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Saudi Arabia says three Americans held as bombing suspects

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February 19, 2001 


RIYADH--(AP) - Three Americans are being interrogated in Saudi Arabia on suspicion of involvement in bombings that killed one Briton and injured five, Interior Minister Prince Nayef said in remarks published Sunday.

It was the first official Saudi confirmation that the three Americans were being held.

U.S. State Department officials said last week that the three were arrested last month, possibly on suspicion of being involved in alcohol smuggling. Two of the detainees have had consular visits, the officials said.

"The investigation has so far not proved any relation of the three detained Americans with the Riyadh and Khobar bombings," Prince Nayef told the daily Okaz.

He did not give their names or say when they were arrested.

This brings to four the number of Americans held in the kingdom in relation to the bombings. In December, authorities detained Michael Sedlak in Riyadh. He has not yet been charged with any crime.

The three bombings - two in Riyadh and one in Khobar in eastern Saudi Arabia - occurred between Nov. 17 and Dec. 15.

Three other foreigners working in Saudi Arabia - a Briton, a Belgian and a Canadian - have also been arrested in connection with the bombings and remain in custody. The three appeared on Saudi state television earlier this month and confessed to carrying out the bombings, according to the station's Arabic translations of their statements.

The men were identified on television as Alexander Mitchell of Britain, Raf Schifter of Belgium and William Sampson of Canada. Canadian officials have confirmed Sampson's identity.

Saudi Arabia is also seeking the extradition of a British suspect from the United Arab Emirates. The head of Dubai's prosecution, Ibrahim Bumalha, was quoted by the Emirates' Al-Khaleej newspaper as saying a decision will be made soon on whether to hand over the suspect.

Neither the suspects nor Saudi officials have named a motive in the bombings. Nayef said last week that authorities do not suspect the motive was political.

The minister has said that Saudi authorities viewed the bombings as terrorist attacks and said Islamic sharia laws would apply if the suspects are tried and convicted. Under Saudi Arabia's interpretation of sharia, convicted murderers are publicly beheaded. The victim's family can demand an execution, spare the convict's life or ask for money in exchange for clemency.

No trial date has been set.

Britain's Foreign Office spokesman, Mark Mathew, told the daily Al-Watan that Prince Charles, who is currently visiting Saudi Arabia, has raised the issue of detained Europeans with senior Saudi officials.

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