him once he was on Saudi territory.
Saudi officials said at the time of the bombings that the local cell was receiving orders directly from Osama bin Ladin or one of his close aides. According to U.S. intelligence sources, there is strong evidence that the Riyadh attacks were planned and directed by al-Qaida leaders residing in Iran.
U.S. officials have said they believe the attacks were ordered by Seif al-Adel, who was in Iran when he ordered the attacks, though they suspect he has since fled the country.
The U.S. has accused the Iranian government of harboring al-Qaida militants, drawing angry denials from Tehran. The Iranians say that, far from harboring al-Qaida, they have arrested several suspected operatives, though none are believed to be key members of the network.
Prince Saud Al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, said Tuesday that his government has asked Iranian officials to hand over any Saudi al-Qaida members now in custody.