Saudi won’t rule out Qaeda effort to upset hajj security

Interior minister pledges to help Yemen to fight Qaeda


The Saudi interior minister said on Wednesday he would not rule out an al-Qaeda attempt to disturb security during the annual hajj pilgrimage, which begins next week.

"We cannot trust them (al-Qaeda). We do not rule out any attempt to disturb the security of the hajj," Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz told reporters when asked about a possible al-Qaeda threat.

"We are ready for any act that might take place. God willing, nothing of that will happen, out of respect to this rite," he said at a press conference following a parade of security forces and civil defense in preparation for the hajj season.

"We are capable of foiling such acts," he said.

Some 2.5 million Muslim pilgrims are expected to descend on the Muslim holy city of Mecca in western Saudi Arabia for the hajj.

The five-day pilgrimage takes place during the middle of the month of Dhul al-Hijja, and starts this year on November 14.

The group launched a campaign of assassinations and bombings across the country from 2003 to 2006, which prompted a sharp crackdown by the Saudi leadership.

Thousands of suspected militants were jailed, but possibly hundreds escaped abroad.

Last year, Saudi authorities thwarted several attempted attacks by al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, which is based in neighboring Yemen.

Pledge to help Yemen

Saudi Arabia also pledged to give Yemen whatever help it needed to fight al-Qaeda after the militant group claimed responsibility for a recently foiled bomb plot, which Riyadh helped uncover.

Late last month, authorities in Dubai and Britain intercepted two bombs hidden in toner cartridges destined for the United States from Yemen via FedEx and United Parcel Service, after a tip-off from Saudi Arabia.

The al-Qaeda affiliate based in Yemen, plagued by armed disorder, claimed responsibility for the attempt.

"The security situation in Yemen is as important to us as the security situation in the kingdom," the Saudi interior minister, Prince Nayef, said.

In the first remarks on the matter made by a top security official in the kingdom, Nayef said security cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Yemen was at the best possible level and that the kingdom would help its impoverished neighbor.

Although the parcels were posted in Yemen, the kingdom drew the spotlight because U.S. officials believe Saudi national Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, 28, is a central suspect in the plot.

Believed by Saudi intelligence to be hiding in Yemen, Asiri is one of many Saudis who play a significant role in al-Qaeda, founded by former Saudi citizen Osama bin Laden.

Asiri is one of many Saudi nationals who fled to the kingdom's poorer neighbor after Riyadh cracked down hard on al-Qaeda and its sympathizers at home.

"We help (Yemen) with all capabilities of the kingdom... We are with them without any hesitation," Nayef said.

But just as Islamist militants have been impossible to contain as they spread across the Afghanistan and Pakistan border, helped by shared tribal identities and common religious traditions, Saudi Arabia faces a similar problem in Yemen.

Saudi and Yemeni militants announced the merging of their factions in Yemen in January 2009, as intelligence reports have warned that Yemen has become a regrouping haven for al-Qaeda veterans.

Authorities in Yemen have launched a fierce military campaign against AQAP.