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11 suspects in ’96 bomb plot to face Saudi courts

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JIDDA, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia's interior minister said on Sunday that 11 of the 13 Saudis indicted by the United States in June in connection with the truck bombing of the Khobar Towers apartments in 1996 were in prison in the kingdom and that the case would be referred to Saudi, but not American, courts soon.

The minister, Prince Nayef bin Abdel Aziz, who is a brother of King Fahd and the head of the government's investigation, said the whereabouts of the two remaining suspects were not known.

But he expressed disappointment that an understanding with the United States to help capture the two, Ahmed al-Mughassil and Ali al-Houri, appeared to have stalled. He said a 14th man indicted, a Lebanese accused of building the bomb, was also at large.

Asked if any of the suspects held by Saudi Arabia would be extradited to the United States to stand trial, as the FBI would like, the prince responded: "No. Never. Impossible."

He added, "We have nothing whatsoever to do with the U.S. court, and we are not concerned with what has been said or what is going to be decided by the U.S."

The prince's first extensive remarks since the indictment reflected the gulf that has divided the Saudis and Americans almost from the moment on June 25, 1996, when a huge explosion rocked an eight-story building used to house American military personnel in Dhahran, in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province. The attack on the building, the Khobar Towers, killed 19 U.S. servicemen and wounded nearly 400 others.

The FBI has long complained that Saudi Arabia has hampered its efforts by limiting access to the suspects and evidence like the getaway car, while the Saudis were reported to have found the Americans dismissive of their police work.

In a compromise, American investigators were eventually allowed to watch from behind glass as Saudi investigators posed questions to suspects.

On June 21, a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Va., returned a 46-count indictment charging 13 Saudis and a Lebanese man of carrying out the attack.