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Suspect mastermind behind Saudi bombings in custody
( 2003-06-27 07:40) (Agencies)

The suspected mastermind of a deadly bombing in the Saudi capital in May, believed by US intelligence to be a key member of the al-Qaeda terrorist network, has turned himself in, Saudi authorities said Thursday.

An undated framegrab taken from Saudi Arabia TV, monitored in London, Thursday June 26 2003 which reportedly shows Ali Abd al-Rahman al-Faqasi al-Ghamdi. [AP Photo]
Saudi and US officials said Ali Abd al-Rahman al-Faqasi al-Ghamdi, 29, was in custody. State-run Radio Riyadh, quoted the Interior Ministry as saying the terror suspect surrendered to Saudi police Thursday morning.

In the May 12 assault, gunmen and suicide bombers attacked three housing compounds populated by Westerners and other foreigners. Nine attackers and 25 victims were killed.

US counterterrorism officials in Washington predicted the arrest would severely hamper al-Qaeda's operations in Saudi Arabia, because al-Ghamdi was one of the organization's top operatives in the kingdom. The 29-year-old Saudi fought with al-Qaeda in the US-war in Afghanistan and made several trips to that country.

Turki Nasser al-Dandani, another key Saudi operator for al-Qaeda and a second main suspect in the Riyadh bombings remains at large.

Also known as Abu Bakr al-Azdi, al-Ghamdi was at Tora Bora, near the Afghan border with Pakistan where bin Laden was thought to be hiding, in late 2001, the officials in Washington said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. He left before the US bombing began.

Bin Laden is widely believed to have survived the bombing campaign and to be hiding along the rugged and lawless border.

US officials say al-Ghamdi has been linked to Saif al-Adil and Abu Mohamed al-Masri, two of the most senior al-Qaeda operatives who remain at large. The officials have said both are thought to be hiding in Iran.

Al-Ghamdi was also an associate of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged Sept. 11 mastermind now in US custody, the officials said.

He was born in Riyadh. He majored in economics and business at King Abdul Aziz University, but dropped out before obtaining a degree, according to the Al-Watan newspaper.

Earlier this month the newspaper interviewed al-Ghamdi's father who pleaded with his son to surrender.

"We tell Ali to be fair with us, your parents and family, as God asked you and turn yourself in," Abdul Rahman al-Ghamdi, the father, was quoted as saying. He said Saudi authorities had promised al-Ghamdi would receive a lighter punishment if he surrendered.

His arrest was falsely reported in Saudi newspapers May 28, when the publications said as many as five people, including al-Ghamdi, were captured in an Internet cafe in the holy city of Medina.

Saudi and foreign citizens gather around the devastated Al-Hamra expatriate housing compound that was hit by a suicide car bombing on May 12, 2003.[AP Photo]

Since the Riyadh attacks, Saudi authorities have questioned 1,000 people and detained 300, a Saudi official in Washington said earlier this month.

Before al-Ghamdi's arrest, Interior Minister Prince Nayef said 44 suspected terrorists had been detained in the Riyadh bombing investigation.

On May 16, in Casablanca, Morocco, a dozen suicide bombers, using crude homemade explosives stuffed into backpacks, blew themselves up at five locations, killing 29 victims.

US officials said the two attacks were probably ordered by top al-Qaeda operatives to demonstrate the group was still viable. More strikes were feared but have not occurred.

Al-Ghamdi was also among the 19 alleged militants wanted since Saudi police discovered a weapons cache in Riyadh early last month.

"Justice will take its course within the framework of the laws," Saudi radio quoted the Interior Ministry official as saying.

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