RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – A disabled militant who was billed as a close confidant to Usama bin Laden (search) surrendered under a Saudi amnesty offer, the most important figure to turn himself in so far.
Khaled bin Ouda bin Mohammed al-Harby (search) could provide clues about the fugitive Al Qaeda (search) leader, though a U.S. counterterrorism official said he is not considered an operational planner for the terror network. Another U.S. official, who declined to be identified, said al-Harby was not a senior member of Al Qaeda and called him "an aging mujahideen."
Al-Harby had been seen on a videotape with the Al Qaeda chief as he talked about the Sept. 11 terror attacks. He surrendered to Saudi diplomats in Iran and was flown to the kingdom Tuesday.
Al-Harby was shown on Saudi TV being pushed in a wheelchair through the Riyadh airport. Mansour al-Nogaidan, a Riyadh journalist and former militant, said al-Harby was disabled in both legs while fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. He used to preach in a mosque in Mecca, but left Saudi Arabia for Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"Thank God, thank God ... I called the embassy and we were very well-received," al-Harby told Saudi TV in the airport terminal. "I have come obeying God, and obeying the (kingdom's) rulers."
The Interior Ministry did not say what al-Harby is wanted for, but a Saudi security official said he is a member of Al Qaeda.
Al-Harby — also known as Abu Suleiman al-Makky — is considered a confidant and sounding board of bin Laden's, the counterterrorism official said. The official said he was seen on a video after Sept. 11, seated with bin Laden at a dinner where he talked about the attacks.
At the dinner shown on the videotape, bin Laden praised the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and credited them with inspiring conversions to Islam.
It was not known when al-Harby last saw bin Laden or how much information he can provide.
In a statement, the Interior Ministry said al-Harby contacted the Saudi Embassy in Tehran from the Iranian-Afghan border, where he was stranded. His name does not appear on the kingdom's list of 26 most-wanted militants.
Some Al Qaeda operatives close to bin Laden — notably Khalid Shaikh Mohammed — have provided vital intelligence to U.S. officials seeking top terror suspects and clues to attack plots. However, he is in American custody, and it was not immediately clear how much access U.S. authorities would have to al-Harby or his interrogation.
Wearing traditional white robes and Arab headdress, al-Harby was carried off the plane before being put in a wheelchair. He was accompanied by his wife, dressed all in black, and their son, a Saudi security official said.
The Interior Ministry said al-Harby will be taken to a hospital for medical care. It did not elaborate on his condition.
Al-Harby is the third man to take advantage of the monthlong amnesty that King Fahd offered militants on June 23, and the most prominent. One of the other militants who surrendered under the amnesty is Othman Hadi Al Maqboul al-Amri, No. 21 on Saudi Arabia's most-wanted list.
Al-Harby described the amnesty as a "generous offer" and urged other militants to take advantage of it.
Separately, Interior Minister Prince Nayef acknowledged for the first time Tuesday that Saudis had infiltrated neighboring Iraq to join the insurgency against U.S.-led forces.
His statement came after repeated denials of Iraqi reports that that Saudis are fighting in the insurgency.
Iraq's Human Rights Minister Bakhtiyar Amin said Monday there were 14 Saudis among 99 foreign fighters in detention. Also, Saudi newspapers have published obituaries and funeral reports for at least four Saudis said to have died fighting in Iraq.
Prince Nayef said hundreds of other militants have been detained and some have already been convicted in court. He did not provide exact numbers, but he said more trials were coming.
Nayef warned there would be no extension to the amnesty that expires July 23, and declared that the kingdom's fight against terror is not over.