RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – With U.S. and British diplomats warning of possible new terror attacks in Saudi Arabia, police said Wednesday they arrested a suspect in a recent suicide car bombing and seized an arsenal — AK-47 assault rifles, explosives, grenade launchers and a surface-to-air missile.
The arrest was the first in the bombing of the Muhaya housing compound in the capital Riyadh on Nov. 8, which killed 17 people and wounded more than 120. American and Saudi officials blamed the attack the al-Qaida terrorist network of Osama bin Laden, a Saudi exile.
The Saudi Interior Ministry, in charge of the kingdom’s police, issued a statement saying the suspected Islamic militant was found hiding with the cache of weapons and “pamphlets inciting terrorist acts.” It said the man was arrested a week ago but that his identity would not be revealed to protect the investigation.
“Searches and investigations are continuing to arrest all those related to this terror cell,” the statement said.
The cache seized with the suspect included a SAM-7 surface-to-air missile capable of downing a plane at low altitude; 20 high explosive hand grenades; 89 electrical detonators; blocks of explosives; six booby-trapped mobile phones; three computers; and Saudi currency worth $354,000.
The arrest comes with tensions high in the Saudi capital after attacks on foreign housing compounds in May, the November attack, and renewed American and British warnings this week of possible new attacks on housing compounds for foreigners.
The U.S. government issued a travel warning for Americans to “defer non-essential travel to Saudi Arabia. Americans are reminded of the potential for further terrorist actions against U.S. citizens abroad, including in the Persian Gulf region.”
The warning said one compound in Riyadh — Seder Village — has been under “active surveillance” by terrorists and that other housing complexes may also be targeted.
In response, the U.S. Embassy has restricted American employees and dependents from visiting housing compounds in the Riyadh area between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., except for official business.
“The U.S. Government continues to receive indications of terrorist threats aimed at American and Western interests, including the targeting of transportation and civil aviation,” a State Department warning read.
On Wednesday, an Interior Ministry official criticized the latest U.S. warning as mere speculation. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said such warnings should be issued “in cooperation with Saudi authorities or else they would lead to disorder and fear within those living in Saudi Arabia.”
Saudi Arabia has been under pressure to show it is more active in the battle against terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks, in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens. The pressure has increased with the bombings in the Saudi capital since May.