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Riyadh, Casablanca masterminds in the net

Riyadh, May 29 (Reuters): Saudi Arabia and Morocco yesterday announced they had arrested the alleged masterminds of bombings earlier this month that killed 77 people and sparked fresh fears al Qaida had regrouped for more attacks.

Saudi Arabia said five people wanted in the May 12 bombings of three expatriate housing compounds in Riyadh were arrested in the Muslim holy city of Medina. “We believe that one of them is a main mastermind of the blasts,” a Saudi source said.

The daily Okaz reported the five were arrested at an Internet cafe and the alleged mastermind was a Saudi who was among 19 men wanted by authorities on terrorism charges after a shoot-out with police in Riyadh this month. In Morocco, authorities announced they had captured the “general coordinator” of the May 16 attacks at five locations in Casablanca in which 43 people were killed. State prosecutor Moulay Abdellah Alaoui Belghiti told state television the suspect was arrested on Monday in the central city of Fes but died while being taken to hospital.

Belghiti identified the dead man by a first name only, Abdelhaq, but said he had also used the alias “Moul Sebbat” (“The man with the shoes”).

Abdelhaq “admitted he was the main coordinator” of the attacks, Belghiti said, but “suffered chronic heart and liver diseases. His health condition did not allow investigators unfortunately to complete all the elements of the investigation.”

The two bombings, staged at multiple locations within four days of each other, confirmed some experts’ fears that al Qaida or groups linked to the network were planning attacks to protest the US-led war in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Fresh terror alerts went up around the world with embassies temporarily closing, flights being cancelled and US leaders vowing to crack down on those suspected of aiding terrorists. “We are not convinced this threat is over or (that) it is in any way diminished from what we have seen,” US ambassador to Saudi Arabia Robert Jordan said at the US embassy in Riyadh yesterday. “We don’t believe that this is a one-time event. The threat level continues to be elevated this time,” he added.

Washington is pressuring Iran to turn over al Qaida members who the US says are hiding in that country and may be linked to the Riyadh bombings.

Iran said it has cooperated by arresting and deporting 500 al Qaida members in the past year and interrogating others. It charged that Washington was not serious about terrorism but used its self-declared war to impose its will on the region.

E-mail threat

An al Qaida e-mail has vowed revenge attacks on the Saudi royal family over reports that Saudi police killed two Muslim clerics during a manhunt after the Riyadh blasts, an Arabic newspaper said today.

Saudi Arabia has denied the reports and said the outspoken clerics were among suspects held after the May 12 suicide bombings. The London-based al-Quds al-Arabi reported the e-mail, sent by unnamed persons close to Osama bin Laden, said the al Qaida leader promised reprisals if the two were indeed dead.

At an Organisation of the Islamic Conference meeting in Tehran yesterday, foreign ministers said in the post-September 11 world Islam had been unfairly associated with terrorism and warned military action only bred more extremists.

“Terrorism is an enemy for all of us, an enemy for our societies, an enemy for our religion and an enemy for our culture,” Amr Moussa, head of the Arab League, told the gathering.

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