Saudis: Bin Laden aide surrenders
A close associate of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was flown from Iran to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday after surrendering to security officials at the Saudi Embassy in Tehran, a Saudi Interior Ministry official said. Khaled al-Harbi was believed to have been living near the Afghan-Iranian border. Video aired by the Arabic television network Al-Arabiya Tuesday showed al-Harbi being carried from a plane and placed in a wheelchair.
Al-Harbi is believed to have fought with bin Laden against Russian forces in Afghanistan about 20 years ago. Saudi officials believe al-Harbi returned to Afghanistan in the mid-1990s, joining up with al Qaeda. In late 2001, he was identified on a videotape conversing with bin Laden about the September 11 terrorist attacks. News of the surrender comes after a Saudi amnesty offer in late June for al Qaeda fighters to surrender within a month.
Hat tip: Barry Ritholtz (via email)
A disabled sheikh has turned himself in to the Saudi authorities under a government amnesty for militants. Khaled al-Harbi aka Abu Suleiman al-Makki surrendered in Tehran after spending years on Iran’s Afghan border.
According to some reports the paralysed sheikh had appeared in one of Osama Bin Laden’s video tapes praising the 11 September attacks in the US. . . . His name does not appear on the list of the kingdom’s 26 most wanted militants and it has not been announced what he is wanted for. The December 2001 videotape – thought to have been filmed in the Afghan city of Kandahar – was taken by the Bush administration as proof that Bin Laden masterminded the 11 September attacks.
Osama bin Laden, left, chats with Khaled al-Harbi in a videotape captured in Afghanistan in late 2001. (MSNBC)
A senior U.S. official who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity described al-Harbi as “part of the bin Laden posse, a confidante and sounding board, but not an operational player.”
Al-Harbi is not likely to have current information about al-Qaida plans, the source added.
Al-Harbi, he is said to be a brother-in-law of Ayman al Zawahiri, bin Laden’s second in command.
A Saudi security source said Harbi was the man seen talking with Saudi-born al Qaeda leader bin Laden in a videotape in which the two praised the September 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. cities. He said Harbi had fought in Afghanistan and Bosnia. “He is big in the sense that he is one of the Saudis that were close to bin Laden,” the security source said, adding that Harbi had not been involved in a spate of militant attacks in Saudi Arabia claimed by al Qaeda.
Harbi was the third person to surrender since Saudi Arabia announced on June 23 a one-month government amnesty aimed primarily at militants who have attacked Westerners, government targets and energy sites in the world’s biggest oil exporter. For over a year, Saudi Arabia has been battling militants loyal to al Qaeda, which carried out the September 11 attacks.
“I came in obeyance of God and the (Saudi) ruler… There is no doubt that this is a gracious initiative by King Fahd and his crown prince,” the bespectacled Harbi told state television. “There is no doubt this is an opportunity which every wise man who has faith in his heart should take advantage of and return to this country,” he added.