The diary of a Saudi man, currently living in the United Kingdom, where the Religious Police no longer trouble him for the moment.

In Memory of the lives of 15 Makkah Schoolgirls, lost when their school burnt down on Monday, 11th March, 2002. The Religious Police would not allow them to leave the building, nor allow the Firemen to enter.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The sorrowful saga of the so-called "Booze Bombers" 

(Sorry about the length of this post. However, as the title says, it is a Saga).

This tale is not one of the highlights of our history. I know I keep using the expression "Saudi Arabia at its worst", but this was the absolute bottom of the barrel.

A bit of background first. As you will know from the previous post, "pubs" were a well-eastablished feature of the Western expat life. Everyone knew they were there, but the authorities generally had a laissez-faire attitude towards them. It's a sort of Muslim thing that if you want to sin within your own four walls, and nobody else suffers, then it's a matter for you alone, and no-one should pry and spy on you. As long as the pubs kept themselves to themselves, everyone was happy. Apart from our Interior Minister, "Nasty Naif", "Prince of Darkness".

He also had another chip on his shoulders about Westerners. Some years earlier, there had been a murder case in Saudi, that resulted in two British nurses being imprisoned, with one sentenced to death and the other to flogging. The obscure legal process caused quite an uproar in the UK, and eventually they were pardoned by King Fahd in return for "blood money" to the victim's family, and released back to the UK. Reportedly, Prince Naif was not too thrilled with this, but had to grin and bear it.

(Prince Naif grinning but bearing it).

Anyway, the two nurses, instead of thanking their lucky stars and keeping their heads down, sold their stories to the UK tabloids, appeared on TV, accused each other of the actual murder, and bleated on about how terrible Saudi prisons were. This would of course not be news to a Saudi, but seemed to be some sort of revelation in the UK, that sold lots of papers. Reportedly, our good Prince went ballistic, and vowed that never again would these soft Westerners get let out of prison just because there was a fuss back home.

So, on to our story. I am grateful to an unnamed source for providing much detail of the chronology.

17/11/00 Riyadh at junction of Oruba / Oleya road. Car bomb kills Christopher Rodway and injures Jane Rodway. Bomb placed on driver side in the front wheel arch of GMC 4WD vehicle. Christopher Rodway lies dying, surrounded by crowd of curious bystanders, who are not allowed to approach any accident until paramedics arrive.

22/11/00 Riyadh; car bomb severely injures Mark Payne (British), and injures Steve Coughlan (British), Jacqueline Gill (British) and xxx (Irish – name withheld) travelling in the vehicle. Bomb placed in front wheel arch on passenger side of GMC 4WD. They were believed by police to have been leaving a nearby "pub" after "closing time", either the "Celtic Corner", or the "Legs Arms" (run by a prosthetics engineer!). The police start to put together a "theory".

09/12/00 Raf Schvyens, Belgian. Arrested on 9 December 2000 for the bombings on the 17/11/00 and 22/11/00 (both in Riyadh). He was believed to have been prominent in the Riyadh "drinking scene", and was therefore a likely suspect in a supposed "turf war" between rival gangs in the drinks trade. First embassy visit at interrogation centre did not take place until 28/01/01, 6 weeks after arrest. His video "confession" was broadcast on 05/02/01. Sentenced ultimately to 8 years imprisonment

15/12/00 Al Khobar. Car bomb in the Al-Onaizi District severely injures David Brown (British) – loses sight and fingers hand. Bomb placed on windscreen of Saab Sedan bomb packaged in fruit juice carton. 250 miles from Riyadh. Do the "Booze gangs" operate over there as well?

17/12/00 Alexander Mitchell, British. Arrested on 17 December 2000 for the bombings on the 17/11/00 and 22/11/00 (both in Riyadh). First embassy visit at interrogation centre around 28/01/01, 6 weeks after arrest. Video confession broadcast on 05/02/01. Sentenced ultimately to death.

So they are starting to arrest members of this supposed "gang". The police didn't bother themselves that the "mercury switch" triggers used in these bombs indicated extremely sophisticated bombmakers. It's not a skill that your average Joe Public, or indeed bar-owner or landlord, picks up in an evening class.

17/12/00 William Sampson, British/Canadian. Arrested on 17 December 2000 for the bombings on the 17/11/00 and 22/11/00 (both in Riyadh) First embassy visit at interrogation centre around 28/01/01, 6 weeks after arrest. Video "confession" broadcast on 05/02/01. Ultimately sentenced to death.

The Saudi police must have been feeling pleased with themselves by now. Three men locked up, what a quick result. That'll stop the bombs.

10/01/01 Riyadh; bomb at telephone kiosk in Euromarche supermarket Riyadh. "Bugger", think the police, we still haven't got them all. Prince Naif initially pooh-poohs this explosion as a prank with a "firecracker". Some firecracker. Don't get one of these next 14th July or 5th November - it blew the telephone off the wall.

14/01/01 Riyadh car bomb defused on car of Irish national Noel Rooney outside housing compound. By this time, Westerners had a regular routine of checking under their cars, especially 4WD's. Noel Rooney spotted "his". However the cops obviously haven't got all the gang yet. They need some more arrests.

24/02/01 Les Walker, British. Arrested on 24 February 2001 for involvement in the bombings on the 17/11/00, 22/11/00 and on the 10/01/ 00. Prince Naif had now decided that they couldn't pooh-pooh the Euromarche blast any more, so Les Walker was a convenient suspect for that one as well. Why a Booze "turf war" should result in a bomb in a supermarket wasn't explained - after all, they don't have a drinks section. Video "confession" broadcast on 13th August 2001. Embassy visit 08/04/01 5.5 weeks after arrest. Ultimately sentenced to 18 years.

24/02/01 Philippino national, friend of one of the other detainees, arrested on 24 February 2001 for involvement in the earlier bombings. Released a year later without charge (but no apology!). However, he was "lucky" compared to the others.

12/03/01 Peter Brandon, British. Arrested on 12 March 2001 for acting as look-out for the bombing on 22/11/00 and for handling and making bombs used in other explosions. Video confession broadcast on 13th august 2001. Sentenced ultimately to 12 years imprisonment. Oh well, at least they've got the bomb-maker now, so no more bombs.

15/03/01 Riyadh; bomb in waste bin outside Jareer bookstore. A bookstore very popular with Westerners and the more educated Saudis (not to mention me!). Not an obvious target for a drinks "turf war", because they don't have books on winemaking. Injures lightly Ron Jones (British), Charles Bayer (American) and a Canadian national (name withheld ), who were passing outside at the time . All 3 were arrested, including Ron Jones from his hospital bed. He had only recently arrived in KSA and didn't have time to join any conspiracy by then. The British Embassy jumped up and down with his case, but it was still 67 days before he and the others were released. When he got back to the UK, a scan revealed severe swelling of the tissues in the soles of his feet, caused by the "falakah" beatings he received.

By now, it was fairly obvious to everyone that there were three separate groups waging a bombing campaign:
- a group in Riyadh, doing car bombs
- a group in Riyadh, doing smaller bombs
- a group on the East coast, also doing smaller bombs.
Al Qaeda was the obvious suspect, in spite of the Royal Family supposedly having "bought them off" years before. Who can you trust these days? However the Prince of Darkness and his Keysone Cops were still in total denial about Al Qaeda. If there was a bomb anywhere, they'd go after yet other Westerner with supposed drink connections.

21/04/01 James Lee, British. Arrested on 21 April 2001 for the bombings on 15/12/00, 10/01/01 and 15/03/01 (Once they let the "Jarir Bookstore Three" go free, they needed another suspect. He fitted the bill.) Video "confession" broadcast on 13th August 2001. Sentenced ultimately to 18 years imprisonment.

03/05/01 Parcel bomb Al Khobar (East Coast). Dr. Gary Hatch (American) was seriously injured in the face, hands and left knee when the videotape-sized package exploded at his hospital workplace.

06/06/01 Riyadh; car bomb on vehicle park unattended– no injuries. The cops obviously hadn't got the entire gang yet. Prince Naif demands another Western victim.

07/06/01 James Cottle, British. Arrested on 7 June 2001 in Bahrain (taken across Saudi border and handed to Saudi secret police – no formal extradition) for the bombings on 15/12/00, 10/01/01 and 15/03/01. Video "confession" broadcast on 13th August 2001. Sentenced ultimately to 18 years imprisonment.

06/10/01 Al Khobar. A pedestrian explodes a bomb at a shopping centre on the eve of US bombing strikes against Afghanistan. Michael Gerald, a US oil engineer, is killed. Another American, a Briton and two Filipinos are injured. The Saudis say the suicide bomber was a Palestinian dentist living in Riyadh - clearly a "one-off".

11/10/01 Riyadh, fire bomb attack. German national, his wife and two children escaped unhurt after being attacked while driving back to their Najd Residential Compound. A man had hurled a burning bottle at the car as it slowed to exit a busy road in Riyadh. Time for another arrest.

13/10/02 Glen Ballard British arrested 13/10/01 as the bomb maker for some of the bombings. Not charged, tried or sentenced. Released from prison on the night of 07/08/03.

Then a bit of a lull; enough to convince the cops that they had all the culprits now locked up. However the interrogations, torture and those ludicrous TV "confessions" continued. The British Embassy were very active in trying to get some justice, and clearly must have really upset "Nasty Naif". So some of the prisoners were forced to name Ian Wilson and Simon MacDonald of the British Embassy as their "embassy controllers"! (These 2 officials were accused of involvement and required to leave Saudi Arabia, becoming designated as persona non grata in that country. Upon their return to the UK their potential involvement was investigated by the anti-terrorist branch of the Metropolitan Police. They were subsequently cleared. Since both individuals have received promotion by the FCO, MacDonald being the current ambassador to Israel and Wilson being the 1st Consul in Beijing.) Then suddenly, the pace hotted up again.....

20/06/02 Riyadh car bomb at al-Nakheel housing compound. Simon Veness (British) killed. Peter Howarth-Lees (British) compound manager arrested and accused of being a "British agent" and held for 4 days. Released without charge, although unusually not tortured in his case.
29/06/02 Riyadh Car bomb defused. Found on 4WD belonging to American couple (names withheld). The American man, who has not been named, worked at the King Faisal specialist hospital in Riyadh. After spotting the device, he contacted the Saudi police who removed it. Further checks showed it was a bomb.

29/06/02 Riyadh. A "suspicious object" was attached to a Briton's vehicle, It was removed without incident.The Briton's vehicle was in the al-Nakheel compound in Riyadh, the scene of an explosion on June 20 that killed Simon Veness, a British banker

29/09/02 Car bomb, Riyadh; Max Graf (German) killed on Abdulhamida-Khateb Street in the north of the city whilst driving Ford Sedan

05/11/02 Fire bombing of McDonald’s restaurant in Al-Kharj, south east of the Saudi capital, Riyadh

30/11/02 Riyadh Car bomb detonation failed (fuse failed to set off explosive material) on 4WD vehicle belong to Dutch couple (names withheld)

By this time, Prince Naif was in a real quandary. A total of 22 expatriates had been arrested and tortured and made to confess, and were still locked up. Yet there were even more bombs going off all over the place. Were the guys breaking out of prison, committing these evil deeds, and then sneaking back to their cells before dawn? Now the bombings started to be supplemented by shootings at Westerners on the roads.

30/01/03 Khamis Mushayt. Australian national working for the BAE was attacked (shot at) in the garrison town of Khamis Mushayt – not injured.

06/02/03 Riyadh British BAE employee fired on in Riyadh – not injured.

20/02/03 Assassination/shooting of Robert Dent (British) in his car whilst stopped at traffic lights on Khaled bin al-Walid Street in the Granada district of Riyadh.

27/02/03 Attempted fire bombing of McDonald’s restaurant in Dammam. That's the second attack on Ronald McDonald. How long has he been retailing booze?

05/03/03 Jeddah – shooting incident targeting cars with westerners – no casualties

It was obvious by this time, to everyone except Naif, that Al Qaeda were really getting up a head of steam in the Kingdom, with three separate bombing campaigns, and now a series of shootings. Our Minister of the Interior, either in denial or a catatronic trance, was quoted about this time as saying "there is no reliable evidence of the reported plan by Al-Qaeda to launch attacks against....the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia". Meanwhile the "Booze Bombers" were still being held in prison. He's now locked up 22 Westerners, but it's still mayhem out there. To have released his prisoners would be to "lose face", and we Saudis don't like to lose face, we'd rather look like complete idiots instead. And of course he hasn't forgotten those British nurses.

10/03/03 Jeddah 3 suspicious devices located at 3 separate exits of a shopping mall. Devices dealt with without explosion or injury.

18/03/03 Riyadh –house fire/ explosion. The house was found to be an arms and explosives cache. 1 resident/owner killed (a Saudi male, not a Westerner) blew himself up, apparently by accident while preparing a bomb. The blast, in al-Jazirah district of Riyadh, occurred in a house where police later reported finding three hand grenades, at least a dozen assault rifles, pistols, ammunition and explosives.

07/04/03 Riyadh; bomb scare at the British School. 1200 children evacuated.

06/05/03 Prince Sultan Airbase Al Kharj. Portable SAM missile launched at USAF aircraft – missed.

A SAM missile! You need steady hands for one of those, couldn't be a "boozer" this time. You still don't think that Al Qaeda are active, Prince Naif? Still think that Westerners and their embassies are responsible for all of this? You've got a nasty surprise on the way.

06/05/03 Riyadh – arms cache discovered in a house in the Jazira district. Shootout occurred between suspects and security forces. 19 suspects escape, tied into earlier house explosion

During this week, the US Embassy warns the Saudi government and its Interior Ministry that it has good intelligence of major attacks on Western housing compounds. It asks for increased security measures. Its warnings are seen as unsubstantiated panic, and security is not increased.

13/05/03 suicide car bombers hit 3 housing compounds in Riyadh, Cortoba, Al Hamra, and Jedawal and the Riyadh HQ/housing complex of Vinnell Corporation (military training organisation). 35 people were killed. 194 injured. Followed by...
21/05/03 Jeddah. Three men were arrested as they were about to hijack an airliner and crash it into a Saudi skyscraper.

Finally. Prince Naif and the Keystone Cops "get it". They can no longer pretend that the bombers are Westerners, when a gang of Saudis drive into Western residential compounds, shouting "Allahu Akhbar" and shooting everyone in sight, before blowing the place to bits. In any other country, Naif would now have resigned before he got fired. By denying the Al Qaeda plot, by persisting with this "Booze Bomber" nonsense, he missed the chance to put down a major terrorist campaign in its early days, a campaign that it took another year to finally deal with. However, as a member of the Saudi Royal Family, his job is his by right, not by agreement. He will decide when he resigns, not anyone else. And he's going nowhere. Meanwhile 22 innocent people were imprisoned, terrified, their lives ruined, denied consular or legal access for prolonged periods, tortured, beaten, subject to "joke" executions, and no doubt scarred physically and mentally for the rest of their lives. And all because the Idiot Child of the House of Saud didn't have the brains, guts or balls to say "I got it wrong. I'm sorry. I'm letting you go". Let's take another look at this clown.

Look at those eyes. Stupidity and vindictiveness combined. And do you want to know the really good news? After Crown Prince Sultan, who is 77, he's next in line for the throne. There's something to look forward to.

The prisoners were released by "Royal Pardon", (and therefore still technically guilty), in August 2003. The following developments have occured since then.

At the British Court of Appeal in October 2004, former detainees Les Walker, Sandy Mitchell & William Sampson were given leave to sue the individuals named in their suit for redress for the torture and wrongful conviction that occurred in Saudi Arabia. The three men were part of a group of 8 of whom were convicted of bombing and terrorist offences in Saudi Arabia; Mitchell and Sampson were sentenced to death while the others were sentenced to periods of detention ranging from 12 to 18 years.

The suit names Prince Naif - head of Ministry of Interior, Mohammed Said - governor of Al Hair prison, Ibrahim Al Dali - officer of the Mabaheth and torturer, Khaled Al Saleh - officer of the Mabaheth and torturer's assistant. The basis of the judgement determined that the State Immunity act (1978) did not apply to individuals, particularly where crimes against humanity ( torture, genocide etc.) are concerned, though the court also ruled that the act did apply to the "state", upholding the State Immunity Act (1978) in that instance. Part of the logic was that as torture is illegal, it cannot be an acceptable part of state policy, therefore individuals who conduct such an act cannot be considered to be performing a legitimate state function and therefore cannot be considered immune from legal action. The Saudi government (along with the Department of Constitutional Affairs) are appealing this decision, so the case will now be heard at the Law Lords in April 2006. A favourable decision there will allow the claimants finally to begin civil proceedings in the High Court.

Since the October verdict, an inquest into the death of Christopher Rodway was held on 22 February, 2005 at the Trowbridge Town Hall in Worcestershire, England. Rodway, a British citizen (hence the requirement for an inquest into his death), was killed in a car bomb explosion in Riyadh on the 17 November 2000. At the inquest, the coroner, David Masters, confirmed the cause of death as injuries caused by an explosion and recorded a verdict of unlawful killing. But he added that there was no evidence that would require him to pass the papers to the director of public prosecutions.

So the story is not yet over. I wish the victims every success in finally getting justice. I will report further as things develop. Also, I have a fantasy about the Prince of Darkness finally being jailed himself, somewhere nice like Mogadishu, but of course these things never happen in real life.

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