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Riyadh US embassy warns of terror threat

Riyadh, Oct. 25 (Reuters): The US embassy in Saudi Arabia warned today that “terrorist” groups in the kingdom may strike during Ramzan, after Britain said attacks may be in the “final stages” of planning.

Saudi officials vowed to thwart any “terror” plots in the oil-rich kingdom, birthplace of al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

The fasting month of Ramzan is expected to start tomorrow, depending on the sighting of the new moon. A US diplomatic advisory issued in the Saudi capital Riyadh said: “The embassy continues to receive information that terrorist groups within the kingdom are still active and planning future operations.

“It is the embassy’s assessment that terrorist groups may place special operational significance on the upcoming month of Ramzan and American citizens are therefore urged to be particularly vigilant during this time.”

Saudi Arabia has intensified a crackdown on Muslim militants since suspected al Qaida suicide bombers hit expatriate housing compounds in Riyadh in May, killing 35 including nine Americans.

It has arrested nearly 600 people since then. In the latest operation, weapons and explosives were seized including bomb-belts of the kind used by suicide bombers.

“Saudi security forces are working hard to foil any terrorist organisation, and have uncovered several cells in the past weeks and thwarted all their plans to destabilise security,” said a Saudi official, but did not identify possible targets.

He said that local security forces would continue “intense” efforts to maintain security in the Gulf state, the world’s biggest oil exporter.

The official was responding to earlier warnings by Britain and Australia that attacks against Westerners may be imminent, and after London yesterday stepped up its warning to citizens to avoid Saudi Arabia.

“We believe that terrorists may be in the final phases of planning attacks,” the British foreign office said.

Australia, which allied itself with the US and Britain in the Iraq war and has strongly identified with the United States campaign against violent Muslim groups like al Qaida, issued a similar warning on Thursday.

The US mission issued an advisory on October 15 saying Saudi authorities warned that militants may be targeting two of the most prominent commercial centres in the kingdom, popular with Westerners. But the embassy said on Wednesday that the time period specified in the threat had passed.

Saudi Arabia has faced intense pressure to crush al Qaida cells since the September 11 attacks on the United States two years ago in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens.

The issue has strained ties between Washington and its traditional Arab ally, which is the birthplace of Islam, and has focused international attention on the conservative monarchy’s efforts to deal with domestic Islamist opposition.

Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, in remarks broadcast today, criticised US groups who say Saudi Arabia is not doing enough to fight terrorism and that its religious and educational system breed militancy.

“Those in the US who attack the kingdom are not serving the interests of the United States or its friends,” he told Arabic satellite television Al Arabiya.

“These tendencies are extremist and this is what we are trying to avoid in our Islamic world and the whole world.”

Five US soldiers were wounded when their helicopter crashed and came under attack from rocket-propelled grenades near the Iraqi city of Tikrit today.

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