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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Saudi Arabia warns foreigners of possible attacks

RIYADH, March 7 (Reuters) - Saudi authorities have warned foreign embassies that a group blamed for last month's killing of four French nationals could strike again, the Interior Ministry said on Wednesday.

"The warning was despatched by the (Saudi) Foreign Ministry to all embassies in the kingdom," said Mansour al-Turki, the Interior Ministry spokesman for security affairs.

Diplomats said the warning was sent after the Interior Ministry announced on Tuesday it had arrested some suspects in the killing of the four French nationals.

"Saudi authorities officially notified us on Tuesday that the group could attack again and urged foreigners to avoid travelling outside cities," a Western diplomat said.

The four French nationals were killed on Feb. 26 during a trip into the desert. No one has claimed responsibility.

The warning also advised embassy personnel not to travel in the area where the killing occurred, the Western diplomat said.

Some French residents in Riyadh said they received text messages from their embassy informing them of the Saudi warning.

"We have reacted immediately by informing our nationals of the warning which urged foreigners in general to be cautious and to call police as soon as they notice that they are being monitored," French embassy spokesman Alain Guepratte said.

Two Saudi nationals -- Abdallah Sayer al-Mohammadi and Nasser bin-Latif al-Balawi -- ignored an ultimatum to turn themselves in by early Wednesday. "They are now on the wanted list. We have to arrest them," Turki said.

The interior ministry offered 7 million riyals ($1.9 million) for information leading to their arrest. Their pictures were published on front pages of local newspapers.

Authorities said two attackers perpetrated the killings, which was the first attack on foreigners since 2005.

Islamic militants loyal to al Qaeda launched a violent campaign to topple the U.S.-allied Saudi monarchy in 2003, carrying out suicide bomb attacks on foreigners and government installations, including the oil industry.

Some of the 100,000 Western residents in Saudi Arabia left after the earlier attacks, reducing the number to around 60,000, but many have since returned, diplomats said.

Militant Islamists have said they want to drive "infidel" Westerners out of Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and home to its holiest sites.

Tough security measures and a wide publicity campaign helped curb the violence but analysts and diplomats say radical Islamic ideology and anger at Western policy remain strong.
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