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Security warnings target Saudi Arabia, Indonesia
( 2003-08-14 13:39) (Agencies)

The United States and Britain, citing credible intelligence reports, warned their nationals of terror threats to aviation and other interests in Saudi Arabia, and British Airways suspended all flights to the kingdom.

The warnings 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 gun battle on Tuesday.

In Indonesia, where a car bomb killed 12 people at a luxury hotel in Jakarta on August 5, the United States and Australia warned their nationals to avoid soft targets in the capital such as international hotels or shopping malls.

"I am very concerned specifically about Jakarta. We've just had information there, the night before last, that there could be terrorist attacks on international hotels or shopping centers used by Westerners, those kinds of targets," Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said on Thursday.

"The 17th of August is Indonesia's National Day, so it's a day where this sort of thing could happen," he told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.

The government of Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, meets on Thursday to look at ways of strengthening security laws it introduced after bombs killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists, at Bali nightclubs last October 12.

As the Bush administration hailed the success of a sting operation that netted a would-be arms smuggler, the State Department asked Americans to defer travel to Saudi Arabia.

"The U.S. government has received indications of terrorist threats aimed at American and Western interests, including the targeting of transportation and civil aviation," it said in a statement.

"There is credible information that terrorists have targeted Western aviation interests in Saudi Arabia," it added. "American citizens in Saudi Arabia should remain vigilant, particularly in public places."


Earlier, Britain issued a security warning. "There is credible intelligence of a serious threat to UK aviation interests in Saudi Arabia," a government spokesman said.

British Airways, the only British carrier that flies to the kingdom, said it had decided to suspend flights after consultations with the British government.

Other European carriers said they had no plans to stop Saudi flights. When a similar warning of a threat to British aircraft in Kenya was issued in May this year, British Airways was the only major airline to suspend flights. They resumed in July.

As the world's top oil supplier, Saudi Arabia is vital to the world economy and a spate of bombings and bloody clashes there has raised concerns over world fuel supplies.

The bombing of a Western compound in Riyadh in May, in which 35 people were killed, triggered a crackdown by Saudi authorities on Islamic militants. Since then at least 16 suspects and 11 police have been killed in a series of clashes.

Both Britain and the United States have already warned their citizens against non-essential travel to the kingdom.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a document found during a roundup of suspected Islamic militants this week had indicated that King Khalid airport had been under surveillance, presumably for a possible attack.

The document did not specify what type of attack but mentioned British planes, one official said, adding: "It's clear that they were paying attention to British planes."

President Bush told reporters at his Texas ranch that the sting operation underscored efforts to improve airport security, declaring America "a safe place for people to fly."

Briton Hemant Lakhani, 68, an arms dealer accused of trying to sell a Russian-made shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile, appeared in court in Newark, New Jersey, on charges of providing material support to terrorists and of illegal weapons dealing.

Separate criminal complaints were filed against a New York City jeweler and an Indian citizen who arrived in the United States from Malaysia. Prosecutors said both men had served as financial middlemen for the would-be deal.

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