One of Saudi Arabia’s most wanted militants surrendered Monday, the first senior suspect to turn himself in under a one-month government amnesty announced last week.
Othman al-Amri, No. 19 on a list of 26 wanted fugitives published by the Saudi government last year, said he had voluntarily given himself up in response to the amnesty announced by de facto ruler Crown Prince Abdullah five days ago.
“I came here [to Jeddah] by choice,” the calm, bearded Amri said at the house of Saudi cleric Safar al-Hawali, where security forces were waiting for him.
“This is in response to Crown Prince Abdullah. He is my guarantee,” he added. Amri arrived in Jeddah from the southern Asir province with a cousin who works for the Interior Ministry.
An Interior Ministry statement carried on state media later said Amri had been taken into custody by security forces and would be treated according to the terms of the amnesty.
The amnesty is intended to end a yearlong wave of al-Qaida-linked attacks in the world’s biggest oil exporter.
Officials said the state would drop its claims against militants who surrender but added that families of their victims could still press for punishment.
Amri had said he would discuss the terms of his surrender through Hawali, who is influential among less radical militants.
A Saudi security source said Amri had fought in Afghanistan but declined to say whether he had been directly involved in recent attacks. Amri was close to Saaban al-Shihri, a wanted militant who turned himself in last week, he added. Shihri was not on the list of 26 most wanted suspects.
‘Sign of strength’
In a televised speech delivered on behalf of King Fahd on Wednesday, Prince Abdullah gave militants what he said was one last chance to surrender within a month.
Interior Minister Prince Nayef ibn Abdulaziz said this week the amnesty was a sign of the kingdom’s strength, not weakness.
“After the one-month deadline we will hit them harder,” he said in remarks quoted by Saudi newspapers Monday.
At least 85 police and civilians, many of them foreigners, have been killed in suicide bombings and shootings by militants loyal to Saudi-born Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida, bent on toppling Saudi Arabia’s pro-U.S. monarchy and expelling Westerners.
This month, security forces killed Abdulaziz al-Muqrin, al-Qaida’s leader in Saudi Arabia, and three other militants just hours after they beheaded U.S. hostage Paul Johnson.
The United States has strongly urged its 35,000 citizens to leave the country. Britain has advised against all but essential travel to the kingdom and both countries have warned that more militant attacks should be expected.
The recent spate of al-Qaida attacks has rattled the kingdom’s foreign community, a vital part of its workforce, and many expatriates have left or sent their families home.
Foreign envoys have asked Saudi Arabia to provide better training and equipment for security forces and improve checkpoints to combat the wave of violence.