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Police arrest eight over Saudi bombings

The bombings in May left 35 people dead Keystone

Swiss authorities have arrested and detained eight people in connection with last May's terrorist attacks on Westerners in Saudi Arabia.

This content was published on January 9, 2004 - 14:03

The Federal Police Office said those arrested, all foreign nationals, were being held on suspicion of providing logistical support to a criminal organisation.

The string of bombings on Western residential compounds in Riyadh on May 12 has been linked to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network.

Twenty-six people - including one Swiss - and nine attackers were killed in the bombings.

“The police action was in the context of terrorism investigations, especially in connection with the May 12 attack in Riyadh,” said the Federal Police Office.

Coordinated operation

The arrests came during a coordinated nationwide operation on Thursday, involving 100 officers, which included raids on houses and the questioning of around 20 suspects.

It was the biggest anti-terrorist operation by the Swiss since the September 11 attacks.

"The Federal Police arrested eight people yesterday in a coordinated police operation in five cantons, namely Vaud, Geneva, Aargau, Bern and Zurich," Danièle Bersier of the Federal Police Office told swissinfo.

"The eight people arrested are not Swiss," she added. "But I cannot tell you which countries they come from because the investigation is not yet finished."

The arrests were welcomed by officials at the United States embassy in the Swiss capital, Bern.

"We view the police action that occurred as a very positive step and we certainly welcome it," said Bruce Armstrong, spokesman for the embassy.

"This was a Swiss action on Swiss soil, [but] we've emphasised to the Swiss that we're very happy to provide whatever assistance that they might request of us," he told swissinfo.

Police investigation

The police statement said the arrests were the result of an investigation launched soon after the attack.

The Federal Prosecutor's office would not comment on the "ethnic or religious backgrounds" of those arrested. It also said it was impossible at this stage of the investigation to say whether they were linked to al-Qaeda.

In April last year, Urs von Daeniken, head of crime analysis and prevention at the Federal Police Office, warned that groups implicated in terrorist activities were in touch with people living in Switzerland.

Roland Jaccard, an international terrorism expert, said those arrested were probably members of an Islamic group with close ties to al-Qaeda and were in Switzerland to set up a "sleeper cell".

Al-Qaeda has been blamed by Saudi officials for a number of suicide bombings in the country last year.

The most recent occurred in November when 18 people were killed and more than 100 were injured in an attack on a housing compound in Riyadh.

Swiss officials have so far blocked 82 bank accounts worth SFr34 milion ($28 million) in connection with investigations into al-Qaeda.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Twenty-six people - including one Swiss - and nine attackers were killed in the bombings on Western residential compounds in Riyadh on May 12.

Saudi officials said the attacks were linked to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network.

Al-Qaeda has been blamed by Saudi officials for a number of suicide bombings in the country last year.

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Key facts

The arrests were part of a nationwide operation, which included raids on houses and the questioning of 20 suspects.
It was the biggest anti-terrorist operation by the Swiss since the September 11 attacks.
Police refused to comment on nationalities or ethnic backgrounds of those arrested.

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