A jailed U.S. Muslim leader and a Libyan intelligence agent have told U.S. and Saudi authorities that they were involved in a Libyan plot to assassinate the ruler of Saudi Arabia, U.S. officials said Thursday.
U.S. authorities viewed the allegations as credible, but investigators are still trying to determine whether the plot was real and, if so, how far it advanced, as well as whether Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was involved, according to two U.S. government officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case.
The alleged plot against Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah was revealed separately by Abduraham Alamoudi, a U.S. Muslim leader jailed in Alexandria, Va., on federal charges of having illegal financial dealings with Libya, and by Col. Mohamed Ismael, a Libyan intelligence officer who is in Saudi custody.
Alamoudi, the former head of the American Muslim Council, has said that he met twice with Gadhafi in June and August of last year to discuss the plot, U.S. officials say. If true, that would be the same time Gadhafi was renouncing terrorism and negotiating the lifting of international sanctions.
President Bush, speaking with reporters following the G-8 summit in Georgia, confirmed that U.S. investigators were looking into the plot and were trying to establish its veracity.
“When we find out the facts, we will deal with them accordingly,” Bush said. “I have sent a message to him [Gadhafi] that if he honors his commitments to resist terror and to fully disclose and disarm his weapons programs, we will begin a process of normalization, which we have done. We will make sure he honors his commitment.”
Libya denies reports
In Tripoli, Libyan Foreign Minister Abdel-Rahman Shalqam denied the allegations.
“We were surprised by this [report], and we deny it completely and categorically,” he told reporters Thursday.
A call to the Saudi Embassy in Washington was not immediately returned.
At the State Department, Richard Boucher, a spokesman, said the United States had received reports last year about Libyan contact with Saudi dissidents “who have threatened violence against the Saudi royal family.”
“We raised those concerns directly with the Libyan leadership, and they assured us that they would not support the use of violence for settling political differences with any state,” Boucher said. “We have heard those assurances repeated. And that is the standard to which we would expect to hold them.”
Relations between Libya and Saudi Arabia, tense for years, reached a low in March 2003 when Gadhafi and Abdullah traded insults in a live broadcast of an Arab summit.
Gadhafi said at the summit that he talked to King Fahd about the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 and that the king told him that his country was threatened and that he was ready to “cooperate with the devil to protect it.”
Abdullah, infuriated by the comments, accused Gadhafi of being an agent of colonialism and said he was bought to power by the United States.
According to U.S. officials, Alamoudi and Ismael have provided U.S. and Saudi investigators with detailed information about the alleged plot to assassinate Abdullah to destabilize the Saudi government, which has been beset in recent months by a series of deadly terrorist attacks by al-Qaida and other Islamic fundamentalists.
Existence of the alleged plot was first reported Thursday by The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
Progress in U.S.-Libyan relations
The accusations come at a sensitive time for Libya, which in December agreed to dismantle its biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs. The United States in February lifted a ban on use of U.S. passports to travel to Libya and took steps in April to restore trade and investment ties with Gadhafi’s regime.
But the United States continues to list Libya as a state sponsor of terrorism, and the alleged assassination plot, if true, could have a huge impact on Libya’s efforts to achieve more normal relations with the United States.
“We are very much aware of the Libya’s past involvement in terrorism. Gadhafi has pledged to end Libya’s ties with terrorism and cooperate with us and our allies in the war on terrorism,” said Sean McCormack, a spokesman for the White House. “We continue to monitor closely Libya’s adherence to this pledge.”
Alamoudi’s statements were made during plea negotiations with federal prosecutors, who could recommend a lighter sentence if he is cooperative.
Ismael, the Libyan intelligence officer, has given similar statements to Saudi investigators. The FBI is working to arrange an interview with Ismael and others who may have knowledge of the plot, an official said.
Alamoudi, who is being held without bond, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he illegally tried to funnel Libyan money to the United States. Prosecutors have also portrayed him in court papers as a supporter of the al-Qaida and Hamas terror groups, which Alamoudi has denied.