IMAGE: SAUDI ARABIA'S CROWN PRINCE ABDULLAH
Reuters TV file
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah in May.
updated 6/24/2004 12:10:59 AM ET 2004-06-24T04:10:59

Saudi Arabia offered Islamic militants a limited amnesty Wednesday, saying their lives would be spared if they surrendered but they would face the “full might” of state wrath if they did not.

The ultimatum, issued in the name of King Fahd, called on militants to turn themselves in within a month — suggesting the kingdom was paving the way for a stepped up campaign against al-Qaida-linked fighters who have shaken the country with a series of deadly attacks.

At the same time, the Saudi foreign minister denounced calls by militant clergy for Saudis to travel to Iraq to join insurgents battling the U.S. military and its Iraqi allies.

Some have said that at least one of the guerrillas who killed and beheaded a South Korean hostage in Iraq this week may be Saudi, since the guerrilla spoke Arabic in what seemed to be a Saudi dialect.

The ultimatum was read by Crown Prince Abdullah, the king’s half brother and the country’s de facto ruler, using some of the fiercest language yet against militants.

Abdullah said the offer was open to anyone who has not yet been “arrested for carrying out terrorist acts.”

'Door of forgiveness'
“We are opening the door of forgiveness,” the crown prince said. “Islamic law will be applied to everyone who deviated from the path of right and committed a crime in the name of religion.”

“We swear by God that nothing will prevent us from striking with our full might, which we derive from relying on God,” Abdullah said.

Adel al-Jubeir, foreign adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah, later questioned the use of the word amnesty to characterize Abdullah’s offer, saying he didn’t use it during the speech. He added that the offer shouldn’t be interpreted as trying to broker a deal with terrorists.

Al-Jubeir told the The Associated Press that Saudi authorities have dealt major blows to al-Qaida in the kingdom recently, have support from the Saudi population, and will not let up in their pursuit of terrorists during the month.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher refused to comment on the Saudi offer, saying, “This is a decision for the Saudi government to make.”

Under the form of limited amnesty, only those who committed acts that hurt others would be prosecuted, and no one who turns himself in would face the death penalty.

Over the past year, as attacks in the country increased, the Saudi government has frequently urged Saudis to reject Islamic militant ideology, bringing “repentant” militant leaders onto state-run television to denounce violence.

Heightened fears
But the beheading of American engineer Paul M. Johnson Jr., who was kidnapped in Riyadh on June 12, brought a vicious new edge to the attacks — and heightened fears that the violence could drive out American and other Western workers vital to Saudi Arabia’s oil and other industries.

Two other Americans and an Irish citizen were killed in the kingdom in the week before Johnson’s slaying.

The wave of violence in Saudi Arabia began May 12, 2003, when car bombs targeted three compounds housing foreign workers, killing 35 people, including nine suicide bombers. Since then, the kingdom has suffered a series of suicide bombings, gunbattles and kidnappings.

The attacks have been blamed on al-Qaida and sympathizers of the terror network.

Hours after Johnson’s death was announced Friday, Saudi security forces killed the alleged head of the cell that kidnapped him, Abdulaziz al-Moqrin, the suspected top al-Qaida figure in Saudi Arabia, in a gunbattle in Riyadh.

Saudi officials touted al-Moqrin’s death as a blow to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network in the kingdom — but they acknowledged that other cells likely remain. Bin Laden is a Saudi exile.

Also Wednesday, Foreign Minister Prince Saud condemned the beheading of the South Korean hostage, Kim Sun-il, whom militants had kidnapped in Iraq.

His slaying proves “terrorism has no conscience ... These people have no human values, they are far away from Islam,” the foreign minister said.

In a videotape of the South Korean hostage, a kidnapper spoke with an Arabic accent that suggested he was from Saudi Arabia or a neighboring Gulf Arab state.

At a news conference Wednesday, Saud said calls for Saudis to wage holy war in Iraq were illegitimate and that the kingdom would not permit its citizens to go to the neighboring state to fight the U.S.-led forces.

Saudi newspapers have published obituaries and reports of funerals for Saudis who are said to have died fighting the occupying forces in Iraq.

“We don’t allow that,” Saud said when asked about Saudis fighting in Iraq. “Why should people go to Iraq for a holy war? Iraq is a Muslim country and the only religious duty in Iraq should be to help the Iraqi people. Any call for holy war (in Iraq) is illegitimate.”

He did not say what measures the kingdom was taking to stop Saudis from going to Iraq to fight.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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