MECCA, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia pledged on Wednesday to give Yemen whatever help it needed to fight al Qaeda after the militant group claimed responsibility for a recently foiled bomb plot, which Riyadh helped uncover.
Late last month, authorities in Dubai and Britain intercepted two bombs hidden in toner cartridges destined for the United States from Yemen via FedEx and United Parcel Service, after a tip-off from Saudi Arabia.
The al Qaeda affiliate based in Yemen, plagued by armed disorder, claimed responsibility for the attempt.
“The security situation in Yemen is as important to us as the security situation in the kingdom,” the Saudi interior minister, Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz, told reporters in Islam’s holiest city Mecca where millions of Muslims flock to the annual pilgrimage, or Haj, next week.
In the first remarks on the matter made by a top security official from the U.S. ally, Nayef said security cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Yemen was at the best possible level and that the kingdom would help its impoverished neighbour.
Although the parcels were posted in Yemen, the kingdom drew the spotlight because U.S. officials believe Saudi national Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, 28, is a central suspect in the plot.
Believed by Saudi intelligence to be hiding in Yemen, Asiri is one of many Saudis who play a significant role in al Qaeda, founded by former Saudi citizen Osama bin Laden.
Asiri is one of many Saudi nationals who fled to the kingdom’s poorer neighbour after Riyadh cracked down hard on al Qaeda and its sympathisers at home.
“We help (Yemen) with all capabilities of the kingdom... We are with them without any hesitation,” Nayef said.
But just as Islamist militants have been impossible to contain as they spread across the Afghanistan and Pakistan border, helped by shared tribal identities and common religious traditions, Saudi Arabia faces a similar problem in Yemen.
After the bombs were found, U.S. authorities quickly banned cargo shipments from Yemen and now are zeroing in on toner cartridges as the newest method of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to launch attacks against the United States.
Asked whether al Qaeda or other militants might stage attacks during the Haj or try to infiltrate fighters from Yemen, Nayef said: “We cannot rule out any operation but we are ready to foil it.” Saudi Arabia is worried about infiltration over the 1,500 km-(900-mile)-long Yemeni border, notorious for smuggling.
(Reporting by Ulf Laessing; editing by Mark Heinrich)