Saudi foreign minister: 'This is our 9/11'
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (CNN) -- Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal Wednesday said terrorists made "perhaps the biggest mistake" by targeting his country.
His comments came in the wake of last week's bombings and the arrests of three al Qaeda operatives suspected of planning a September 11-style attack in Saudi Arabia.
"I've never seen this country united against something more than they are united against these terrorists," al-Faisal told CNN. "They have seen the kind of purposeless hate and bloodshed that (terrorists) espouse, and everybody is against them."
He added: "This is our 9/11."
With the threat of more attacks in Saudi Arabia, he said authorities are taking "this news very seriously."
"We are preparing ourselves for the worst possible eventuality and hoping for the best," the foreign minister said.
Al-Faisal's remarks come two days after the arrests of the three al Qaeda suspects, who were carrying knives, last wills and false documents when they were taken into custody at the airport in Jeddah Monday evening before they were to board a Saudia flight bound for Sudan. Saudia is the country's national airline carrier.
Saudi security sources told CNN the three are suspected of planning to hijack the plane and crash it into a building in downtown Jeddah, about 520 miles west of Riyadh.
However, Saudi television quoted Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef as denying there was a plot to hit a building with an airplane, and he said those arrested were wanted on previous security issues.
One of the men was "behaving in an unusual way" and an airport official recognized him as being on Saudi's most-wanted list, the sources said.
The three are members of the same al Qaeda cell that carried out last week's bombing attacks at three residential compounds in Riyadh, but were not believed to be the perpetrators of the attack, the sources said.
However, the sources said they are believed to have extensive knowledge of those who planned the Riyadh attack, which killed 25 people, plus nine bombers.
Al-Faisal said those attacks were a wake-up call for Saudi Arabia. He said Saudi authorities had taken measures previously to crack down on terrorism -- but he seemed to concede his country could have done more.
"When it hits home, it is different. Perhaps, the only people who can understand that are the people who have gone through 9/11 in the United States," he said.
"I think the same unity which united the United States against terrorism on every level -- public, government and every level -- now exists in this country."
The terrorists, he said, underestimated the resolve of Saudi civilians and the government's response to terrorism.
"This is perhaps the biggest mistake that they have made," al-Faisal said.
He said he believes Saudi security measures have limited terrorists to "targets of opportunity, rather than targets that they can really sensationalize."
When asked what might be the next target in Saudi Arabia, he said, "If I can predict, I predict, if they choose a target, it will be a soft target."
That type of target would mean more civilian casualties.
"This is why the people of Saudi Arabia, in their wisdom, know that there is no way that you can condone any action of terror -- whatever the target is," he responded.
The foiled plan of the three al Qaeda suspects recalls the September 11, 2001, hijackings and plane crashes that destroyed the World Trade Center in New York, damaged the Pentagon in Washington and slammed into a Pennsylvania field, killing about 3,000 people at the three locations.
Documents similar to last wills were found in the wreckage of those attacks.
A day after the arrests in Jeddah, the U.S. State Department closed its embassy in Riyadh and its consulates in Jeddah and Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and raised the terror threat level in the United States. Britain also closed its embassy, and Germany closed part of its embassy, and its entire consulate in Jeddah.
Saudi authorities have arrested four other suspects in recent days in connection with last week's bombings, and are searching for others.