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Breakthrough in Bombing Case

Saudi's arrest could indirectly cause major impact on U.S. policy

June 22, 1997

U.S. officials remain frustrated by Saudi Arabia's refusal to let FBI agents question the several dozen suspects it holds in connection with last year's truck bombing of a housing complex for American airmen in Dhahran. But a break in the case could finally give U.S. authorities information they have been denied.

A Saudi citizen, Hani Sayegh, is now in federal custody in the United States and is expected to plead guilty Wednesday to charges involving an aborted anti-American incident separate from the Khobar Towers bombing. In exchange for a promise not to prosecute him on more serious charges or deport him to Saudi Arabia, where he fears he would be executed, Sayegh has promised to tell all he knows about the Khobar affair.

According to Canadian authorities, who arrested the Saudi after he arrived in Canada in March and deported him to the United States last week, Sayegh was a member of a terrorist group supported by Iran. His alleged role in the bombing was to signal the driver of the explosives-packed truck when to strike. How much he knows about the conspiracy that led to the attack is unclear. Washington wants to keep secret any promises it made to Sayegh in exchange for his cooperation.

Saudi officials, who always try to play down domestic opposition to the royal family, told Washington some time ago that Iran was behind the Dhahran bombing. If Sayegh's information and other sources confirm that claim, a major policy decision would loom. Iran, already on the U.S. list of terrorism-sponsoring states, would be directly linked to an attack that killed 19 Americans and maimed hundreds more. How the Clinton administration chose to respond could affect U.S. standing in the Persian Gulf area for a long time to come.

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