Riyadh, Saudi Arabia A Saudi diplomat has reportedly confirmed for the first time that three men detained in Morocco for allegedly planning attacks on U.S. and British warships are natives of the kingdom.
Al-Eqtisadiah, a Saudi daily, on Saturday quoted Abdul Aziz al-Khojah as saying a Saudi investigative team has arrived in Morocco to follow ongoing investigations into the three Saudis.
Moroccan officials identified the three men as Saudis earlier this week when they confirmed their arrests. The three, who were taken into custody in May, claimed to be members of the al-Qaida terror network, the Moroccan officials said, speaking on condition they not be identified.
The three were allegedly planning to carry out attacks similar to the one against the USS Cole in October 2000. In that strike, two suicide bombers rammed a small boat packed with explosives into the destroyer as it anchored in a Yemeni port, killing 17 U.S. sailors. Al-Qaida has been linked to that attack.
These three are accused of planning attacks on U.S. and British warships in the Straits of Gibraltar between Morocco and Spain.
Al-Khojah's comments mark the first official word from the Gulf state that the men are Saudis.
On Thursday, Saudi Deputy Interior Minister Prince Ahmed had questioned their nationalities, saying: "We can't say for sure they are Saudis until the results of the investigations become clear," he said. On Saturday, Saudi officials refused to comment on the newspaper report.
Saudi Arabia, an oil-rich Gulf state and guardian of Islam's holiest shrines, rejects being labeled the home of terrorists.
It took months before Saudi diplomats acknowledged official U.S. reports that 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudi. However, it stresses that Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida's leader and the prime Sept. 11 suspect, was stripped of his Saudi citizenship years ago.
Morocco has said it has no intention to extradite the suspects to Saudi Arabia if there is a trial.