CAIRO – Al Qaeda claimed responsibility Sunday for a homicide attack that injured a Saudi prince and said the bomber — a wanted militant who had fled to Yemen — arrived on a royal jet after convincing the ruling family he wanted to surrender.
Despite the attack on Deputy Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, his father and Interior Minister Prince Nayef said the kingdom would not change its open-door policy for militants to repent. Saudi Arabia has been praised for having one of the most well-developed terrorist rehabilitation programs in the world.
Saudi officials have said the prince was lightly wounded in the bombing at his home in the city of Jiddah Thursday night while he was receiving well-wishers for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. If Al Qaeda's claim proves to be true, it would be an embarrassment for the prince and his father, two of the kingdom's top anti-terrorism officials. Prince Nayef is a half brother of Saudi King Abdullah and one of the most powerful members of the royal family.
"You tyrants ... your bastions and fortifications will not prevent us from reaching you. We will come to you soon," Al Qaeda warned in an Internet statement. The authenticity of the message could not be independently verified, but it was posted on militant Web sites often used by Al Qaeda.
Saudi officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the Al Qaeda claim. They have refused to say exactly how the bomber arrived at Prince Mohammed's home, only disclosing that he was a wanted militant who had convinced authorities he wanted to turn himself in.
Prince Nayef said Saturday the attack on his son "will not change the policy of keeping the door open for those who repent," the official Saudi Press Agency reported.
Prince Mohammed has already admitted he ordered guards not to search the attacker when he arrived at his home to surrender, even though the man was wanted by authorities. Saudi officials have said the prince wanted to treat the militant with respect and trust, something that could encourage other wanted militants to come forward.
Al Qaeda identified the bomber as Abdullah Hassan Tali Assiri, a Saudi citizen. Yemen's foreign minister and al-Qaida both said he crossed the border from Yemen into Saudi Arabia.
Al Qaeda and a Saudi newspaper have said the attacker, who also goes by the alias Abu al-Kheir, was on Saudi's list of 85 wanted militants, most of them Saudi. Al-Arabiya, a Saudi-owned television network, said Assiri is 23 and has a 27-year-old brother Ibrahim who is also on the wanted list.
Yemen's foreign minister, Abu-Bakr al-Qirbi, told The Associated Press on Saturday that the attacker came from an area neighboring Saudi Arabia known to be an Al Qaeda sanctuary. But he did not specify how the militant traveled to Saudi Arabia from the Yemeni province of Marib.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed the bomber managed to pass through security checkpoints at both the Saudi airports in Najran, a city on the border with Yemen, and Jiddah before he arrived at Prince Mohammed's home.
The group, which formed in January when separate Al Qaeda operations in Yemen and Saudi Arabia merged, described the attack as "the first-ever intelligence and security penetration of its kind in the Arabian Peninsula." It was the first known attack by the newly merged group inside Saudi Arabia.
A crackdown on Al Qaeda's Saudi branch forced it to move most of its operations to Yemen, where poverty, instability and widespread lawlessness have enabled it to take root. Saudi officials have expressed concern that Al Qaeda could use Yemen as sanctuary to launch cross-border attacks.
The attack was the first attempt against a member of the royal family in decades and was also the first significant attack by militants in the kingdom since 2006. Saudi Arabia has waged a fierce crackdown on Al Qaeda militants in the country. It has killed or captured most of their leaders after a string of attacks that started in 2003.
Prior to Thursday's bombing, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula had made several unsuccessful attempts to strike inside the kingdom. In April, Saudi authorities discovered a cave in the remote Saudi mountains near the Yemeni border that was a way station for the militants. Saudi police seized 11 suspected Saudi militants planning armed robberies, kidnappings and other attacks.