Saudi Arabia’s police minister said foreign residents can, in principle, carry weapons, easing restrictions in the face of a wave of militant bombings, attacks and kidnappings targeting Western workers.
Some foreign companies and embassies have asked Saudi authorities to ease rules barring private security guards from carrying weapons, a Western diplomat said.
“In principle, a citizen has the right to carry a licensed weapon, and so does the resident, if he senses danger he can carry a personal weapon as he does in his country,” Police Minister Prince Nayef said at a press conference Wednesday night.
Under Saudi law, foreigners — even security guards — cannot have weapons, while Saudis must apply for a permit. Nayef’s comments suggested foreigners would now be allowed to seek permits, though he did not elaborate.
Nayef also said Saudi authorities are still searching for the body of Paul Johnson, the American engineer was who slain Friday by his captors, six days after he was kidnapped in the Saudi capital.
8.8 million foreign workers
Al-Qaida-linked militants in Saudi Arabia have hiked up their campaign of attacks, targeting foreign workers with a bloody assault on a Riyadh housing compound in May that killed 22 people, a series of shootings and the kidnapping-beheading of an American hostage.
The bloodshed has spread fear among foreign expatriates who form a key labor force. An estimated 8.8 million foreigners work among 17 million Saudis in the kingdom. Most hold low-skill jobs, but many work in the oil, banking and other vital sectors.
The kingdom’s rulers on Wednesday gave militants a month to surrender and save their lives, or else face the government’s “full might.”
Crown Prince Abdullah, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, issued the ultimatum Wednesday in the name of King Fahd, his ailing half brother.
“We swear by God that nothing will prevent us from striking with our full might, which we derive from relying on God,” Abdullah said, using some of the strongest language yet against militants.
Limited amnesty offered
Abdullah offered a limited amnesty to anyone who has not yet been “arrested for carrying out terrorist acts” — saying only those who committed acts that hurt others would be prosecuted, and no one who turns himself in would face the death penalty.
Late Thursday, the Interior Ministry said a wanted militant surrendered to police “hours after” the amnesty announcement. Saaban bin Mohamed bin Abdullah Alleihi al-Shihri, who has been in hiding for almost two years, was sought in a “security-related case,” the ministry statement said without elaborating.
Al-Shihri’s name does not appear on a list of 26 most-wanted Saudis. The ministry said he can stay with his family until investigations begin.
Adel al-Jubeir, the foreign affairs adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah, later told The Associated Press that Abdullah’s offer should not be interpreted as an attempt to broker a deal with terrorists and said security forces would not let up in their pursuit of militants during the month.
Year of violence
In Saudi Arabia, the wave of violence began May 12, 2003, when car bombs targeted three compounds housing foreign workers, killing 35 people, including nine suicide bombers.
A U.S. State Department warning released Wednesday reminded “American citizens of the continuing serious threat to their safety while in Saudi Arabia.”
Bahraini officials, meanwhile, added police officers on and stationed coast guard vessels near the 15-mile causeway that links the island state to Saudi Arabia.
A Bahraini security official said no threat against the bridge had been received, but the government was taking steps in response to the series of Saudi terror attacks. Some oil workers have begun moving to Bahrain from Saudi Arabia.