14 July 2004
Saudi media are hailing the surrender Tuesday of al-Qaida suspect Khaled al-Harby, a disabled militant thought to be closely associated with Osama bin Laden, as a significant victory in the fight against terrorism.
The news of Khaled al-Harby's surrender is on the front pages of most Saudi dailies, some of which predict this will lead other militants to do the same.
Saudi journalist Mahmoud Ahmed said the media's highlighting of Mr. al-Harby's surrender reflected the mood of many Saudis that the amnesty offered by King Fahd on June 23 was working.
"It appeared in every newspaper, every single newspaper that I am looking at," he said. "It appeared that al-Harby is answering to the royal pardon; 'Top Al-Qaida Guy Surrenders 10 Days Before The Period Is Over.' I mean, I see it everywhere and I spoke to two people earlier this morning and they said that that is a very positive moment for a guy who is considered a scholar for al-Qaida. So the other terrorists should surrender now."
Mr. Ahmed, a Jeddah-based reporter for the Saudi paper, Arab News, said before Mr. al-Harby's surrender, little was publicly known in Saudi Arabia about the man whom they saw on television being pushed in a wheelchair at the Riyadh airport.
Mr. al-Harby, who is also known as Abu Suleiman al-Makky, had been seen on a videotape with al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden shortly after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States.
Political analyst Ali Nouri Zadeh says Mr. al-Harby had found a safe haven in Iran.
"He was living in Iran for a while, and he [was] received very well by the revolutionary guards, and the forces called the quds force, Jerusalem force, and he was OK up till a couple of months ago," said Ali Nouri Zadeh. "After the visits of Saudi justice minister to Iran, in which he discussed the matter of Saudi nationals who [are] residing in Iran, the Iranian government put pressure on revolutionary guards and other organizations which are protecting members of al-Qaida who are in Iran. They said, 'You know, we cannot jeopardize our relations with Saudi'."
Mr. al-Harby, speaking on arrival Tuesday in Riyadh said his decision to hand himself over was to obey God and Saudi rulers. He calls the government's amnesty for militants who surrender a gracious initiative.
Mr. Zadeh, who does research on terrorist groups at the Center for Arab and Iranian Studies in London, says Mr. al-Harby does not appear to be a major al-Qaida figure.
"The day before yesterday when I was talking to one of my sources very close to [Iran's President Mohammad] Khatami, he was telling me that they have no prior knowledge about his presence in Iran two months ago, I mean two months ago they did not know he is in Iran, and then they learned about it, so perhaps, as I said, he is least important one," he said.
Still, whatever his rank in terrorist echelons, Mr. al-Harby's surrender is raising hopes that many other militants on Saudi Arabia's most wanted list will turn themselves in under the royal Saudi pardon.