LONDON (Reuters) – European ministers warned that dormant Islamic terrorist cells could strike at any time, heightening worldwide alerts against a possibly resurgent al Qaeda after suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia and Morocco.
Both Saudi Arabia and Morocco announced the detention of suspected Islamic militants, and the Saudis said on Sunday they were looking seriously at al Qaeda links to last Monday’s bombings in the capital Riyadh.
Suicide attackers killed Westerners, including Americans, in Riyadh, and several Europeans in Morocco’s Casablanca. Both Arab kingdoms have historically close ties with Washington.
“There are dormant Islamic terrorism cells which could wake up and commit attacks,” Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu told reporters after meeting counterparts from Madrid, Paris and London in Spain on Sunday.
“No one can say they are excluded or safe from an attempted attack by radical Islamic terrorism and that is exactly why we have to reinforce all our security measures,” Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes said.
Earlier, a Spanish Interior Ministry source said security had been beefed up in the Strait of Gibraltar separating Spain from Morocco, where suicide bombings on Friday killed 41 and injured scores.
U.S. officials said Osama bin Laden and some fellow al Qaeda leaders were believed to be hiding in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, while others were thought to be in Iran. Tehran denies sheltering al Qaeda members.
One U.S. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity that orders had been issued from outside Saudi Arabia for the Riyadh bombings, which killed at least 34 people. The official declined to provide more details.
BUSH’S WAKE-UP CALL
President Bush issued a “wake-up call” to the world at the weekend, that while al Qaeda had been weakened by the U.S.-led war on terror it remained a threat.
Western countries have issued a series of terror alerts over travel to parts of Africa and Southeast Asia. States in the regions have expressed concern it could have a serious economic impact, particularly for tourism.
Saudi Arabia said it had detained four suspected al Qaeda members. “Those whom we are holding had knowledge of the attacks,” Deputy Interior Minister Ahmed al-Salem told reporters.
Bin Laden was born in Saudi Arabia and most of the attackers involved in the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States came from the world’s biggest oil exporter.
Morocco singled out for suspicion a Moroccan Islamist group sympathetic to al Qaeda for Friday’s attacks in the country’s commercial capital Casablanca in which 13 suicide bombers killed themselves and 28 others.
Moroccan police rounded up 33 suspects on Saturday, including some linked to the radical Salafist Jihad group. Five were still in custody on Sunday, government sources said.
Morocco and Saudi Arabia were among Muslim states listed as “most eligible for liberation” in a tape purportedly made by the al Qaeda leader and broadcast in February.
Germany urged its citizens not to travel to East Africa and Morocco and German intelligence services were reported as saying they also feared new terror attacks in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.
In the past few days Britain has banned flights by British airlines to Kenya and warned its citizens that there is a “clear terrorist threat” in six neighboring East African countries.
Israel’s El Al airline also suspended flights to Kenya where two missiles narrowly missed an Israeli charter airline at Mombasa last November. Suicide bombers killed 10 Kenyans and three Israelies in a simultaneous attack on a Mombasa hotel.