RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, (AP) – Saudi Arabia issued a list Monday of its 83 most wanted suspects living abroad, including six Saudis released from Guantanamo Bay, and asked Interpol for help in arresting them, an Interior Ministry spokesman said.
It was the first time the Saudi government has made such a request publicly or even talked about wanted suspects outside the country.
Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Mansour al-Turki told The Associated Press the government is urging the suspects to turn themselves in to Saudi embassies abroad.
“They will help them return to Saudi Arabia and unite with their families,” he said. “Reuniting with their families may not happen instantly. There may be a process that might include rehabilitation.”
There is a degree of public sympathy for Saudis who leave the country to perform jihad in Muslim countries considered occupied by foreigners. Many of those who have returned from imprisonment in the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba or Iraq have been placed in rehabilitation programs to encourage them to renounce terrorism.
The Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya satellite news channel said Monday’s statement only identified one of the wanted suspects, Saleh al-Qaraawi, calling him the leader of al-Qaida in Saudi Arabia. It said there were also six former Guantanamo inmates and two Yemenis on the list.
Al-Turki said the government had asked the international police organization to detain the wanted suspects and hand them over to Saudi Arabia.
Al-Turki said he believed many of the suspects on the list were receiving training abroad to carry out operations in Saudi Arabia.
In December 2003, after a series of attacks on foreigners inside the country, the government issued a wanted list of 26 militants inside the country. All but one of them was subsequently killed or captured.
Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, has pursued an aggressive campaign against militants since May 2003, when they first began their strikes in the kingdom. Subsequent attacks targeted oil installations, government buildings and other compounds.
The Interior Ministry announced in October that authorities indicted 991 suspected militants on charges that they participated in terrorist attacks carried out in Saudi Arabia over the last five years.
The government, however, has had to be more careful with militants who carried out attacks outside of Saudi Arabia, such as those incarcerated in Guantanamo.
The government fears a public backlash against its crackdown if it takes overly harsh measures against the militants and wants to avoid accusations it is moving against them just to please the United States.
There have been no major attacks in Saudi since February 2006, when suicide bombers tried but failed to attack an oil facility at the Abqaiq oil complex, the world’s largest oil processing facility, in eastern Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is the world’s leading oil producer.