For the first time since the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Saudi Arabia publicly acknowledged on Wednesday that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens, according to AP.
"The names that we got confirmed that," Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef said in an interview. "Their families have been notified", he added.
Since the attacks, the Saudi Kingdom has repeatedly said that the identity of the 15 hijackers whom US officials had said were Saudi remained in doubt. The prime suspect in masterminding the attacks, Osama bin Laden, was a Saudi until the authorities took away his citizenship in 1994.
The Saudi Minister also said the kingdom had arrested around 30 people subsequent to the attacks, based on lists it received from Washington. Some of them have been released.
Nayef said the men still in detention "have been influenced by bin Laden's thinking."
"It's possible that we will find among them members of the (al-Qaeda) organization," he added. "But so far we haven't found anything."
Nayef said it was a complete shock for the Saudi Arabia that 15 of the hijackers were Saudi nationals.
Asked how the kingdom could have possibly missed them, Nayef replied, "How can I place the name of a Saudi on a blacklist when I have nothing to justify the action? The Saudis are free to travel wherever they like."
"If we had known they were going to do what they had done, we would have stopped them," he conveyed.
He said the men, while not rich, "were not poor."
"I believe they were taken advantage of in the name of religion and regarding certain issues pertaining to the Arab nation, especially the issue of Palestine," said Nayef.
Asked whether Saudi Arabia feels it bears some responsibility in the attacks in the United States, the prince replied, "Saudi Arabia bears no responsibility at all."
"This is the truth ... and I defy anyone to prove it," he added.
Asked whether bin Laden's al-Qaeda had any presence in the kingdom, the prince acknowledged, "There's nothing of that sort. However there may be a limited number of people that we don't know about."
He said if caught, those people would be thoroughly investigated and referred to the judiciary. "We will show no mercy just as we showed no mercy before Sept. 11."
Asked if he had information on whether Osama bin Laden was dead or alive, Nayef made clear, "We have no information and we have no interest in this subject." (Albawaba.com)
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