Saudi Arabia Won't Hand Over Bombing Suspects

Interior Minister Prince Nayef dismissed the prospect Saudi Arabia ever would send Khobar bombing suspects to the United States for trial and, in an interview published Saturday, said the kingdom was excluded from indictment preparations.

"The Americans never informed us or coordinated with us on this issue," Nayef said in an interview with Al-Riyadh daily newspaper, which often reflects government views.

Prince Nayef's remarks expanded on those Friday of Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan, who said legal action against suspects in the Khobar bombing was a matter for Saudi Arabia alone and that the United States should send the kingdom all documents and evidence relating to the case.

The United States does not have an extradition agreement with Saudi Arabia. And Nayef appeared to dash the hope voiced by some U.S. officials that suspects in Saudi custody for the 1996 bombing that killed 19 U.S. servicemen and injured more than 350 people would be sent to the United States for trial.

"The trials must take place before Saudi judicial authorities and our position on this question will not change," he said. "No other entity has the right to try or investigate any crimes occurring on Saudi lands."

Nayef said the kingdom is still seeking two Saudis and a Lebanese in connection with the attack. "The rest of the suspects are in Saudi jails," he said.

It wouldn't be long before those in Saudi prisons were brought to trial, he said, without specifying the number of imprisoned suspects or a time frame.

Although he acknowledged "cooperation" between Saudi Arabia and the United States in the investigation, Nayef denied American investigators had observed the interrogation of suspects, saying: "We informed them of information we discovered."

Nayef's comments also indicated Saudi and U.S. investigations were not necessarily proceeding in the same direction. He said there is "no truth" to claims contained in the indictment – handed up by federal prosecutors Thursday charging 13 Saudis and a Lebanese man in the bombing – that the plotters were members of "Saudi Hezbollah."

"There is absolutely no party called Saudi Hezbollah in the kingdom," he said.

Saudi Hezbollah was founded by members of the desert kingdom's Shiite Muslim minority who fled into exile in the 1980s to escape what they said was persecution by the Sunni majority. Most were from Eastern Province, which lies along the Persian Gulf, opposite Iran. Many of the exiles wound up in Iran.

Nayef suggested that some of the plotters might be connected with the Lebanese-based Hezbollah, which fought Israeli forces in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah of Lebanon has denied any involvement.

Nayef also said Saudi Arabia has no proof of official Iranian involvement, adding, "the Iranian government assured us that it has no relation to the matter as a government."