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Brain behind Riyadh blast in custody

Washington, June 27 (Reuters): The mastermind of the May bombings in Riyadh has been taken into custody in Saudi Arabia, US and Saudi officials said on yesterday.

Saudi officials said the suspect, Ali Abdulrachman Saeed al-Faqa’asi Al-Ghamdi, also known as Abu Bakr al-Azdi, a senior Saudi-based al Qaida operative, surrendered to the Saudi minister of interior for security affairs.

But the US official said the man was “captured.”

“This is a major arrest and a huge victory in the war against terrorism,” Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the US, said in a statement.

“Al-Ghamdi is in custody and under interrogation. We hope that our interrogations will provide information that will lead to additional arrests,” he added.

The US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, challenged the Saudi officials’ notion of surrender, saying the suspect was caught.

Nevertheless, “this is a very serious blow to al Qaida,” the official said. “This was a key al Qaida figure in the kingdom and has knowledge of ongoing and future terrorist planning and also would know al Qaida operatives and Saudi cells.”

“It’s very significant. ... He is believed to have played a key role in the planning and execution of the Riyadh bombings,” he added.

US secretary of state Colin Powell said after talks with Spanish foreign minister Ana Palacio that the US had not received confirmation yet that Al-Ghamdi was in custody.

“If it turns out to be true, we will be very, very pleased that this terrorist has been brought to justice but I can’t confirm it yet,” Powell said.

Car bombs on May 12 ripped apart buildings and homes in three compounds in Riyad inhabited by Americans and other westerners, killing 35 people, including eight Americans.

The devastating attack shattered any sense that Saudi Arabia might be immune to extremist fundamentalists who have declared war against the US and also on the kingdom.

It also increased pressure on Saudi Arabia to crack down more intensely on Saudi-based al Qaida elements and those who helped to finance the group, which is blamed for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US.

Stung by US criticism his government was not doing enough to control extremists, Crown Prince Abdullah, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, promised to make the suicide bombers pay and allowed American FBI and CIA agents to join the hunt.

The US teams are believed to be still operating in Saudi Arabia but their role in al-Gamdi’s apprehension was unclear. More than 40 suspected “terrorists” have been arrested in the kingdom since the May 12 Riyadh bombings, Saudi officials say.

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