London, Aug. 13 (Reuters): Britain said today it had credible evidence of a security threat to its aviation interests in Saudi Arabia and British Airways suspended all flights to the kingdom.
The announcement followed two clashes in three days in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, between police and Islamic militants that began with a shootout on Sunday and continued with a full-blown gunbattle yesterday. “There is credible intelligence of a serious threat to UK aviation interests in Saudi Arabia,” a government spokesman said. Earlier, Europe’s biggest carrier BA said it had decided to suspend its flights to the kingdom, following consultations with the government.
In Riyadh, Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi said the implication of BA flights to the kingdom “will be very hard”. “It will send a very wrong message that Saudi Arabia is not a secure destination,” he said. As the world’s top oil supplier, Saudi Arabia is vital to the world economy and the spate of bombings and bloody clashes there has raised concerns over world fuel supplies.
A senior Saudi diplomat in the Gulf said: “Whatever their (London’s) information, we are a country that protects our land in the best way we know.”
British Airways, which flies to Riyadh and Red Sea port of Jeddah, is the only British carrier with scheduled flights to Saudi Arabia. Flights to both were cancelled today.
The Saudis said they had arrested 10 men in Sunday’s clash. Britain said yesterday it believed the gunmen might have been planning attacks on British interests, and that the suspects had escaped.