(*Editors Note | While the Washington Post refers to "U.S. allies" as withdrawing diplomatic personnel from Saudi Arabia fearing attacks, it should be noted that Germany pointedly rejected a military alliance the US and UK in their invasion of Iraq. One of the concerns German officials raised at the time was, the increased threat of counter-attacks by Islamic militias. - ma.)
U.S., Allies Close Diplomatic Offices in Saudi Arabia
By Peter Finn
The Washington Post
Tuesday 20 May 2003
Threat of New al Qaeda Attacks Prompts Security Measure
RIYADH -- The U.S., British and German embassies here announced today they will close Wednesday, as Saudi Arabia went to its highest state of security alert due to intelligence reports that al Qaeda plans imminent suicide attacks with truck bombs in the country.
The alert followed the arrest of two Moroccans Monday at Jiddah Airport, the officials said. A third Moroccan is being sought by police.
The three men, who had tickets to board a plane to Khartoum in Sudan, are linked to an al Qaeda cell that launched suicide bombings against residential compounds in the capital just over a week ago, killing 34 people, including nine terrorists, officials said.
The reports of impending attacks were "enough to scare the hell out of us," said one U.S. official.
The Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, said early today that U.S. and Saudi intelligence services had detected a high level of "chatter"-communication and movement by terrorists-prompting fears that "something big will happen."
Those fears intensified dramatically later in the day and one Saudi official said the fear of an impending attack was linked, in part, to the interrogation of one of the Moroccan suspects.
"It's a question of time," said another Saudi official. "It's not if, it's when."
Security across this city was tightened tonight as police set up roadblocks and moved to protect diplomatic areas as well as hotels, expatriate residential areas and other potential "soft targets."
The extent of the threat, which officials here believe is directed against Saudis and foreigners alike, has shaken the Saudi security services, which long lived with the belief that al Qaeda was largely an external menace. Saudi officials believed the organization would limit any possible action within the kingdom to strikes against well protected U.S. military targets within the country.
"It's a war on terrorism within Saudi right now," said a security official.
U.S. Raises Terror Alert After Wave of Attacks Overseas
By Brian Knowlton
The International Herald Tribune & The New York Times
The Bush administration raised its terror alert this afternoon, saying there was a high risk of a new terrorist attack, following warnings that such an attack might be "imminent" in Saudi Arabia and signs that one was increasingly possible in the United States.
Asa Hutchinson, under secretary of the Homeland Security Department, announced that the terror alert had been raised to orange, or high risk, its second-highest level, from yellow, or elevated risk.
Mr. Hutchinson said that the heightened terror alert was based both on the recent bombings in Saudi Arabia and Morocco and on intelligence reports indicating that terrorists are continuing to plan attacks against targets in the United States.
As in past instances when the alert level was raised, intelligence agencies were reporting "an increased specificity in terms of the threats that we hear," without any clear evidence about possible targets, he said.
"Al Qaeda remains the principal threat," Mr. Hutchinson said, singling out the terrorist network held responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. But he warned that attacks by other groups, or disaffected individuals, could not be ruled out.
Again, Americans were urged to continue leading their lives as before, but with greater vigilance to suspicious persons or packages. A central objective of the heightened alert, Mr. Hutchinson added, was to quickly inform local law-enforcement agencies of the need to step up security measures.
The announcement came after Tom Ridge, the homeland security secretary, was called from a congressional hearing earlier today to attend an emergency meeting at the White House.
The F.B.I., the C.I.A. and the Department of Homeland Security are reportedly concerned about intercepted communications pointing to the likelihood of an anti-American attack. American counterterrorism officials have said in recent days that the bulk of intelligence pointed to possible strikes overseas.
"There is credible information that further terrorist attacks are being planned against unspecified targets in Saudi Arabia," Richard A. Boucher, the State Department spokesman, said.
The United States, Britain and Germany closed their embassies today in Saudi Arabia in response to the latest terror warnings.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, in an advisory to state and local law enforcement agencies, said the bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on May 12 showed that Al Qaeda remained "active and highly capable and able to hit U.S. and Western targets abroad as well as in the United States."
"Attacks against U.S. and Western targets overseas are likely," the bulletin said. "Attacks in the United States cannot be ruled out."
The terror alert, which had been raised to orange on March 17 at the outset of the Iraq war, was lowered to yellow on April 16 as major combat was ending.
A sense of new vulnerability to terrorism has risen sharply in recent days, spreading over a broad area, from the Middle East and North Africa to Malaysia. Because of the recent attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco, Britain's antiterrorist police chief said today that officers in his country would urgently review tactics to counter possible suicide attacks.
In Saudi Arabia, where officials said a new attack might be imminent, the United States, Britain and Germany said today that they were closing their embassies, consulates and trade missions. A similar warning had been issued in the weeks before the coordinated suicide bombings of May 12 that killed 34 people, including 8 Americans, in Riyadh.
"My gut feeling tells me something big is going to happen here or in America," Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, told reporters. He referred to electronic intercepts about possible attacks in the United States in the United States or Saudi Arabia, saying there had been a "high level of chatter."
There were continued warnings about travel to Kenya. Belgium joined other countries in warning its nationals against traveling there because of terrorist threats. Britain has suspended flights to and from the country.
Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said the Bush administration now agreed with Saudi authorities that the Riyadh bombings were the work of Al Qaeda. In Jeddah, Saudi authorities said they had arrested three Qaeda members, and that the three were cooperating. It was unclear if they were linked to the Riyadh attacks.
Whether Al Qaeda might now be planning new attacks within the United States was unclear, Mr. Fleischer said.
He added, however, that "we have a determined group of enemies of freedom, who hate Westerners, who hate our values, who will do everything in their power, under the most difficult circumstances for them, to regroup to hit this country and to hit our friends."
While American and Saudi officials blamed Al Qaeda for the Saudi attacks, authorities said it remained unclear whether the terrorist network had any role in the attacks in Casablanca. The suicide bombers there were all Moroccans, police said.
Washington has issued a series of increasingly grave terrorism alerts for people traveling through or living in the Middle East, North Africa, the Gulf, East Africa and Southeast Asia. The strongest warnings were for Kenya, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia.
In Rabat, Interior Minister Mustapha Sahel of Morocco said that the Casablanca suicide bombers were linked to international terrorism. F.B.I. agents have joined in the investigation of the five almost simultaneous blasts. Sahel said the interrogation of two attackers who survived the explosions had established the link.