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Press Conference With Saudi Foreign Policy Adviser Adel Al- Jubeir

Aired June 19, 2004 - 14:01   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: We'll bring you that press conference rather, and let's go to Washington right now.

ADEL AL-JUBEIR, SAUDI FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER: Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, along with three other of his associates.

The second person killed was Fazaid al-Duhaid (ph), who is believed to be the number two al Qaeda person in Saudi Arabia working closely and immediately under al-Muqrin.

The third individual is Turqi al Muthadi (ph), who was one of the leaders of the terrorists who attacked the oasis compound in al Khobar and who was one of the three that was able to escape. In fact, during the siege of the oasis compound he placed a phone call to Al Jazeera television to give them a statement, which Al Jazeera refused to air, to their credit.

The fourth individual that was killed yesterday was Ibrahim al- Draham (ph) who was a logistical facilitator for al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia until he went underground after the attack of the al Mohaia (ph) Compound. For example, he would rent cars for them. He rented the farm that the terrorists used to plan and to put together their logistics operations just prior to the attack of the al Mohaia Compound in Riyadh in November of last year.

It was also the farm where the terrorists took a car and painted it in the colors of a Saudi security car so that they could use it as a decoy to get past the guards of the compound.

We also have arrested 12 suspects whose names we are not releasing for security reasons. They will be questioned, and we hope that they will provide us with leads on others in the Kingdom.

Unfortunately, we lost a security officer, Saudi security officer, Muhammed al Kipani (ph). Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. And we will forever be grateful for the sacrifice that he made for the security and safety of our citizens and our residents. Also, two Saudi security officers were wounded in the exchange yesterday.

The security forces of Saudi Arabia also captured three cars, including the car used in the murder of the BBC journalists in Riyadh, it was a Toyota Maxima (sic). They captured machine guns and ammunitions, three rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 16 pipe bombs, fake IDs and approximately $45,000 in cash, mainly in Saudi rials.

This was a major blow to al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. This group of individuals was responsible for a series of attacks. The al Muhaia (ph) compound in November, the Oasis compound recently, the killing of the British journalist, the killing of the German national, and the abduction and killing, brutally, of Mr. Johnson.

Our people are outraged by their actions. Our people are saddened by the horror that they have witnessed over the last four or five years in the treatment of Mr. Johnson. And our people derive satisfaction from the fact that we have killed those responsible.

They demand action. We will give them action. We will continue our hunt for others in the kingdom who may be part of this evil group, or who may be supporters of this group until we rid our country of the very last one of them.

We are resolved to fight terrorism, those who fund it and those who justify it. We will show no mercy. We are working closely with other countries, including the United States, to ensure the safety of our citizens and our residents, and to rid the world of the evil of terror.

Having said that, I'd be happy to take some questions if you have any. Yes?

QUESTION: Can you clear up some confusion about the body of Mr. Johnson? Has it been recovered? And if so, where was it recovered? By whom? When? Have tests been done to confirm exactly whether it is really him?

AL-JUBEIR: The body has not been recovered. There was confusion yesterday about this issue. The determination that Mr. Johnson was murdered was made on the basis of technical analysis of the tape by both U.S. and Saudi experts. We do not yet know at what time Mr. Johnson was murdered. We are searching for the body. We believe we know the area in which the body might be, in the northern outskirts of Riyadh, but we haven't found the body yet.

QUESTION: How are you able to track down al-Muqrin? I thought there was a tip to police that someone had seen these guys dumping his body?

AL-JUBEIR: Yes, that was not correct and we clarified it yesterday. We have over 15,000 security officers combing the city of Riyadh for the terrorists. And the way they work is they work in a very systemic way. They go house to house, they search buildings, they search roads, they follow leads, they follow tips, they set up roadblocks where they think areas where they may or may not be. The road blocks keep moving in order to surprise -- to maintain an element of surprise.

And in this case, they were able to block them in a street in the central part of Riyadh in the al Malis (ph) neighborhood. And there was a gun fight that lasted for several hours and the four terrorist were killed. That is what happened. They were not -- it was not based on a tip from somebody who saw them drop -- dump the body, so to speak.

QUESTION: Just how dangerous is it in Saudi Arabia right now for Americans that are there?

AL-JUBEIR: This is a difficult time for Saudi Arabia. We are going through a difficult period. We are fighting people who are lethal murderers. We are doing our best to maintain security and stability and safety for our citizens, as well as for our residents, including Americans.

I believe people have to be cautious. I don't believe that the situation has reached a panic point yet, but we have to be vigilant, and people have to be careful. We believe that with this blow to al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia yesterday, we have substantially weakened their organization. We will continue to pursue them with vigor until we eliminate them from our midst.

QUESTION: Because they captured the captors so quickly, what would you say to those who might be suspicious of this and consider that maybe perhaps authorities did know where he was being kept before he was killed?

AL-JUBEIR: I think the problem that we have with pontificators in the U.S. is there are too many of them, especially when it comes to Saudi Arabia. We have a lot of critics who refuse to take yes for an answer. We are not fighting this war to please people in the U.S. or elsewhere. We are not fighting this war for public relations purposes. We are fighting this war to ensure the safety and security of our citizens and our residents. People in Saudi Arabia are being murdered. We have every intention of stopping those murders.

We do it for our sake. When you have 15,000 people who are looking for criminals, they do it in a systemic fashion. Eventually, we will catch them. It just takes time. And it happened, unfortunately, after Mr. Johnson was murdered.

I wish we had captured them before they abducted him. I wish we had captured them before they murdered him, but that's not how it happened. And we just have to go by -- deal with the situation as it unfolds.

Let me try to take some more questions here.

QUESTION: Earlier today, in an interview with NBC, you said that -- you made some reference to technical assistance that the United States gave. Can you be more specific about what that technical assistance was?

AL-JUBEIR: I don't want to be too specific, because we get into sensitive areas. I can tell you that everything that the Saudi government or the Saudi security forces require and everything that we have asked for, the U.S. has provided to us, and for that we are grateful. It has substantially enhanced our capability, it has enhanced our effectiveness, but I can't get into the specifics of what the technical issue -- the technical capabilities are.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) like wiretaps or possibly human intelligence and possibly the CIA is involved?

AL-JUBEIR: Let me just say -- let me put it this way, anything that we require, the U.S. has been willing to provide and for that, we are thankful and appreciative. We will ask for everything that is needed in the war on terrorism, and we have. And it has been provided to us by the U.S. as well as by other nations.

Our objective is to enhance our capabilities, technically, to enhance our capabilities in terms of the number of forces we have deployed in this war, to enhance our capabilities in terms of the training of our forces, to enhance our capabilities in terms of intelligence gathering and to enhance our capabilities in terms of logistics. And we will seek that assistance from any and all of our friends, and none of them has hesitated in providing it to us.

QUESTION: The U.S. ambassador said that the United States did not provide any assistance in this. So I'd like a clarification when you said there was technical assistance.

AL-JUBEIR: OK. I don't know what the -- what Ambassador Oberwetter was referring to. The war on the ground is being waged by Saudis, Saudi security forces. We see it in the fact that the Saudi security forces have been killed and wounded.

The -- if it's the sale of equipment, that is what I'm talking about in terms of the technical assistance. If it's the use of that equipment, perhaps that is what Ambassador Oberwetter is talking about. But there's no contradiction, our two countries are working very, very closely together in this war, because we are both in the crosshairs of this murderous organization. And this war cannot be won if nations fight this war independently. It has to be a global effort. And it has to be an effort that is characterized by close cooperation and coordination between all peace-loving countries.

Yes? And then I'll come back over here.

QUESTION: Not to be too ghoulish about this, but without a body, how can you all be so sure that Mr. Johnson is in fact dead at this point?

AL-JUBEIR: I hope and I pray that this turns out to be the situation. But according to the analysis of experts who have looked at the tape, and who have examined it very, very carefully, their conclusion is that he, in fact, has been killed. And I am not going to second-guess the opinions of experts in this field.

QUESTION: At this point, it's based strictly on viewing the videotape? There have been no other remains, no other forensic evidence that's been found that would lead you to believe that he is dead?

AL-JUBEIR: We are going through the cars and through the bodies and looking for possible evidence, samples of DNA that you can find in hair, things of that nature, in order to make that determination. And we are searching for remains of Mr. Johnson.

QUESTION: You said a moment ago...

AL-JUBEIR: I have to be -- to try to give everybody a chance. So maybe one question, one follow-up. I'll let you ask the other follow-up and then. But please everyone else, we need to have order. Go ahead, what was the question?

QUESTION: You said a moment ago that you had some basic idea, perhaps, of where the body may be. Is that what you were trying to say?

AL-JUBEIR: Yes. Yes, it was based on what was on the Web site in terms of where the terrorists said they had dropped the body, and so we're using that as one of the leads. Yes?

QUESTION: At this point, how can you (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

AL-JUBEIR: We believe that the situation is under control. We believe that the attacks that we're seeing are random acts of violence and murder. We see the organization as having been weakened. We have over the past eight or nine months in the raids against al Qaeda, disrupted their logistics, disrupted their planning, disrupted their underground network where they move things through various parts of the country.

We have taken out much of their technical capability, their bomb- making factories. We have confiscated tons of explosives and weapons that they have. We believe that as a consequence of this continuous hunt by Saudi security forces, al Qaeda changed its strategy from large-scale spectacular attacks that require a lot of logistics and planning, and technical capabilities, to random acts of murder.

We believe that we have to persevere, we have to continue and we have to eliminate this threat. Do we see a danger to people living in Saudi Arabia? Of course, we do. Is the danger serious? We don't believe that it is unmanageable. So the idea that -- with the calls for foreigners or Americans to leave Saudi Arabia, we believe it may not be the wise thing to do. And we haven't seen an exodus of foreign workers, or American workers from Saudi Arabia, as we speak.

QUESTION: What would you say to those workers who are worried?

AL-JUBEIR: I would say that we will do everything in our power to ensure your safety and your security because we owe it to you as guests in our country just as I would say this to our own public. I would say to them that this is a difficult time for everyone and we have to be careful and we have to be vigilant. We may have to change patterns of our lifestyle for the time being. I say to them that we are determined to win this war. That we will win this war. And that, God willing, we will eliminate this scourge from our midst. Yes?

QUESTION: Sir, a poll last year showed about half of the Saudi citizens supported the rhetoric and ideas of Osama bin Laden, and opposed closer relations with the United States. What do you say to Americans who believe that your citizens actually support this kind of terrorism? AL-JUBEIR: I don't know the poll you're talking about. I have seen two polls, one by Zogby International, and another by Wilson Research, that were done last year. And both polls were fairly similar, when asked about Saudi attitudes towards the U.S. the numbers were very positive in the 60s, 70s and 80s and you can see the poll on the John Zogby Web site.

When asked about their views about American education, the American people, when asked if they thought that the attacks in New York City were justified, over 90 percent said absolutely not. When asked their views about bin Laden, over 90 percent said that he didn't represent them.

So, the notion that the Saudi public supports bin Laden is really not borne out but the facts. Nobody, no person with a sense of decency and humanity can support murderers.

If you ask me, do the Saudi people support American policy towards the Palestinians or towards Iraq, the answer is clearly no. We have seen that in those polls.

Where America ranks very high in terms of how they feel about the American people, how they feel about American culture, how they feel about America educational system, very high positives. When you ask them how they feel about American policy towards the Palestinians or American policy towards Iraq, very high negatives.

And we shouldn't confuse a disagreement with American policy with a disagreement or a hatred of America, that's not the case. Most students who graduate from college, when they choose to study abroad want to come to come to America. This would not be the case if there was this, quote unquote, intense dislike, much less hatred of America.

I think some of the rhetoric in the U.S., especially from our critics, has gone way ahead of the reality. And I think it's high time that people begin to pull back. Yes?

QUESTION: Some 15,000 Saudi security officers are working hard to find this al Qaeda cell and Mr. Johnson, for five or six days. Was there something about the posting of the Internet images that triggered some intelligence to where he were killed?

AL-JUBEIR: No, it was simply -- as I tried to explain earlier, you have a systemic approach to dealing, to combing a city. They searched over 2,000 buildings and homes. They used firefighters, because they know their neighborhoods. They used Imans in mosques, because they know their communities, they followed leads, they followed tips. It was a very systemic, rational way of combing through the city.

They followed tips. They followed leads. They would set up roadblocks and move roadblocks in order to keep the element of surprise. And then the terrorists fell into it. And that's how they were captured.

QUESTION: Could you break down on that, if you could sir, of how the actual capture went down? And also, if you would further explain, the 12 who were captured?


QUESTION: Were they involved in that shootout, or was that a separate incident entirely from the ones (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

AL-JUBEIR: As they were combing through the city, the -- and following leads, they would arrest suspects. So the 12 that were arrested were not with these -- with the four, not all of them. Most of them were captured or arrested in different parts, or at different times.

In terms of the actual shootout, I don't have a home video to show you what happened. I was -- they -- it was a street in Milas (ph). The security forces got there. They surprised the terrorists. The terrorists tried to shoot their way out. Gun battles continued, and the four terrorists were killed. I don't really have more detail on that.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGLBE) a gas station where they were at?

AL-JUBEIR: I don't recall that. If I remember, it was a street -- one of the main streets in Malas (ph). And I don't know the specific location. They could have gotten out of the cars, I would imagine, and maybe tried to hide in buildings or tried to hide in buildings. One of them could be a gas station, but I don't have that detail.

QUESTION: How long?

AL-JUBEIR: When I was here yesterday, so when I walked in, it had just started. That was about 4:30 or so, somewhere thereabouts. And by the time they were killed, it was about, I would say, an hour and a half to two and a half hours. But I may not be accurate on this, but at that time, that's when we knew that they had been killed. So I would say approximately an hour and a half to two and a half hours.

Let me -- yes.

QUESTION: Of the 12 that were arrested, they are Saudi?

AL-JUBEIR: We're not going to comment -- I can't comment on their nationality, but essentially, yes, mainly, yes..

QUESTION: Mainly Saudis?



AL-JUBEIR: They're suspects, so I don't want to convict them yet.

QUESTION: You said several times that the arrests and the deaths have substantially weakened al Qaeda. Can you give me an assessment of how strong an acting al Qaida presence still is in the Arabian Peninsula though? And whether or not these cells appear to be acting independently from al Qaeda leadership?

AL-JUBEIR: We know of one cell that is active in Saudi Arabia, the one headed by al-Muqrin, the one whose leaders we believed we killed yesterday. That doesn't mean that there aren't any others, nor are we going under the assumption that this is the only cell left over.

We are going to prepare for the worst. And we are going to hope for the best. It's the only way that we can deal with this threat. We have a -- when we looked at the individuals yesterday, their track record and the terror attacks they were involved in, the al Mohaia (ph) Compound, the Oasis Compound, the shootings of the British journalists, the German, Mr. Johnson, we see them -- it's a small group that is responsible, or had its hand in a lot of terrorist attacks, but it's also a deadly group.

It was not a large -- so that tells us that you don't need a lot of people to cause mischief. But we will continue to pursue them. We will continue to operate under the assumption that we have to beef up our forces and our intelligence-gathering capabilities, our technical capabilities until we almost the very last one of them. Yes?

QUESTION: Some prior reports, the staff of the 9/11 Commission has said they found no evidence that Saudi officials contributed money to al Qaeda. What is your reaction to that change?

AL-JUBEIR: We are very pleased, because it vindicates what we have been saying all along. It is unfortunate that Congress had to spend millions of dollars in order to pursue outrageous charges. If you remember, the 28 redacted pages that members of the joint inquiry were insinuating implicated Saudi Arabia and Saudi officials, and Saudi royals in the financing of terrorism, in particular 9/11.

Here we have an independent commission that is much more serious, that had much greater resources, much greater access to information saying categorically there was no Saudi government involvement or involvement by Saudi princes or Saudi government officials in the financing of Al Qaeda or the 9/11 hijackers.

We were very pleased with it. It vindicates us. I personally hope that some of the people who pushed these outrageous allegations and who had no qualms about maligning a country or individuals would be honest and honorable enough to perhaps stand up and retract some of the things they had said, but I'm not counting on it at this time. Yes?

QUESTION: Earlier this morning on Saudi TV, one of the top clerics, Dr. Alajii (ph) has said that he thought that the abduction and beheading of Mr. Johnson was actually the work of Zionists and others groups and not al Qaeda. Is there a contradiction here?

AL-JUBEIR: Yes, absolutely there is a contradiction. He was abducted by Al Qaeda. He was abducted by a group headed by al-Muqrin. They put it on videotape. They posted a tape on a Web site. And we -- and they killed him, and they bragged about it. And we captured them and we killed them.

I can't tell you why he said it. You would have to ask him, but we know who was behind it, there is no doubt in our mind and that's how I would say it.

Yes? Maybe we can take a couple more questions.

QUESTION: Back to the gun battle that led to the deaths of (UNINTELLIGIBLE), can you just explain some of the details that had been shared with you? You said they fell into a trap. Was there a roadblock that had been set up and that's how they -- can you just explain?

AL-JUBEIR: They would move roadblocks around in order to maintain the element of surprise. Sometimes it would be undercover agents who would be around. I would have to come back to you with the actual details, if there was a roadblock, or if it was an ambush by security forces. I don't have that detail.

QUESTION: OK, and the body of al-Muqrin, have you done tests to prove that it is in fact...

AL-JUBEIR: We have -- the body was positively identified by a number of people who were very close to him and who had spent a lot of time with him. The body matched all of the criteria that we had on him. And we are going through DNA testing of samples to make 200 percent sure that he is, in fact, al-Muqrin. But so far we have absolutely no doubt that it is him. Yes?

QUESTION: When do you think that the DNA testing will be completed?

AL-JUBEIR: I can't tell you this because I'm not a scientist. I would assume a few days.

QUESTION: If foreign oil workers start leaving Saudi Arabia, what kind of an impact would that have on Saudi oil production?

AL-JUBEIR: I think the issue of foreign workers in the oil industry of Saudi Arabia is overblown. Over 90 percent of the employees of Aramco are Saudi citizens. We can manage our own industry on our own. We have enough engineers, we have enough managers. So I don't think it would have much of an impact.

But we haven't seen the panicking, or the departure of foreigners from Saudi Arabia. A number of people are taking their families out of Saudi Arabia for the summer, but they do that every year. Nobody wants to spend time when it's 120 degrees. But most of them come back in the fall for schools. So we'll have to see how that goes.

We still believe that the situation in Saudi Arabia is relatively safe. We -- people who work in internationally are aware of dangers that they encounter, whether they live in a county like Nigeria or countries in South America or other places.

And I think by that definition or that relative to that, Saudi Arabia is not an unsafe place to be. This is a difficult time, as I mentioned, and it is a time that we will work our way through.

Let me take one more question and...

QUESTION: As far as the search for Johnson's body, are Americans helping in the search?

AL-JUBEIR: Well, we are searching for the body. Eventually, it will have to be, I believe, a tip or a confession by somebody who's detained. Or as you comb through an area, you uncover the body.

The U.S. has people in Saudi Arabia who are coordinating with our law enforcement people and our counter-terrorism people. But the U.S. has had people in Saudi Arabia for over a year. We have a joint task force that works closely together.

But if you're asking me, are Americans walking the streets, looking for the body, I don't believe so. I could be wrong, but I'm not -- I think it's more of a coordination and exchange of information situation.

QUESTION: Would you just elaborate on the call between the Crown Prince and the president? Who initiated the call? When did it take place? And what was discussed? In as much detail as you can give us.

AL-JUBEIR: I usually don't like to speak about communications between two heads of state. The Crown Prince initiated the phone call, yesterday, after it was determined that Mr. Johnson had been murdered in order to offer condolences to the president, as well as to update him on the situation on the ground, because we had these battles raging. And the call occurred yesterday evening. The Crown Prince briefed the president on what was unfolding on the ground. And I think I will leave it at that.

Thank you. Maybe I'll take one more question.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGLBE) that task force, but an earlier question to you was about the coordination between the U.S. assistance and now you just answered her question by saying that the U.S. has people actually there and has been coordinating. And you're not sure whether Americans are walking the street to help look for the not. Could you elaborate a little bit more about that?

AL-JUBEIR: Yes, about a year ago, at Saudi Arabia's initiative, we suggested the creation of a joint task force so that every department in the U.S. that deals with counter terrorism will have people in Saudi Arabia who work as one team with representatives from every department in Saudi Arabia that deals with counter-terrorism. So that we don't have problems of bureaucratic delays in communications and so forth.

So that, instead of having one point of contact, and then you request something and they say let me get back to Washington and give it to you, all the representatives are there, their Saudi counterparts are there and they work together as one team in terms of the management of it. That's about as much detail as I want to get into. We have the numbers range, but they're always, I would say, a fairly large presence of Americans in Saudi Arabia working with us.

After the abduction of Mr. Johnson, the U.S. government sent experts in terms of hostage negotiations and things like this, to be on the ground to assist if that was required.

So I think if I were to characterize the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia and the counter-terrorism effort, I would say that there are no two countries in the world that are working as closely in the war against terrorism as Saudi Arabia and the United States. And I think this is broad enough to give you an idea of how intensive it is. I doubt you will find any American official who is knowledgeable, or any Saudi official who's knowledgeable who will tell you otherwise. OK, thank you everyone.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR, CNN SATURDAY: Adel Al-Jubeir a foreign adviser to the Crown Prince Abdullah out of Saudi Arabia there at the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington, D.C. spelling it out. Saying despite earlier reports, the body of Paul Johnson, the American engineer, has not been found. However, they made the determination of his death because they analyzed the tape put out by the al-Qaeda network on the Web site. They do say, however, they have some idea of where the body may be based on the information on that Web site.

He says that our people, the Saudi people are outraged and saddened by the treatment of Paul Johnson quote, "saying they demand action. We'll give them action," and so far Al-Jubeir has said that 12 suspects have been arrested, mostly Saudi's, in connection with the death of Paul Johnson and the self-professed leader of al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, Abdel Aziz al-Muqrin has been killed.


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