WASHINGTON – Intelligence chiefs for Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi (search) ordered a covert operation to assassinate the ruler of Saudi Arabia last year and throw the oil-rich kingdom into disarray, Fox News confirmed Thursday.
The CIA and FBI are investigating the possible plot.
Abdurahman Alamoudi (search), an American Muslim leader now in jail in Alexandria, Va., and Col. Mohamed Ismael (search), a Libyan intelligence officer in Saudi custody, have given separate statements to American and Saudi officials outlining the plot, the New York Times first reported Thursday.
U.S. officials confirmed the supposed plot to kill Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah (search) to Fox News. The United States has launched an investigation into the plan, which apparently was hatched at the same time Qaddafi was renouncing terrorism and negotiating the lifting of sanctions.
Officials said the accusations are one reason the United States has not removed Libya from the State Department's list of nations that support terrorism.
"What I can tell you is that we're going to make sure we fully understand the veracity of the plot line. And so, we're looking into it. It's the best way I can tell you. And when we find out the facts, we will deal with them accordingly," Bush said as he answered questions from reporters at the close of the G8 Summit in Sea Island, Ga.
Bush said he doesn't talk to Qaddafi but that he sent a message to him, "that if he honors his commitments to resist terror and to fully disclose and disarm his weapons programs, we will begin a process of normalization, which we have done."
"We have begun that process," Bush continued. "And now we will make sure he honors his commitment."
Alamoudi told the FBI and federal prosecutors that Qaddafi approved the assassination plan, although the Libyan leader's son has called the accusation "nonsense." Alamoudi's statements were offered in plea negotiations with federal prosecutors that are not complete.
He was indicted last October in U.S. District Court in Alexandria and accused of violating United States sanctions by traveling to Libya and receiving money from Libyan officials. Under federal guidelines, prosecutors could urge a judge to reduce his prison term in exchange for his statements, criminal lawyers said.
Alamoudi, a longtime spokesman for Muslim views in America as founder of the American Muslim Council (search), was paid as a consultant by the State Department to travel overseas and advocate tolerance and reconciliation among Jews, Christians and Muslims, but was thereafter accused of making statements in support of terrorism.
Senior officials in the American, British and Saudi governments have been aware of the investigation of the assassination plot for several months.
Although Qaddafi has long held contempt for the Saudi royal family, in recent years, Saudi and British diplomats have worked to help Libya negotiate an end to sanctions resulting from the Libyan terrorist operation that downed Pan Am Flight 103 (search) in 1988. Qaddafi's government admitted responsibility for that bombing and agreed to pay $10 million compensation to the victims' families.
Plot Could Alter U.S. Policy Toward Libya
A Libyan terrorist plot, if verified by American, British and Saudi governments, would undermine Qaddafi's public promises to halt terrorism and to stop harboring terrorists.
Proof could cause international sanctions that were lifted by the U.N. Security Council (search) last September to be slapped on Libya again.
A senior Bush administration official told the New York Times that evidence that Qaddafi ordered or condoned an assassination and terror campaign could cause a "180 degree" change of American policy toward Libya.
"It is a big issue, it is a big question," about just how much Qaddafi himself was involved, said Ambassador Dennis Ross, a Fox News foreign affairs analyst.
"I think the timeline here, at least based on what we know at this point, begins to raise a question that maybe in fact that he had supposedly already gotten religion when he made this judgment," Ross continued. "It's pretty hard to conceive that there could have been a plot like this that involved money going from Libyan sources to others who would be operatives, and Qaddafi wouldn't know about it."
Alamoudi said he met with Qaddafi in June and August of 2003 to discuss details of the assassination plan, officials said.
"I want the Crown Prince killed either through assassination or through a coup," Qaddafi said during the June meeting, according to Alamoudi.
By August, Alamoudi said, Qaddafi asked why he had not yet seen "heads flying" in the Saudi royal family.
FBI investigators from Washington are trying to further corroborate Alamoudi's story through known associates.
The first person to provide authorities with an account of a plot was Ismael, 36, who was captured by Egyptian police after he fled Saudi Arabia last November in an aborted "drop" of $1 million to a team of four Saudi militants who were prepared to attack Prince Abdullah's motorcade with shoulder-fired missiles or grenade launchers, according to his statements, the Times first reported.
Ismael said his orders came from Libyan intelligence chiefs, Abdullah Senoussi and Musa Kussa, both of whom apparently report directly to Qaddafi. Kussa played a big role last fall with American and British intelligence teams to work out a surrender of Libya's illicit weapons programs.
FBI and CIA officers have twice traveled to Saudi Arabia to interview Ismael, Fox News confirmed. Investigators are said to believe that all of the accounts could form the basis of a criminal indictment against Qaddafi on charges of leading a conspiracy that included Alamoudi.
FBI officials have yet to interview the four Saudis who were to carry out the assassination attempt, but Saudi officials said that they would agree to make them available. They were arrested Nov. 27 as they prepared to receive $1 million in cash from Ismael and a team of Libyan intelligence officers in Mecca.
Alamoudi and Ismael traveled to London to recruit Saudi militants willing to participate in the plot and distributed more than $2 million in cash in this recruitment drive in London, according to the account of their statements.
"I don't know exactly what he is saying in custody, but I can guarantee that nobody asked him to create cells and assassinate people," said Qaddafi's son, Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi.
Qaddafi: All a 'Misunderstanding'
Qaddafi himself also indicated that there may have been a "misunderstanding" over Libyan support for what he called "reform" in Saudi Arabia.
"If we support the people who want to reform Saudi Arabia, if doesn't mean we are working against the government," he said.
Crown Prince Abdullah is said by two officials to be convinced Qaddafi was out to kill him and decapitate the Saudi government.
"We are going to really jam Qaddafi over this, but there is no pretext for regime change," the Saudi official told The New York Times. "What is in our interest is to keep the caged animal in his cage."
There has been no love lost between the Saudi and Libyan leaders.
At the Arab summit immediately before the Iraq war began, Qaddafi and Prince Abdullah exchanged insults in an open session about selling out to the United States. The exchange ended with Abdullah telling Qaddafi: "Your lies precede you and your grave is in front of you."
Fox News' Bret Baier and Anna Stolley contributed to this report.