The Saudi Interior Ministry said today that it arrested two of three suspects in a car-bombing plot that targeted the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh.
The plot was uncovered on March 13, the Saudis said. The State Department shut down consular services and even the embassy phone lines in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dhahra for several days afterward citing “heightened security concerns,” but did not elaborate on the reason for the shutdown.
“All U.S. citizens are encouraged to be aware of their surroundings, and take extra precautions when travelling throughout the country. The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of traveling to Saudi Arabia and limit non-essential travel within the country,” the State Department message in mid-March said.
Today, the Saudis said “a Saudi national and two Syrian nationals residing in a Gulf state” were behind the embassy attack plot.
“Security authorities took security precautions at the embassy and the surrounding area. Information indicated that one of the Syrians had already entered Saudi Arabia,” the Saudi Embassy in Washington said. “Security agencies initiated an intensive search that resulted in the arrest of two suspects on March 14, 2015 including the Syrian who entered the Kingdom on March 11, 2015. The second suspect, a Saudi national, was active in raising money illegally. Investigations are continuing.”
The arrests were included in a longer list of terrorism-related arrests — 93 in all — announced by the Saudis.
A New Year’s Eve terror bust netted 15 Saudi citizens for forming an ISIS cell called Soldiers of the Land of the Two Holy Mosques. “Meetings were held in remote areas outside the Al-Qassim region, where they received explosive and weapons training to target security locations, remote areas and security and military personnel,” the Saudi Embassy said.
Another Saudi citizen linked to ISIS — an explosives expert — was arrested Jan. 31. “He acknowledged in his statements that he had pledged allegiance to Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and confessed to his involvement in social media activities promoting terrorism, including disseminating methods of manufacturing explosives and inciting propaganda for terrorist acts.”
Just days before the plot to bomb the U.S. Embassy was uncovered, the Saudis arrested 65 people linked to ISIS, including a Palestinian, a Yemeni and “two unidentified nationals.”
“Suspects were arrested for links with Daesh and for provoking sectarian tension, as well as for targeting security forces and attacking General Intelligence prisons,” the Saudis said.
Another Saudi citizen was reportedly pulled over for reckless driving and bomb-making materials were found in his car. “The preliminary investigations indicated that he was influenced by Daesh’s online propaganda.”
ISIS is believed to be seeking more Western hostages after it killed all of its known American hostages. The terrorist group is counting on sympathizers in countries across the region to help.
The Saudi Gazette reported in September that there are 40,000 Americans living and working in the kingdom.
On April 20, a message was sent to U.S. citizens in the kingdom that “Saudi security forces would be taking precautionary measures to protect against an attempt by militants to target sites such as malls and oil facilities.”
“All U.S. citizens are encouraged to be aware of their surroundings, and take extra precautions when traveling throughout the country.”
State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters today that they “have ongoing sharing of intelligence and coordination with Saudis, but I don’t have anything in connection with these arrests to announce.”
On the closure of consular facilities, Rathke refused to confirm that it had a connection to the bomb plot. “I don’t have details to share about the particulars of the arrests and the reasons for which the arrests were made,” he said. “So we’re referring to the Saudis to speak on that.”