A terrorist tried
to assassinate Saudi Arabian King Fahd earlier this month as his motorcade rode
through the capital, Riyadh, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
The king, who is celebrating his 20th year on the throne, was not injured by an apparently lone terrorist who drove his car into the king's heavily-guarded motorcade but missed in his attempt to crash into the monarch's limousine.
The terrorist's car instead hit another vehicle that was not carrying King Fahd, according to U.S. officials familiar with reports of the Nov. 10 incident.
The assassination attempt highlights the danger of terrorism in the oil-rich kingdom, where intelligence officials said there is growing Islamic extremism.
Security guards took the man into custody, and two days after the attack, a Saudi newspaper reported that three Kuwaitis were arrested for unspecified "militant activities."
One U.S. source familiar with reports of the incident said that no weapons or explosives were found, and that the action did not appear to be part of a terrorist plot.
Officials said the action did not follow the methods used by Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist group, which are notable for careful planning and attacks that cause mass casualties and destruction.
The Arab News, of Jedda, Saudi Arabia, quoted a Saudi security source as saying the three men arrested did not appear to be connected to al Qaeda.
The three men were being interrogated but had not been charged with any crimes. "Saudi police are interrogating a number of individuals, without actually detaining them," the newspaper stated Nov. 12. "They are allowed to go as soon as it becomes clear that there is no proof against them."
Saudi Arabia's interior minister, Prince Naif, said Oct. 20 that a small number of Saudis had been detained and questioned about their possible links to bin Laden.
A spokesman at the Saudi Embassy in Washington had no comment, except to say that he was unaware of the incident.
U.S. intelligence officials said there are growing signs of instability in Saudi Arabia by Islamic radicals opposed to the U.S. military presence and the kingdom's failure to follow sufficiently hard-line Muslim policies.
The kingdom is a key supplier of oil to the United States and other industrialized nations, and its fall to Islamic extremists would cause major problems for the United States, the officials said.
The CIA concluded in a recent analysis that since September 11 the risk of political instability in Saudi Arabia has increased, according to U.S. officials.
Terrorists bombed the Khobar Towers, the U.S. military residence in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, in 1996, killing 19 U.S. servicemen.
In June, a federal grand jury indicted 13 Saudi militants and a Lebanese chemist for their role in the attack. The indictment linked the attack to the Iranian government.
Shireen Hunter, director of the Islamic program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Saudi Arabia has been under stress from those seeking modernization and Islamic elements opposed to perceived changes in society.
"The whole fabric of society is going to become much more complex, and that is obviously going to create some tensions," Mrs. Hunter said in an interview.
She said it is not very encouraging that someone would try to attack the king, although it is difficult to make conclusions without knowing the circumstances of the reported assassination attempt.
Judith Kipper, also with the center, said Saudi Arabia's internal security efforts are "extremely good."
"But no security service can prevent all acts of violence/terror as we have seen with the Khobar Towers and other incidents of attempted or actual murder," she said. "Threats to Saudi instability are highly exaggerated, but they do face a challenge with 50 percent of the population under the age of 18 and who need jobs, recreation and a sense of direction, which religious training does not always provide."
Prince Turki Al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief until last August, told the Arab News that bin Laden has attempted to recruit followers in the country.
"Don't forget the blast that occurred in Olaya, Riyadh, several years ago," he said. "Those who were behind the explosions confessed to the crime and admitted that they were influenced by his thoughts. So there can be no doubt that he tried and will continue to try to gather followers."