RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Saudi Arabia has concluded that a Libyan plot to assassinate the kingdom's de facto ruler in late 2003 was cloaked to look like an al Qaeda-inspired domestic revolt and was broken up only days before it was to have been carried out, according to Saudi officials and documents that detail the investigation.
This month, a religious judge in Riyadh is tentatively scheduled to put 13 suspects on trial who have been in Saudi custody since the plot was uncovered in November 2003, Saudi officials said. The defendants are eight Saudis and five Libyans, including four Libyan intelligence agents, according to Saudi investigative documents reviewed by The Washington Post.
Col. Moammar Gaddafi.
(Yousef Al Ajeli -- AP)
The Libyans were caught delivering more than $1 million in cash at a hotel in Mecca to Saudi dissidents hired to assassinate Crown Prince Abdullah, who has ruled the kingdom since 1996, after his half brother, King Fahd, was incapacitated by a stroke. The Libyan agents had recruited the Saudis to launch grenades and other explosives into Abdullah's apartment in Mecca, the documents show.
The assassination was planned to occur about three weeks after al Qaeda suicide bombers blew up a residential compound on Nov. 9, 2003, in Riyadh, killing 17 and wounding 122. That attack marked the apex of a violent campaign unleashed six months earlier by al Qaeda cells to drive Westerners out of the kingdom and weaken the Saudi government.
The plot was publicly disclosed last June, when an American Muslim leader from Virginia pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to illegal dealings with Libya and told prosecutors about the planned assassination. The Saudi investigative documents show for the first time, however, that the operation was disguised as an al Qaeda operation and give fresh details about the Libyans and Saudis involved and what led to their arrests.
Although the conspirators and al Qaeda had different motives, the Saudi investigation found, the goal was the same: to destabilize the kingdom and possibly overthrow the ruling House of Saud.
"The plotters wanted to keep their fingerprints off it and make it look like a Saudi operation," said a senior Saudi official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the investigation remain classified and because the case has diplomatic repercussions. "This was their plan. Everything would look like it was done against the government by the people of Saudi Arabia."
Saudi, U.S. and British officials have traced the origins of the plot to a public exchange of insults between Abdullah and Col. Moammar Gaddafi, Libya's longtime ruler, at an Arab League summit in March 2003.
During the summit, held shortly before the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Gaddafi accused the Saudi prince of "making a pact with the devil" by supporting U.S. military forces in the region. Abdullah, who has long had a testy relationship with the Libyan leader, responded: "Your lies precede you and your grave is in front of you."
Days afterward, an angry Gaddafi met with his intelligence chiefs in Tripoli and ordered them to come up with an undercover plan to kill Abdullah, according to the Saudi investigative documents, which are based in part on interrogations of the Libyan agents in Saudi custody.
The Saudi findings are supported by a related investigation by the FBI and U.S. prosecutors, who won the conviction last year of a former head of the American Muslim Council, Abdurahman Alamoudi, on charges of money laundering and giving illegal aid to Libya after he admitted to playing a role in the assassination conspiracy.
Saudi officials are debating whether to hold a public trial for the 13 accused plotters. Regardless of what form the trial takes, it promises to refocus attention on a case that has roiled diplomacy in the Middle East since it was disclosed a year ago and has complicated U.S. efforts to normalize relations with Libya.
The Libyan government has made few public comments about the case. It has denied playing a role in the plot but has not explained what the Libyan agents were doing in Mecca.
Officials at the Libyan Embassy in London and the Libyan diplomatic liaison office in Washington did not respond to letters and phone calls seeking comment.