Warning of 'Inevitable' Attacks by Al Qaeda Preceded Bombings

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U.S. intelligence agencies believe the deadly car bombings in Saudi Arabia on Monday night were the work of al Qaeda and said the attacks occurred just days after an e-mail warned of an "inevitable" strike against Americans.

Recent intelligence obtained about an attack plan and the methods used by the terrorists in Saudi Arabia, as well as information and weapons secured after a recent shootout with 19 Islamic militants in Riyadh, are the basis for the assessment, U.S. officials said yesterday.

"There are strong suspicions that it's al Qaeda," one official said of the attack.

A top Saudi official said the militants who escaped after the shootout last week were suspected of being members of an al Qaeda cell connected to the bombings.In late April, information was obtained indicating that al Qaeda was planning an attack on Saudi leaders and U.S. and British targets in the kingdom. That prompted the State Department to issue an alert May 1.

This intelligence revealed that terrorists were in "the final phase" of planning an attack, now believed to have been the four car bombings that killed at least 20 persons, including seven Americans, in addition to the nine bombers, the official said.

The information came from al Qaeda operatives and supporters, the official said.

Near-simultaneous attacks are a signature of the terror group, which was blamed for the September 11 attacks and the 1998 car bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The latest attacks, which involved four car bombs that exploded in compounds housing Western nationals, are "consistent with past al Qaeda operations," the official said.

Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz told reporters that the attacks were linked to the al Qaeda cell uncovered in Riyadh last week.

A large cache of explosives and weapons was obtained after authorities engaged in a gunbattle with the militants, and Saudi officials believed they had forestalled an attack.

Prince Nayef said the car bombings were "unprecedented in the kingdom."

In Riyadh, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday that the bombings have "all the fingerprints of an al Qaeda operation."

President Bush sounded a similar note when touring tornado damage in Missouri, telling reporters that "I can't say for certain it was al Qaeda, but I wouldn't be surprised."

U.S. intelligence agencies also are examining the statement suggesting that al Qaeda was preparing an attack against U.S. nationals.

According to the Arabic-language magazine Al-Majallah, a newly appointed al Qaeda spokesman, Thabet ibn Qais, stated in the e-mail last week that "an attack against America was inevitable."

The spokesman said the group had changed its leaders and "sidelined" those who had been in charge at the time of the September 11 attacks.

"Future missions have been entrusted to the new team, which is well protected against the U.S. intelligence services," the magazine quoted the spokesman as saying. "The old leadership does not know the names of any of its members."

The U.S. official said the attacks in Saudi Arabia show that although al Qaeda experienced "serious setbacks" since 2001, the group is "still capable of launching operations. …